Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Albionest With You - Fable 2 Was A Disappointment

By Dan Apczynski and Kirk Hamilton

Here we fricking go again. Lionhead's Peter Molyneux has come out of his hobbit-hole once more to tell us all about how Fable 3 is going to be so amazing, how it will feature ten more bodily functions, eight new kinds of pie, and the ability to marry an acorn and have little acorn children. (Acorn Child: "Kill.... me....")

Well hoo-frickin-ray, but here at GM, Dan and Kirk are still smarting from the crushing disappointment they felt after playing through the first game. It had been hyped beyond belief, given a 9 by the hard-to-please Edge Magazine, and described by Eurogamer as a game that "will charm you, thrill you, and leave you very, very happy."

With apologies to Eurogamer, we beg to disagree.

Kirk: Damn it. I really, really wanted Fable 2 to be good. I was intrigued by the big-picture concept, and had enjoyed Black and White quite a bit back in the day. I also liked the first game, though I played it on the 360 and didn't manage to finish.

I knew from the minute that Molyneux started talking about the sequel in early 2008 that the morality system would feel shallow, and thought that it kinda looked like an original Xbox game with HDR lighting, but still I found myself getting a bit enchanted by the screenshots that came out - the rounded corners, the glowing art-style, the really great character design...

When it got such positive early reviews, I went and got a copy, thinking it really might be my next big RPG. I didn't truly own my disappointment until some time had passed, but it's safe to say that I never really enjoyed the game.

The story was shallow and incredibly manipulative - freedom wasn't even an illusion, and the game made no kind of attempt to make a statement, Bioshockian or otherwise, about that fact. To the contrary, it earnestly reveled in its Hobson's choices and hemmed-in pathways with absolutely zero acknowledgment of their falseness. Case in point: I would've killed that shithead Reaver the minute he shot my old buddy Barnum, but because the game deemed him a necessary NPC, I couldn't.

The story's pacing was bizarro, like a dude with one leg skipping on... ice, while... trying to recite, um, the Monty Python Parrot sketch. Yeah. The narrative never made any sense at all, and the villain's motives were only revealed in a journal that was broken into like twenty-five separate pages and then buried in the game's hilariously difficult-to-use inventory.

Technically, Fable 2 didn't work very well, either - the load times were a total groove-killer, and I never did figure out where the hell anything was in relation to anything else. Combat was a broken mess of spamming hordes in which victory could only be achieved with melee weapons. As a result, character customization was also broken, since leveling up your dude's melee weapons made him into a muscle-bound brute.  30% of the way into the game, my guy went from "Dread Pirate Roberts" to "Stone Cold Steve Pirate Roberts."  No amount of celery could undo his wrecking-ball-sized guns.

But more than that, the whole flow of the game; the floaty animations, the irritating and repetitive NPC chatter, the fact that the only character I felt attached to in the whole game was a dog (well, other than Barnum, but see earlier statement w/r/t Goddamn Stupid Reaver)... the farther I get from Fable 2, the more sour the recollection.

Whew. Feels good to get that out of my system. Dan, I know I basically talked you into getting this game back when it came out. I apologize, but feel free to let me have it.

Dan: Well Kirk, we've certainly been through a lot together, and our friendship will make it through what we will look back on as the "Fable 2 disaster of 2008," in which you helped to sell me on the purchase of this game.

Okay, okay, I don't want to hate on Fable 2 TOO hard.  In fact, let me start with what I felt was truly CHARMING about this game.  First off, it's a beautiful game.  The character design and environment are so incredible that I really thought I'd picked a winner.  When my character woke up in the snowy Bowerstone slums, completing quests for various villains and the town drunk, what I observed seemed to be a cinematic and enveloping experience.  As my dear, sweet Sparrow turned the crank on her newly purchased music box, I was thrilled--ready to soak in the rich and emotive story that had been reflected in the pre-release hype.

So what happened?  My character had no sooner sprouted horns then I had pegged Fable 2 as a repetitive, shallow experience.  While the visuals remained strong throughout, it was the story that had failed to coalesce into anything meaningful, with my central character standing awkwardly mute as event after non-engaging event took place around her. She had done plenty of unspeakable things, and yet the game seemed to all but ignore her actions.  Even the game's most sweeping changes, like my murderous spree through Oakfield failed to elicit any REAL change: no more Temple of Light, no more blue skies... but wouldn't you know it, identical people moved right back in. After I paid off the local law enforcement, nobody even seem to care that I'd turned the sky black and leveled the local church.  "Chicken Chaser," they called me.  For real?

