More than the sum of its parts

I’m still in a circular mood (360, circular, get it? har har). Got Fable 2 recently just on the strengths of its many positive reviews and because I generally tend to like Peter Molyneux’s games a lot. Yes, even back to Populous. I played it when it came out. I’m old.

Well, it doesn’t disappoint and most of the praise thrown in the game’s direction is well warranted. Fable 2 does a lot of things very right, and a few things wrong. However, the more I play it I’m finding out those wrong things were done wrong essentially because they had no choice. But all in all this is one of those games in which the general feeling of the whole being way more than the sum of its parts is really strong and noticeable.

Thoughts follow.

I’m not gonna dissect the game or review it; just going to quickly mention things that caught my eye for good and bad.

+ This game was loved while it was being made. I know it sounds weird, but you can tell it was. There’s a lot of tender love and care put into it, and that’s always good. They really wanted for it to be a great game and it shows. It’s an intangible quality, but it’s there and any gamer with sufficient past experience or the appropriate sensibility can tell which games were loved and which ones were not. It shows mostly in the care put into all the little details.

+ It looks drop dead gorgeous. It definitely has a strong Oblivion visual feel to it, but I personally find this one’s style a bit more attractive. Colors are richer and more vibrant, and the locales seem more densely packed and better crafted. It’s a pleasure to just run around the countryside, towns and little villages.

+ Combat and experience: There’s an interesting take in here. Quests do not give you xp; they award renown instead. Renown is a measure of how well-known your character is across the land, either for your good or bad deeds. Higher values of renown open up new quests. Likewise, your character itself does not “level up”, what levels up are your combat and magical skills themselves. How do you level them up without gaining experience from quests? By gaining experience from combat itself. Each time you defeat any enemy, you gain some combat xp.

The nice thing is that the kind of combat xp you gain depends on how you decide to off the nasty buggers. There are three types of combat xp, which are essentially melee, ranged and magical xp, as well as “general” xp which can be used to boost any of the previous three. Ex., If you defeat a bunch of foes only using spells you will get an amount of general combat xp, plus an amount of magical xp -only-. If you waste them at range with your gun or crossbow, you will only get general+ranged xp. This is interesting because many times combat situations put you in places where you have to make some hard choices. Many times I really wanted to level up my magic because I was “right there” about to get enough for a new skill rank… but the fight progressed in such a way that it was better for me (survival-wise) to kill them at range. It’s an interesting system that expands the good ol’ boring kill for xp.

+ Skills get more powerful and allow you to do more things in combat as you gain ranks in them. Ex., rank 2 of your main ranged weapon skill allows you to “lock in” to targets and do a bit more damage that way. Rank 3 gives you a slightly sniper-like zoom which can be advantageous in some situations. Rank 4 lets you target individual body parts of your enemies (yes I think there’s an achievement for headshots). Another interesting system that goes beyond the mere “do more damage”.

+ I found combat itself to have just the right pace and feeling. 95% of your encounters will be against multiple mobs (and we’re talking 5-6 here, not just a pair) so it naturally has to slow down a bit to give you a chance of success. Magic skills are visually nice and can offer some utility, ranged skills keep you out of harm’s way (as more MMO hunters would know) and melee can get brutal, visceral and fun. At your initial main melee skill level you’re only limited to plain old swings of your weapon, but as you gain ranks you learn to do blocks, counters, chains of attacks to increase speed and special moves to inflict extra damage. It just feels great, the controls during combat are solid and it really feels up there in your face. Crunchy, visceral and fun that’s the kind of combat I like. The enemies do a very good job at trying to surround you when numbers are on their side (ex., always) and generally behave correctly. It’s a bit hard to put into words, but when you’re up there fighting six guys or more surrounding you and you start fending them all off with blocks and chained attacks, sneaking in very nasty power attacks…it does a great job of portraying how you character is more powerful than them, which in turn makes you feel more powerful than them. It’s a very good illusion put up by a very, very nice combat system underneath. I wish combat like this was adopted more broadly.

