Fable II: 10 Things You Absolutely Have to Know !

             With Fable II just around the corner, Lionhead fans can start getting legitimately excited. Fable II really is looking like it will be the sequel everyone was hoping for. From a visual standpoint the Dickensian fantasy art direction is stunning and ably backed by polished animations and the visual evolution of the player, while the gameplay is a tasty melange of combat and role playing, in a world that responds to the player in ways both overt and subtle.

If you haven't been following the coverage closely, consider this a ten point primer for one of the most promising games of the year. If you have, then this should be a good recap.

                                   Choose Your Path 

 "For every choice, a different destiny," the E3 2008 trailer tells us, and that's likely to be a fair assessment. While we don't know how much your actions will affect the overall plot, we do know that your choices can have huge ramifications down the line for the way the world appears, what kind of place it becomes and what options you will have. We also know that the game keeps track of the sort of person you are in quite a complex way. Sure, there will be obvious good/evil choices that the player will make, but the system is also a whole lot more subtle than that.

Are you vicious for the sake of being vicious? Do you have wives and children all over Albion? Are you sociable or are you a loner? Are you selfless or selfish? Are you rich or are you poor? Do you work or do you steal? Everything you do in Fable II is interpreted by the game, changing how you look and how people interact with you. It's a complex web, and we're looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

One of the most exciting aspects of choosing your path, however, has been described by Peter Molyneux as the concept of sacrifice. Sure, it's all very well to decide to be good, but true goodness is selfless, and games like this are all about being selfish; acquiring stuff - money, property, weapons, experience, and becoming a hero. Molyneux has said that you'll face decisions in this game that will require a huge sacrifice on the part of the player, and that will have long-term consequences.

One sees the player forced to choose whether it will be himself or an attractive young girl who will be hideously scarred for life. It's easy enough to say that you'll take one for the team, but if this means that everyone in the world - your children included - will recoil in horror at your mangled visage wherever you go, that's a pretty big cross to bear. Can you deal with that? Or will you just let the girl get hurt?

                                               Man's Best Friend

Canine companions are all the rage in videogames this year, but while Fallout 3's pooch is a one-time deal - if it gets killed that's it - Fable II's dog is with you throughout the game, and boy is it convincing. Molyneux has said that it's ten times smarter than the creature in Black & White, so it will be really interesting to see how it learns and evolves over the course of the game. You can play fetch with it, teach it tricks, reward or punish it, and it will morph in appearance and change in disposition as the player character does. What's the dog's role? Well, aside from companionship, it'll point out things the player is missing (whether that's hidden items, alternate paths and so on), help the player in combat, alert the player to nearby enemies and - from some of the hints we've heard - play a role in the story.

                       Follow The Yellow Glow Road

Okay, so the dog will help ensure that the player doesn't miss opportunities off the beaten track, but what about those gamers who just want to power through the story? That's where the Breadcrumb Trail comes in. It's a golden trail that appears to guide the player to the next location to progress the story. Hand-holding? Yes, but you can turn it off if you wish, and the game's smart enough that if you decide to go off and do something else, it won't keep bugging you to get back on the main path.

                                        It's Good to Play Together

Fable II's co-op play comes in a couple of flavours - couch co-op and online co-op. In couch co-op, a friend can pick up the second controller and hop straight into the game at any time for any length of time. You'll share the screen and go adventuring together. Online co-op is slightly different. As you move throughout the world, you'll see purple orbs that represent other players (from your friend list and possibly based on other criteria such as location) also playing the game. Want one to join you? Simply walk up to it and you can invite them in as a henchman (or give them a gift if you're not in the mood). On the invite screen you're able to determine the terms of the co-op - how much gold and experience points will you share? The other player can - again - play cooperatively for as much or as little time as he likes, then take the spoils back to his own game.

Importantly, the actions of a henchman are persistent, so if you invite a friend in, who then goes and kills all your children, there's no way to bring them back. You can see how the choice to share your world can have a tangible impact upon it.

Co-op is a chance for other players to check out your character and your world, and thanks to the dynamic nature of the game, you'll likely see some big differences from your own. Of course, you don't have to rely on simply stumbling across a friend's orb in the game world - you can also find out where friends are and what they're doing from the map screen and then jump right to them.

                     Burping to Make Friends and Influence People

Fable II is a game with a heavy focus on interactions with other characters, and to make this seamless and visually interesting, the team has gone with a Sims-style system. Walk up to anyone in the world and you can bring up a radial menu of options to interact with them. This is called the Expression Wheel (replacing the clunky menu system from the first game), and basic options are things like asking who the other character is, being fun, flirty, social, rude or scary.

