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Fable 2 is fantasy creation engine masquerading as an adventure game. The player led pacing, the simple direct interactions and the sense of place make this an experience I want to return to. Perhaps more than any other game, I trusted the world of Albion to be meaningful, fun and entirely other.
I was happy to put my time in the hands of an old trusted friend. No not the 360 controller, Metacritic average or even Edge's tight review style. Rather, a one Peter Molyneux, who had convinced me of his video game insight and execution since I first played Populous on the Amiga.
Fable 2 has the feel about it of a world of possibilities, something unusual in the world of directed play found in most cinematic triple A titles these days. In fact it has taken me almost a year to come around to its way of thinking and investing enough time to really discover what it had to offer.
The game starts with an orchestrally backed, exquisitely voiced playable back story that while introducing the controls, social system and decision making also lays down the first few broad strokes of the sort of character you want to be. Out you pop the other side, blinking in the daylight having been taken from childhood to young adventurer with a score to settle in a compact half hour's play.
From here though you are somewhat on your own as you grapple with the menus and navigation. This slight in at the deep end feeling persists through the game, but rather than being a short coming of the experience is actually part of the larger decisions that drive this game from start to finish.
Instead of hand holding and walk-throughs, the game relies on the player to discover things for themselves.
Instead of hand holding and walk-throughs, the game relies on the player to discover things for themselves. It thinks highly both of the individual's abilities to understand and engage with the experience, as well as for the game's clean design to communicate effectively to the player. It's the difference between telling someone about a story you've heard and telling them the story themselves.
It took a little investment from me, something that resulted in a good six month delay before the busy life of a new baby let up enough for me to sit down and consider properly what was going on with Fable 2. Once I did spend another couple of hours with it I was completely up to speed with the game and essentially hooked, but hooked by a gentle fascination rather than grabbed by the throat.
Playing on, I gained more sense of Molyneux's hand on the tiller in all sorts of ways. There was the intelligent dealing with death that is paid for by a loss of valuable experience points rather than by replaying from the last save point. There is the slow sense of developing a character, not only by the clothes and weapons purchased by also by the moral choices about how you treat your fellow inhabitants. There is the visual impact of food, magic, deaths and decisions on the character himself as he is scared and shaped by this array of influences. There is the day and night cycles that add to the already impressive (and nicely understated) visuals to create a sense of place.
In many ways this isn't my sort of game, the sheer scope of what's on offer should be enough to deter me from spending my meagre available time on something I am unlikely to finish. But the freedom of the experience that comes from the ability to pick and choose the order and pace of quests, jobs and generally exploration makes Fable 2 an easy place for me to escape to and simply spend some time.
Suddenly Albion made it clear that this was much more than an everyday world, and firmly planted itself in the fantasy cannon.
The world of Albion outdoes the adventuring of Hyrule for me by the breadth of the achievement. It too usurps Liberty City's well lived in streets by the simple lack of repetition when you die. It even makes the deeply rendered well lit El Dorado jungle of Uncharted seem tame, restricted and unpopulated.
The game happily lulled me into an everyday existence in Albion, working towards taking a wife buying a house and developing a blacksmith career making swords. Then, as I chipped away at the odd objective to raise funds for the mortgage I innocently made my way to dig up a buried artefact.
Out of the blue a creature three times my height and more than that in bulk rose out of the ground and looked none too pleased with me. Suddenly, Albion made it clear that this was much more than an everyday world, and firmly planted itself in the fantasy cannon. I wasn't sure if the evening setting was planned or merely when I happened to stumble across my foe, either way it played a dramatic backdrop for the ensuing battle of fire and earth, as bounders and earthquakes were sent my way and i returned fire with gun and fire magic.
Here, the game began for me. Suddenly my character stats and magic and equipment took on new meaning. I started to develop a sense of strategy for how I upgraded my skills and set my face towards the adventuring path. The rest of the game made more sense as well, my role as an adventurer of growing renown fitted well with what had gone before and the odd overly interested villagers I'd been dealing with till then.
Grownup in a way as committed and intelligent as any novel.
I've still a long way to go in Fable 2, but already it's won me over so that I know I'll be spending a lot more time here. And still, more than anything else I have the sense of a guided experience being handed to me, just as it was in Populous, by someone who knows their art better than most and is willing to stand by the decisions they've made. Perhaps more than anything, this works for me because it's quite simply one of the most grown up games I've ever played. Not grownup as in sensible and restrained, but grownup in a way as committed and intelligent as any novel.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: