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First Impressions of Fable II

First Impression: B-

I thought I’d start out my first post with the game I’m currently playing – Fable II (website) for the Xbox 360.  The first Fable, which came out in 2004, was so much fun that I played through it six or seven times.  That’s something I do with games that let you choose different character options.

In the first Fable, choices you could make were fairly limited and the biggest effect it would have is on the appearance of your character.  The game let you explore the world, but in limited areas that were all very linear, with no ability to “think outside the fence”.  It had a distinct art style, which was very attractive.  You would never mistake Fable for any other game.

Now, four years later, comes Fable II.  I’ve played through the first part of the game – at least far enough to formulate some first impressions.  And I should start by saying that I almost never like games when I first play them, so Fable II wins points by being bearable from the start (compared to games like Mass Effect, which I almost quit playing at the beginning, and then went on to play 4 times through).

Fable II makes a great transition from the first game by retaining many of the features I loved.  The art style is very similar, but with Xbox 360 graphical improvements.  In a word, it’s shiny.  The character advancement system is very similar – get experience orbs, buy a new rank in any ability.  But they’ve improved it in a big way by letting you upgrade your character anywhere, and you can sell back abilities you don’t like in exchange for experience points.  I’ve never seen a game do this before, and it is amazing.

The game still feels like Fable.  In that regard, it’s closer to the original than most series.  Playing it brings back memories of all the hours I spent parked in front of the first game, which is what got me over the learning curve.  One of the things both games share is that they don’t give you a lot to work with in the beginning, and the controls are terrible.  That makes for a slow start.  Fable II also changed the control scheme, and not for the better.

Fable II differs from the first Fable in some key ways.  First off, there’s no radar.  It makes sense not to have one from a “realism” point of view (of course, if I wanted realism, I could always go outside).  But it makes everything harder.  The only city map you get is a small one on the menu screen, and it doesn’t label stores.  It’s a serious epidemic in games, that they do not give you a useful map of even the main cities.  However, Fable II beats out its predecessor in one major feature: the dog.  He lacks the store-identifying ability of a map or radar, but he finds treasure, warns of danger, and does tricks.  And the ladies love him.  I’ll write more about him in a later post – he’s worth more space.

The world of Fable II is much larger than the first game.  Fences are not the limit they once were, and each area is more open.  But travel is much slower: I have lost jobs because I used “fast travel”, which takes longer in game-time than actually running the slow way.  Movement around obstacles can be difficult, too, and these are what the developers chose to do to block the character’s movement on the borders of zones.

But once I got going in the game, I found new features that I like a lot.  The biggest one: when you own property, you earn money on it every five minutes.  And unlike the first Fable, you don’t have to go visit each of your properties to collect.  Better still, it earns even if you’re not playing.  I’m earning 100 gold a minute right now!  Fable II also lets you earn money by playing mini-games, including pub games and paid jobs.  This also merits its own post, so I’ll save that for later, too.

I don’t think a post about Fable II would be complete without mentioning the thing I see as its biggest flaw: I only seem to be able to have one character on my profile.  The first Fable (on the original Xbox) let you create as many character profiles as you like.  But Fable II’s limit on characters will also limit its re-playability, which is critical in a game with so many character options, and with so many consequences for the things you do.

In all, even though I’m only a few quests into the game, this is not one I’ll be able to set down.  None of my issues with the game are deal-breakers.  Expect to see more posts as I go.

Update (November 18, 2008): It turns out you can have multiple characters.  They just wanted to surprise you.

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