Paradoxically, that it lacked of story was one of the most interesting things about Fable 2. Most of the rest boiled down to such mindless button mashing, to the point that I felt relieved at the game's overall brevity.  When it came time for the game's final "make-a-wish" sequence, I felt my wish had already been granted: a chance to move on.

Kirk: Things I would've wished for:

1) More than one outfit that didn't make my guy look like Austin Powers.
2) Some sort of explanation for the the quest-giver Theresa's inconsistent teleportation abilities. Or for that matter, why she ever did anything she did.
3) Getting to actually see my sister again after I wished her back alive. Instead I got some frigging note. No wait, as I remember it, I got a description of the note I got.
4) A map that made sense. Seriously. In retrospect, it was probably the single biggest detractor - The game's sandbox could've been fun to play around in, but I just never felt like anything was connected to anything else.
5) Maybe I haven't been been clear: Getting to kill the crap out of Reaver for murdering the only NPC I actually cared about in the game. Seriously. I like Steven Fry and everything, but damn.

Dan: Word. I'd add the following:

1) A main character that wasn't a complete cypher.  These weird people are talking around you and all you can do is dance like a chicken?
2) Shorter/fewer load screens.
3) Clearer and more dramatic cause/effect relationships with regard to character decisions.  The good vs. evil thing was purported to be such a huge part of the game, but the execution was incredibly superficial.

I'd keep the dog, though.  Even when I was evil, I couldn't bring myself to scold the dog.  I wonder, did anyone?

Kirk: I scolded the dog. He whined, I felt bad about it, but then he forgot all about it when I threw him a ball.  Honestly, as hard as I tried, he never showed any signs of psychological scarring - no peeing on the rug, no hiding from visitors, nothing. Nowhere near as fun as abusing your pets in real life!

Dan: Oh, stop it.  You'd never abuse your pets in real life.  In case my guinea pigs are reading this, don't worry--Uncle Kirk didn't mean it.

Kirk: Yeah, I know. But Molyneux promised me more. If I'm gonna be evil, I want to be evil! Also, Fable 3 should have guinea pigs. Magic guinea pigs.


johnnytruant said...

I played Fable 2 to the end but only after a month long pause in the middle when I got bored - in the end I just rushed through the last third just to see the end.
I sort of got why they made it so you couldn't die in combat, but in the end that just made the game too easy and not enough of a challenge. I didn't really care how many scars I had, especially when the character models were relatively small on screen during play.
Some good intentions in the game, but as you say, not really followed through with. And as for the main character being mute, not one of the NPCs ever mentioned it or seemed to mind, idiots.

Kirk Hamilton said...

I had almost forgotten about the "can't die" factor. Just one more thing to make all of the player's in-game actions feel utterly inconsequential. Sheesh.

Dan the Man said...

Ha, for real--how can one truly live when one cannot die?

I just could not suspend my disbelief through those stupid NPC conversations (non-versations?). With Hammer's overzealous desire to be BFFs, Garth's willful condescension, and Reaver just being a constant prick, I just wanted the opportunity to tell them all to STFU.

Anonymous said...

Your seriously that sad you would criticize the "can't die" factor of the game. Without resurrection phials (a key item in the "magic" concept of the game) then "one" can die and fail their quest, taking them back to the last checkpoint. Notice how almost every game nowadays has a checkpoint that you revert to once being defeated. Look at the logic and if you ain't happy make your own damn game. Good Luck!

Ninja Zombie kitten said...

in all honestly, the ONE thing that about made me throw my xbox out the window and cry till dawn was the ending, a brief "wtf..?" moment, then ZERO boss fight? was there ever a boss fight may i ask? the fact i breezed through it in less than 4 days, i'm like sad, this was my first game on a new xbox and i almost cried at how disapointing it was, i really miss fable 1 and fable the lost chapters, i played through both, and at least in those there;s a challenge (albeit minimal...) and the fact after you win the game, you don't want to play it again, and there's nothing fun to do... and this is coming from a 16 year old girl who has severe arthritis, cerebral palsy, and can barely hold a frigging controller..? i mean COME ON.. and yes, the can't die factor of the game very much annoyed me, so what? i lose a few experience points? there falling out of these people by the thousands without even killing them! AND YES, i murdered several people, and all that happens? i pay a small fine, and get called a few names.. wow.. that really stings... NOT! and the obvious choices of the game... do we want several npcs we'll likely never see in game or care about, our FAMILY (not to mention the ADORABLE and lovable dog we so luckily get) or... gold? w..t..f.. the non-versations didn't bother me, only because i loved fable one and the muteness seemed better, although it WOULD be cool to have an option of saying things, different things.. anything... did i mention theres no final boss? yeah.. that bugged me.... why didn't gwe get the chance of kicked lucian's little royal old fart a$$?