When it comes to fantasy roleplay games, people think of the Elder Scrolls; the Witcher, Dark Souls, and rightfully so. However, there’s always been a game series that’s been popular, but not as popular as the former three: Fable.
In anticipation for the release of the rebooted Fable franchise, I wanted to look back at one of my favourite games of all time, and the sequel to the first game in the series. Fable II is a special game for me, personally – it was one of the first games I finished as a gamer and the first RPG game I ever played. It charmed and excited me in every way, and replaying it to review just shows how much nostalgia it gives me and how it hasn’t lost that same charm over time.
The game marks a middle-point in the series and clearly shows where the franchise was at its best in almost every way – storytelling, gameplay, level design, soundtrack – and those things should be applauded, appreciated and hopefully, replicated in the next-game-to-come. There’s just something about how the game approaches it’s way of storytelling and game design that sets it apart from any other series in the genre. It’s unique, enjoyable and memorable enough that people (including me) have even clamouring for the game to be ported onto PC, 13 years after the original release on Xbox 360.
Even before you start the game itself, the title screen is one of the most simplistic, but says a lot about the game. With music by Danny Elfman, a small musical tune plays, accompanied by painted artwork of the world of Albion. The music and paintings together give off this idea of memories and childhood that will play a role in the main questline. The main menu and loading screens are some of the most memorable in gaming and set the mood for the entire game. It’s reminiscent of the original Fable but changed enough that shows the passage of time since the 2004 game that started it all.
Fable II takes place 500 years after the defeat of Jack of Blades, and follows a new hero whose destiny is decided by a music box that they purchase along with their sibling while they’re living in poverty in Bowerstone. The initial hook to this game may be one of the best ever, and one of the most enticing. It’s so simple, but it sets up the story so well and doesn’t give too much away, and lets the player do most of the gold scavenging before picking up the pace. Instead of giving being the main story on a silver platter like most games, you have to work for it.
Right off the bat, you get the choice of being good or evil, a theme which is prevalent throughout the game depending on who you help or what actions and quests you take. While not being a hugely important part of the main storyline, it affects how people around the world see you; will they cower in fear when you’re close or will they love you and want to marry you (and constantly ask you for sex)? One of the very early choices in the game dictates whether or not Bowerstone will have a good, prosperous economy which is easy to navigate or if it’ll be poor and overran within corruption, greed and crime. The game does a good job of making your actions and choices matter even if they’re not as central to the story as you’d hope or expect.
One of the things that Fable 2 does really well is humour, and the same goes for the other two games in the series too. A very simple, Monty Python-esque approach works wonders for a mostly-cartoonish and tongue-in-cheek game. Bowerstone Cemetery has a huge collection of gravestones with lots of stupid and dumb markings of them. These jokes also play well into the characters, whether they’re main characters or not, and some of these jokes even appear in the quest descriptions too. Some of the quests are so outlandish and stupid that you wonder: “Well, that was pointless” – something which Fable II excels at – perfectly bizarre quests which are fun but question what the hell it was all for in the end.
There is so much fun to be had within the new world of Albion. There are references to the original game (if you can find them), marrying a reincarnated mayor and ruining someone’s life, kicking chickens for the amusement of a sentient stone door, helping people reverse their bad actions after getting hold of a demonic book – there’s at least one thing that someone can enjoy about the game.
A lot of the gameplay itself is very good and immersive. Buy properties, shops and mansions, marry and have kids, exploring the world and finding chests and keys. The combat itself is the best out of the three games in the series and it’s decision to split the experience gained into categories based on different combat attributes is a vast improvement over the original game but unfortunately couldn’t be replicated by its successor. It feels very fluid and fun but at times its unresponsive which leads to confusion on how you were hit and where from – but for the most part the combat excels in every way, although it does feel a little easier difficulty wise in comparison to the other games.
Bosses in this game are fun and unique but the final encounter has a lot left to be desired. It’s not actually a fight at all, but a message within itself about power and wielding it. Fable and Fable 3 have fantastic endgame bosses and it’s a slight shame that Fable 2 couldn’t have done the same thing instead of having a long cutscene with a few button inputs.
Truth be told, the graphics don’t hold up incredibly well. They’re not bad for 2008’s standards, but replaying the game on Xbox One through backwards compatibility hasn’t allowed the game to age as nicely as its predecessor, which had a remaster that overhauled the graphics significantly in 2014. The graphics can be forgiven, however, as the game has never seen a port to PC or rerelease for modern consoles, so it’s not surprising the graphics don’t hold up as well as they should. That being said, the cinematic cutscenes wonderfully continue the plot and show a lot of personality, even if they’re just 2D drawings instead of fully animated cutscenes.
Fable II is the standout game of the entire Fable series. It greatly improves on things established in the original game and makes it an even more enjoyable adventure than before. Despite falling short in very few areas, the perfect blend of RPG, action and humour is what makes the franchise so special and endearing – and Fable 2 is the pinnacle of the series at its very best.