Fable II: Talk Softly and Carry a Big Sword

 October 13, 2008 - Lionhead's long-awaited Fable II ships to stores next week. In celebration, we're giving you five days of Fable II coverage this week. Each day we'll explore a different aspect of Fable II in both text and video. The first three days focus on the different aspects of combat -- strength, skill, and will -- with the final two days looking at relationships in the world of Albion and the differences between playing as good or evil.

Though we are breaking up combat into three parts, it should be noted that no one should focus on a single aspect when fighting. Combat is meant to be a mix of sword, guns, and magic. Focusing on just one, while certainly acceptable, isn't going to look very cool. If you want to impress the ladies, you're going to want to mix up your styles. Slow time with magic, then get in a few hacks with your sword, and as your enemy is reeling, whip out your pistol and blow off their head. Not only does this look slick, but it boosts the amount of general experience you earn, which will help you level up faster so you can more easily separate an enemy's head from his body.

The X button is dedicated to the sword. There are no other required buttons to hack and slash your way through the evils threatening Albion. The left thumbstick is used to point your sword in the right direction. Where you hold the thumbstick, when you press X and how long you hold X determine the type of attack you unload.

Your prowess with the sword is tied to your strength ability. There are three places to spend experience in strength to boost your performance in battle -- Brutal Styles, Physique, and Toughness. Physique and Toughness are easy enough to understand. The first increases the amount of damage you do in hand-to-hand combat (and also hulks out your character) with the latter boosting your health bar. It's Brutal Styles that unlock new combat functionality and will likely be the focus for your experience point spending.

There are four levels of Brutal Styles, each one opening a new avenue for combat.

Level 1: Blocking
Hold down X and you can block most attacks. This is the most basic of moves, but it's always good to have defense to keep your face from getting broken.

Level 2: Flourishes
Hold X to charge up a flourish and push the thumbstick towards a defender. Release and you'll unleash a powerful attack that can break through an enemy's block. Your enemy will be knocked to the ground, where you can drive your sword through their gut or let your dog go for their tender bits.

Level 3: Chain Attacks
With perfect timing, you can chain strikes together, increasing the speed and damage of your blows. There are "subtle clues" to help you perfect your timing. You'll hear war drums as you fight, the beats signaling when to attack. Do your best to match the rhythm and you can unleash your fury on your foes. You can mix in guns and magic to your chain attacks as well, for some more spectacular battle sequences.

As a bonus, Chain Attacks earns you some added skill with your firearm. After shooting, listen for the click of the hammer and fire immediately -- which gives you an instant reload. Get the timing right and you can rapidly fire bullets. Think of it like an old Western, where the gunslinger fans the hammer as he sprays some banditos with bullets.

Level 4: Counters
Lastly, you can learn to counter enemy attacks. Push the left thumbstick in the direction of your enemy and tap X as he's about to hit you. If timed correctly, you'll avoid the attack and counter the move, spinning your enemy around and leaving them open for a devastating finishing strike. A sword through the back will end just about anyone.

Though there are only about a half-dozen types of melee weapons (swords, maces, axes, hammers, cleavers), there are a large variety to choose from within those types. Melee weapons have some general classifications so you can easily tell its overall quality. Steel is better than iron, but worse than a Master or Legendary weapon, for example. But you can always just look at the damage rating, damage type (blunt or cutting) and attack speed to determine what's best. And if you're still too dense to figure it out, the highest rated weapon (for sale or in your possession) will be marked "Best."

There is, however, one other factor to the quality of a weapon. Some weapons have augment slots. Augments are magical gemstones which grant bonuses in combat. Lower-level augments can give a boost to damage, but come with side effects. The Slash & Burn augment adds fire damage to your weapon, but leaves you vulnerable to scarring. The higher end augments have no negatives. The best of the augments we've found is the Ghoul augment, which drains enemy health with each strike to revitalize your hero. Once an augment is attached, it can't be removed, but a sword with a couple of augments can be a mighty powerful tool for saving Albion.

Melee combat is just one-third of the puzzle. Tuesday, we'll examine guns and then finish off our look at combat on Wednesday, with magic.