This week Zero Punctuation reviews Peter Molyneux's latest action rpg adventure, Fable 2.
I hope you're ready to do some donuts on memory lane, because the original Fable - an action RPG-type thing concerning the adventures of a mute, extremely placid-faced bloke with a very strange metabolism - was, of course, the second review I ever made, back when I was a nameless YouTube guttersnipe with nothing to my name but a website and a couple of yellow swatches. So all I have to do is review The Darkness again next week, then crash and burn into total obscurity for the next twenty-five years before being absorbed into someone's vagina and my life is officially symmetrical!
Actually, after that review, Peter Molyneux contacted me and expressed his hope that Fable II would meet my unreasonable standards. Well, that may have been a little characteristically over-optimistic on your part, Peter! Especially considering you didn't change a bloody thing.
Well, okay, there are one or two new things. Now you can be a mute, extremely placid-faced girl with a very strange metabolism, too. Also, you have a dog, whose job it is to point out treasure chests, a job it adheres to with admirable gusto. This is a dog that might possibly be a little bit too well trained, who pattered about in the background while the bandit legions were carving my buttocks into luncheon meat, barking excitedly about a boxful of amusing novelty hats he'd found.
Other than that, though, if you played Fable 1 the actual story aspect will give you an eerie sense of déjà vu. You start off as a small, apple-cheeked street urchin with a hilarious mullet who leads an almost Disney-esque life of idyllic wholesomeness - presumably to amplify the perverse glee when an equally absurd tragedy comes along and shits all over it. Your sister is killed, and you get shot, thrown through a window, and dropped ninety stories. But ten years later, you're all healed up and back for more. And having been through the worst of it, injuries suddenly become a lot easier to recover from. In fact, every time you die, you pop instantly back to life with a paltry random experience deduction that can be instantly recovered by swatting the nearest gnat. Oh yeah, and you'll also get an unremovable scar somewhere on your body, but Peter Molyneux has yet to grasp that not everyone gives a shit.
As in the last game, you can technically specialize in either melee, ranged weapons, or magic. And as in the last game, I quickly found that most enemies picked the first option, so you'd better have as well unless you want your torso looking like a satellite map of Baghdad. But really, here's the best strategy for combat: pick an area-of-effect spell, pour all your points into it to get to level 4 or 5 as fast as possible, put a piece of electrical tape over the "Cast Magic" button, go to sleep, wake up, win game, have a well-deserved cup of tea, stalwart hero of the land.
So the whole RPG of this "action RPG" is a bit of a mess. The combat is easily broken, and even if you try to challenge yourself - by, say, playing without using magic while someone sucks you off - the lack of penalty for death and the shortness of the story means you can plow through to the end credits before you've even cum.
But someone made the point to me that perhaps Fable II becomes a good game if you judge it not as an action RPG but as a Sims-esque life simulator with action RPG bits. Of course, that's a slippery slope. Maybe it would also be good game if you judged it as a Frisbee or from the perspective of a nineteen-century time traveler. It does smack a little of making excuses. One would think a game called Fable would be all about the story. I mean, a guy who works as a blacksmith for twenty years to save up and buy a house for his cunt wife, yeah, that's the kind of timeless legend that will live on through the ages, isn't it? But whatever. We'll play it your way.
The first thing you're gonna need is money. Questing doesn't pay as well as it used to, so you have to get a job. I guess I missed the short story where Conan the Barbarian took up bar-tending, but NO! Bad Yahtzee! Life simulator, life simulator! Adjust expectations! Okay, then. You know how in The Sims you can get a job as a mailroom clerk? You remember how you had to go into the office every single in-game day and play a little minigame where you fling envelopes into pigeon holes? Of course not, because it would have been really fucking boring! Yes, all right, Peter, it's more realistic than dead monsters dropping pocket change. But you know what else is realistic? Working a desk job for fifty years in a cloying mire of tedium and self-hatred before dying of a disfiguring facial cancer alone and unloved, forgotten within a decade. But you won't see many games about that - at least not until I've finished the design document.
And then there's the infamous marriage aspect. Flex your arms a few times in front of NPCs and many of them will swiftly agree that yes, your magnificent pythons and tendency to break wind in public prove your relationship commitment. Then you have the option of marrying something, although why you'd want to is a question the game skillfully avoids. Everyone has the same voices and endlessly repeated dialogue lines, so you'll run into nine clones of your beloved down any given street. And none of them will get their tits out when you're bonking them.
These are just a few of the excellent reasons why I grew bored after around twelves minutes of happy marriage and decided it was time to murder my entire family. This was the point I discovered you can't kill children, of course. So much for total freedom, eh? What, so it's all right for someone else to shoot me in the face and throw me off a building when I'm a kid, but the moment I try to spread the love then ooh, suddenly we're getting off-message! And while we're on the subject, why can't I marry my dog?
You see, you can gab on about freedom until the eagles choke, but in a game it's always going to be within some constraints. Fable II is actually pretty restrictive by the standards of sandbox games. The world is rather small and linear, and appearance customization is so shallow and arduous you might as well not bother. The key phrase here is: "You can, but why would you want to?" You can get married, bone your spouse 'til their eyes drop out, pump out enough kids to start your own jazz orchestra, but it's all for its own sake. You can buy every house in the game and be crowned king, but there's no benefit besides more and more useless fucking money to make your wallet look untidy.
I am, of course, emotionally jaded, but the characters in the game don't have enough charm to make me want to marry or rule them. They all operate as some bizarre, schizophrenic hive mind who will chide you for your numerous murders one moment and praise your farting prowess the next. Fable II is less of a sequel, more like an upgrade of Fable 1, warts and all. They just try to distract from the flaws by going: "Oh wook, it's a doggy! Mash up his widdle face and call him Chips."
- Could be president some day: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Your dog has to be like thirty years old by the end of the game, does that not give anyone else pause for wonder
- eGames expo in Melbourne this weekend woo party time in the Australian games industry