+ Art direction and design are top notch. It’s heavily story-driven (but not strictly linear). While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I enjoyed it. The story is very well presented and dispensed at good-sized intervals, depending on how fast you go around doing things. The first 30 minutes or so of the game are simply brilliant; they introduce your character in its childhood, living in a town which is straight out of a Dickens’ book. And the choices you make regarding how you undertake your quests for good or bad, not only change your moral standing but also the future environment as well (you see the result of your choices once your character is an adult and the game “proper” begins). Masterfully done. Later on this happens elsewhere in the game world as well; the choices you make as a hero regarding how you solve some quests later on end up changing the world in some areas. We’re talking major changes here, not just a thing or two. Complete changes in the visual appearance, quests and essence of the zones.

Your character changes visually as well, according to which path you follow and what things you do in-game. Evil characters slightly and gradually turn into something that looks demonic, good characters go to the other end and appear fairer. Eat junk or nasty food and your character will get fat, eat only fruits and vegetables and it’ll lose weight. Dress like a clown, dress menacingly or dress poshly and the NPCs react to you appropriately.

Top notch.

+ Yay for sexuality and adult themes in gaming. These ones are not explicit and tastefully done. More, please. We’re not kids anymore.

+ The voice acting is utterly and unabashedly brilliant through and through. The everpresent (exaggerated sometimes, but it’s okay) English accent just rounds up selling the whole package. I swear the voice of Dash the bandit has got to be the guy who played Plank in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”.

The not so good:

– It has interface navigation problems, but that’s the bane of all console games, not just Fable’s. There’s only so much you can do without a mizouse, so that’s that. It’s annoying, but forgivable.

– Maps of the zones serve only as a slight reference. They’re useless otherwise. Partly because there’s a nice glowing marker telling you where to go depending on which quest you have active (which you’re free to ignore and roam around anyway), partly because it’s just terrible maps.

– I realize it’s story-driven, but sometimes it feels there’s a bit too much exposition going on and while you can skip some dialogues, you can’t skip them all.

– No character creation whatsoever. I can concede that the trade-off for this was to have your character dynamically change for good or evil and also to have a story heavily focused on you as a main character, but still while I agree there should be some trade-off, I’m not exactly happy at always playing the same character. It has nothing to do with “the type of game” it is, or “you don’t need a character creation because it’s not an MMO” (as I’ve read somewhere). Oblivion managed to pack one, this should’ve had one too.

– Not nearly enough variety of weapons and wearables. While the wearables are nicely done and outside your mainstream MMO flare and style, the selection is still short. Feels a bit like Guild Wars in the sense that here’s your few weapons and armor and may God help you. Nothing you can do.

– The world doesn’t seem to be too big in comparison with other games we’re used to (you know the ones). Certainly feels bigger than Oblivion but that might be because of the variety of zones, maybe not so much their size.

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That’s about it. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I dearly recommend it. We now cease the non-MMO coverage in this MMO blog and we return you to your usual programming.

7 thoughts on “More than the sum of its parts”

  1. “I swear the voice of Dash the bandit has got to be the guy who played Plank in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”.”

    Nah, we all speak like that here! Apart from the queen.

  2. I could never really get into Powermonger myself.

    Syndicate, though…. *sigh*… so many good memories. Bullfrog really did put out quality work.

  3. Syndicate was simply amazing. I mean literally one of the best games of all time. Populous was great as well.

    If you ever play Oblivion without using instant travel, it’s a whole new game. The world just feels amazingly huge, and certain quests take on a whole new life because of traveling. TES 5 can’t come out soon enough.

  4. So when are they porting Fable 2 to PC? I finished Fable 1 on PC and am just waiting for the port.

    You can actually use ranged in Fable 2? I remember in 1 if you really wanted to skill that up it was way hard because of the way the enemies always just rushed you.

  5. No idea about the port.

    And yes you can use ranged. You’re still rushed by groups, but from what I’ve seen their first priority is to try and surround you, which gives you some time to range them down, even if it’s at a very short range. You can also shoot them point blank if you have to.

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