Many of these then open up into more specific options. If you're flirting, for instance, you may be able to choose between a wolf whistle and trying on a pick-up line. Also like The Sims, you'll see tangible results from your advances or buffoonery, with icons and numbers popping up above the person's head indicating whether you're winning them over or annoying them. You're also able to extend your interactions. Rather than just selecting one option over and over, you can turn that option into a longer action via a basic mini-game; if you get the timing right, you'll get a greater reward.

Social interactions can be crafted to appeal to each individual - you can bring up info about each person in the game to see how they currently feel about you, what they like and dislike, and who they are. Anyone in this world can be won over. You can marry women and men alike, and bring NPCs on adventures. It's powerful stuff, but it will be interesting to see how fun the social aspects will be.

                                     One Button Combat

Fable II's combat system is designed to be as simple as possible, without sacrificing depth. The way it works is that three of the face buttons represent different styles of combat - use X for swordplay, Y for guns and crossbows and B for magic. You can switch between these on the fly, allowing you to do things like use an area of effect magic attack to knock back a number of enemies that have surrounded you, then hit one of them into the air with your sword before blasting him with the shotgun before he hits the ground. The more stylish the attack, the more experience you'll gain, with four types of experience to be gained.

You can then spend that experience on customising any of the three combat options. As Peter explained: "If you want to go through this game and be a super, uber-elite swordsman, with a whole suite of cool moves and environmental attacks and confined combat, all mixing together to make you a super-cool swordsman, [then] spend your experience on the blue button."

Each form of attack has a wealth of options, and you're free to determine the range of abilities you have for each. Importantly, just because you've only got one button for sword attacks doesn't mean you don't have options. You can mash it for fast combos, hold and release for different attacks, use it in combination with directional inputs, even tap it in time with the music for more powerful attacks. There are also context sensitive moves depending on what's in the environment around the player (a ledge to push an enemy off, for instance), and your moves will of course also change depending on the melee weapon you're using.

                                            Crime and Punishment

Albion is a world with rules, so while you can gallivant across the countryside killing monstrous vermin with impunity, murdering humans is seen in a completely different light. Kill someone in town, and if you're seen you'll have the town's guards on you in seconds. From there you can choose to resist arrest, pay a fine or do community service. Community service generally involving going out killing stuff for the townsfolk. The circle of life, eh?

If you're not seen, on the other hand, you'll get away scot-free, with only an inky stain on your character's soul. 

                                Working For Fun and Profit

In an about face from the conventions of the genre, in Fable II you'll get no gold from completing quests. You'll get experience and renown, but if you want cash, you'll have to either earn it or steal it. A few of the jobs you can take on are as a blacksmith, bartender, woodsmen or assassin. Will these be fun in their own right, or will they be a chore? That remains to be seen.

Thankfully, you can also choose to simply steal gold, and if no one sees you, there'll be no repercussions... other than the impact such devious acts have on your character's development. So rather than trying to steal from a shop in broad daylight, which will probably end in you being chased by the local constabulary, you may be better off waiting until night, then breaking into the store. That's another big difference this series has from most RPGs - how many times have you spent time in this genre wandering into people's houses and ransacking their stuff without any reaction?

Peter Molyneux has said that you can go through the whole game without earning gold and still be pretty kick-ass in combat, but you'll be missing out on a host of great options. With gold you can buy more effective weapons, as well as clothes, augments, shops and houses - which you can then decorate and customise.

                                                       Own Albion

Yes, you can theoretically own every building and every business in the world of Fable II, but according to Peter Molyneux to buy absolutely everything the world has to offer will run you around 100 million gold. Given that a massive castle in the rich part of town will cost you a million gold, that's a lot of cash. Still, you won't necessarily have to earn it all, as you can also play the real estate market - buying properties then trying to sell them later for a profit. You can also make friends with the owner of a property, and maybe he'll offer it to you for a lower price.

                                     Polygamous Man About Town

Given the freedom that players are given to interact with each and every person in Fable II's world, to buy each and every structure, and to play the game how they wish, it comes as no surprise that you can have wives and/or husbands spread all over Albion.

You're also able to choose between protected and unprotected sex when you get busy with your partner(s), the latter leading to pregnancy and children. You'll be the most important influence in the lives of your children, so if you're an evil bastard, your child will likely be a bully. If you don't treat your wife well, she can fool around behind your back and will eventually ask for a divorce - taking half your worldly possessions with her. And if your wife dies, your children will be shipped off to the orphanage. It's a cruel world.

And in a very interesting twist, if you choose to be a female adventurer you'll have to carry and bear any children you have, leaving your husband to tend the homestead.

So that's Fable II in ten nutshells. The other thing that's worth mentioning is the Fable II XBLA release Pub Games, which gives you the chance to earn gold that you can import into the full game. With three games to play, it's sadly not that good, but still, it's a cool concept.

Thanks for reading, Hope you Enjoyed.