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Fable II on 360 is undoubtedly a highly enjoyable game, with humour nuance and buckets of gameplay. But when it comes to genuine intimate relationships things are a little lacking. For all the pranks, humour and companionship I never found anyone to really care about. Maybe I was just missing Natal's Milo.
Fable II on 360 is a fantasy role-playing game set in the world of Albion, 500 years after the original. One of the its major selling points is the 'sandbox' gameplay which allows you to go anywhere and do pretty much anything in the villages of Albion that you could do in real life - good or bad. That included things like getting drunk, gambling all your money away, having orgies, buying up houses and businesses, and having a family (or three). It sounded brilliant, but I actually found those aspects of the game to be a bit of a disappointment. That's not to say that Fable II isn't a great game, but there were definitely parts of it that were oversold.
For a start, the world of Fable II seemed to be populated by some of the ugliest people who have ever existed. Once I reached the stage in the game where I could get married, I couldn't find a single man (or woman) with whom I wanted to. It wasn't that there weren't enough people to choose from - you can seduce and marry almost anyone you like in Fable II, with a few exceptions. For instance, if the character is male and gay you won't be able to have a relationship unless you're male too. Lots of people in the Fable II universe are bisexual, so it doesn't really limit your choice too much.
I liked the way that being gay was completely normal though - no one batted an eyelid if you chose as a woman to marry another woman, or as a man to have sex with another man, or even as a man to go gallivanting around town in a pretty frock and high heels.
Predictably, sex was portrayed by the screen going black and a series of comments from your beloved (for instance, if you're pretty muscular he or she will say things like 'Oh! Oh! OW! You don't know you own strength!'). If you choose to have unprotected sex, there's a strong possibility that you'll have a child. If you have sex at night, you'll have a bonnie girl, and if you have sex in the day, you'll have a bouncing baby boy. Oddly, having a baby seemed to only be an option if you were married to your bedtime partner. As a hero, you don't have to actually stay at home and look after your offspring - your partner will take care of all for you. Having unprotected sex - especially with a prostitute - also means you're likely to catch STDs, although the effect of having these was unclear.
The problem was, I really didn't care. Villagers and children seemed so interchangeable, that I knew if I lost one family it would be easy enough to get an almost identical one in no time at all.
Lionhead's creative director Peter Molyneux really talked up the relationships in the run-up to Fable II and how, "If you do care about something, don't expect us not to care about it when it comes to storytelling." The problem was, I really didn't care. Villagers and children seemed so interchangeable, that I knew if I lost one family it would be easy enough to get an almost identical one in no time at all.
Consequently, when it came to making the big choice at the end, I didn't really feel concerned about the possibility of sacrificing them. In Mass Effect, I felt genuinely torn when I had to choose to save my lover Kaiden or my friend Ashley, as I had got to know and like both characters through hours of dialogue. It felt like a genuine loss, and they seemed 'real' in a way that most of the characters in Fable II do not.
The exception here is Rose, your older sister, who you get to know through cut scenes at the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, Rose dies very early on, and although you get the option to bring her back to life at the end, even if you choose it, you still never actually got to see her again.
I could quite happily fart and belch at my partner to my heart's content, tell him to kiss my ass, and flip him the one finger salute, but I couldn't simply ask him how he'd been doing since I last saw him.
I think this lack of involvement stems from the limited interactions with other characters in a meaningful way - instead of having a dialogue with them, you relate to them through performing actions from an 'expression wheel'. I could quite happily fart and belch at my partner to my heart's content, tell him to kiss my ass, and flip him the one finger salute, but I couldn't simply ask him how he'd been doing since I last saw him.
The dog companion had also been talked up before release - but I found that to be more of an irritation than anything. He always rushed off to attack high level enemies and ended up hurt and whimpering pathetically until I gave him medicine. He'd always bark at me while I was trying to concentrate on something and run off to show me dig spots which held worthless items like really lame XP potions. He'd constantly get in my way, and I'd have to either walk round him or wait for him to move. The threat of losing my dog at the end of the game actually had the opposite effect on me than the one intended - it was a bonus rather than something that made me sad.
I think the trade off for the game's excellent humour is that it's difficult to take the relationships seriously in it - the characters in the Fable II universe are frequently hilarious and entertaining, but in order to make people laugh they have become caricatures. As such, I found it difficult to care much about what happens to them or become 'attached' to the game world in the way promised, making a lot of the moral choices seem ultimately meaningless.
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: