Beaten: Fable 2

Truth be told, I beat this some time ago – shortly after the excellent Dead Space. There’s a lot to be said for playing a game outside of its release window and after the whole zeitgeist effect has worn off.

Let’s cut to the chase. If I were the sort of person to rate a game out of ten, I’d give Fable 2 a polite six and leave things at that. I found the experience entirely underwhelming and almost completely free of challenge. The end result being a fairly anemic gameplay affair which all the meta-gaming garnish doesn’t really fatten up. It feels like a poorly scripted and entirely predictable BBC Christmas Day 1-hour special that nobody would give the time of day except it happens to feature a bunch of evergreen luvvies all hamming it up and overracting for the sheer indulgent joy of it.

Humbug!

Fable 2 seems, to me, to suffer an indentity crisis. It doesn’t know if it wants to be an action game, an RPG or a virtual pet simulator. It hopes to blend all three and stun us with its daring but it just ends up being a bit confused and weak. To distract us from this, the game literally swamps us with meta-games and presentational fluff. Going by most people’s reception to this title, its a tactic that appears to have paid off.

Fable 2, like its predecessor, boldy asserts that every action has a consequence that resonates throughout the world and its inhabitants. Yeah, ok. The question is: “Do I give a shit what manufactured cyber-nobodies think of my virtual conduct?”. Well, I only really care if it affects meaningful gameplay. Let’s compare and contrast:

  • If I don’t beat the boss at the end of this dungeon, I can’t make further progress in my efforts to reach the game’s conclusion.
  • If I fart near someone who doesn’t like farting, they may think a little less of me and make a remark saying so.

Of those two consequences, I know which means more to me in the context of why I play videogames.

I don’t do Facebook or any of those other internet popularity contests. I really don’t care for what most people think of me – because most people don’t actually know me. I don’t care for trends. I don’t care for projecting an image. I’m not an attention whore. I don’t need validation for my actions or opinions.

So, in my case, I really don’t want to play dolly-dress up. I don’t need to become the most popular virtual entity in a virtual town in a virtual world. I don’t care whether my dog likes me that much unless it affects his ability to find me treasure (which has some meaningful purpose to my in-game endeavours. Usually fiscal). I don’t care if I have scars or tattoos on my virtual body – it doesn’t look anything like me at all anyway! I don’t care if I’m married or own a house within which to live and raise a family.

And if I did care about much of that stuff I’d have bought The Sims years ago instead.

I'd rather be in a Syndicate remake, guv.

I'd rather be in a Syndicate remake, guv.

Money. Root of all evil it may be, but a necessary evil nonetheless. You find money deposited as treasure or, as part of the thrilling experience that is Fable 2, you can get a job. Jobs in Fable 2 are dull, repetitive, unforgiving, yield little income and use up your time that you would typically prefer to spend playing exciting videogames instead. You have to earn money in Grand Theft Auto – but in that game it’s daring and exciting. In Fable 2, you can pull pints, chop wood or smelt swords. Each job is a micro game. Micro games, if you recall, was a term used to describe the sort of 3-second wonders that filled the Wario games on Nintendo platforms. Typically single-button-press affairs that required you to tap the button to perform a very simple, obvious task – like catching a stick. Fable 2 takes this accessible, shallow micro-game concept and stretches over a period of hours. Each profession sees you monitoring a little bar with a highlighted zone within it. A marker moves back and forth in the bar and it is the player’s job to press the action button when the marker is in the highlighted zone. Success means a perfectly pulled pint or a well-chopped block of wood. The process is made more labourious because we’ve wrapped up this 1-bit concept in 128-bit graphics, sound and animation. So each interaction is part of a 3-5 second animation. Not that you’re watching that of course, you’re watching a little graphic with a marker bobbing back and forth in it. Successful actions earn you money. Very little money at first. But after you’ve earned a set amount of money the game decides you’re more skilled and therefore entitled to a higher wage. The marker ping-pongs a little faster and the highlighted area becomes a little less predictable to hit and you can continue in your job, earning a little more cash and wondering when you’ll get promoted again so you can keep pushing the A button to earn more cash.

On one level it’s fucking atrocious. On another, it’s a profound commentary on the mundanity of service-level labour. You’ll have ample time to reflect on all of that as your mind will certainly not be captivated by the work you’re doing.

But, hey, money! And with money you can buy stuff. A lot of the stuff is just bullshit meta-game crap. Costume items, furniture for your house and so on. You can, of course, also buy weapons and items to heal yourself. Items that offer more permanent effects such as books that allow you to teach your dog to be a more effective treasure hunter can also be purchased. Should you care, you can also acquire books that make you more proficient at making silly gestures. I file that under meaningless meta-bollocks.

Thankfully, you can give up manual labour after only a few monotonous hours by investing in some property. Nearly every building can be bought in Fable 2. Buying a house will allow you to either live in it (kind of pointless really), raise a family (mostly meaningless) or rent it out to earn income from it (That’s a BINGO!). My advice: buy a pub as soon as possible. It’s pricey but it’ll net some reasonable income whilst you’re out killing giant rats. Needless to say once you’ve mastered cashflow, the game unravels pretty quickly.

Combat is separated into three disciplines: melee, ranged and magic. Swords, guns or spells. It allows for action-based combat with a degree of strategy – allowing you to weaken your opponents from afar or debilitate them with a spell before going in for a kill. The spoils from a battle take the form of orbs that you collect. Orbs come in four colours – three of which represent experience added to a partciular type of combat discipline whilst the fourth is ‘general’ and tops up any experience points you have in your pool. You later spend experience you’ve earned to unlock skills in each discipline such as the ability to counter a blocked melee attack, target a specific part of the body with your ranged weapon or learn a totally new magical spell.

That’s about as deep as combat gets. If you wish, you can focus on one discipline and play the game as a button-mashing action game or a third-person shooter. It’s not particularly memorable as any of those things because it’s pretty average in each area. Maybe average is too unfair a term. Perhaps adequate suits it better. It does the job but it doesn’t do it in a manner that leaves a positive lasting impression. I believe the popular internet expression to do it justice would be ‘meh’.

I’m hungry. Let’s use a food-related metaphor again. So, the main substance of the meal is a bland affair and it has far too many of that particular vegetable that you’re especially not fond of. However, there’s an awful lot of gravy and garnish along with a wide variety of condiments that you can take or leave. Apparently, the chef is quite reknown but, as you start this meal, you know it’s not going to fill you up and no amount of frilly garnish is going to compensate for what is an ultimately unsatisfying dish. You’ll probably go for a greasey kebab on the way home and enjoy its unsophisticated but functional charms a lot more.

(Please now imagine your Fable 2 character performing a belch expression as a fitting end to this commentary).

I actually have many more points to raise regarding Fable 2 but I think you get the gist of my views of the game without me substantiating them further.

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