Ill start again same as I did for Gears 2 and tell you right off the bat that the code we played at rage was old, even so I’d have to say I was rather impressed.
Graphically the game is looking stunning, especially the detail, you can also see Lionhead has tried to move slightly away from the hobbit-like style they had in fable 1 instead taking on a bit more realistic feel that still maintains the fantasy type vibe that Fable 1 had. The real time lighting effects were great and showed off especially well when you could see the sun piercing through the trees in the wooded areas, the details and textures in the towns where also very good and had a high level of polish for code deemed to be very old.
The first thing that struck me about Fable 2 was how easy it was to pick up play, something any title featuring co-op, and especially couch co-op (for those of you with wives and girlfriends or boyfriend and husbands) really needs to get right. I spent most of my time trying the combat, which honestly was my main point of interest as I didn’t find the combat in fable 1 to be that great, and found it got repetitive after a while, so of course I was worried when the one button method was announced. Press X and you attack. That’s it. There are no multi-buttoned combos, no modifier commands, nothing but the movement of the Left Thumb stick and the X button. If you love to button mash, you could probably make your way through Fable 2 by just smacking the X button with no care for the carefully crafted combos that lie beneath the surface. But for anyone who wants more flare and challenge to their combat, Fable 2 offers quite a bit more.
While your melee weapon is linked to the X button, there are dozens of variations you can attempt. Combat is largely rhythm based but, unlike many games with similar systems, the range of the timing seems fairly broad. Pressing X, X, (hold) X and then releasing creates a different result than X, (pause) X, (hold) X and release. To help players feel the rhythm, drums begin to pound when you string combos, signaling times to press the X button. It reminded me of Patapon in a way, and although the drums are initially jarring, the beat sort of mixed down quickly and it wasn’t long before it felt as if the beats where following my button taps and not the other way around. which actually made me feel a lot more in control of the combat, and as if I could swing it whatever way I wanted. Blocking is also done with the X, simply by holding. This also powers you up for an attack, but each time you parry that charge is instantly dissipated. So you can’t block and then suddenly released a powerful strike. Which is actually a good thing because honestly that’s all you would do.
Counterattacks, which require some timing and a little luck, offer some visual style. Landing a counterattack (hitting an opponent just as they begin to swing at you) leads to brutal execution-style moves. The camera snaps to a dramatic angle, time slows for a few seconds, and the hero performs one of a variety of moves. In just ten minutes of combat, I had pulled more than a dozen different flourish moves all of them different. One had the hero slam a bandit against a brick wall with his forearm, breaking his neck, and then shoved his sword deep into his stomach. Another was more of a taunt, just a simple backhand that seemed to demoralise the opponent.
The combat is contextual, it factors in your button presses, your skill level, where you are standing, and the environment. Stand near a bottle and you can hold X to pick up the bottle and toss it at an enemy. Fight in a bar and (with proper positioning and timing) you can swing off a chandelier to deliver an attack. Again, all of this is handled on a single button. but the amazing thing is that it really does work.
Perhaps what’s most impressive is that the combat, animations, combos, and flourishes level up or adapt with your character. When you are younger you will have different moves then when you become a seasoned hero. As you move from good to evil, your animations and flourishes also change. That Fable 2 could pack so many variations into its combat is a testament to Lionhead’s desire to deliver on its promises for an incredible RPG experience on Xbox 360.
The Y button is used for range combat and the B button for magic. These work just like melee combat. Tap Y for rapid but run-of-the-mill bow shots. Hold down for precision aiming and more satisfying kills. Which is a much better system than Fable 1 had. Magic also works on this same system but I didn’t delve to deep into that. Finally there’s death. What happens when you usually die in a game? You have to reload from a save point and play the same part again. And again. Or watch a large armor clad woman descend from the heavens and pick you up only to place you back at the entrance of the room 15 seconds later. Fable 2 does none of these but it does find a way to make you pay.
If you lose all your health, your character will be knocked out. The nearby enemies will begin kicking and beating you on the ground. You have a choice to lose experience, gold, or reknown in order to get up. If you wait long enough, you’ll get up on your own, but the longer you stay on the ground, the more permanent scars you attain. These scars will affect how people react to you in the game and will also serve well to show your friends that you suck at the combat.
When you do get up, your character will be powered up slightly and determined to redeem himself. Molyneux wants gamers to feel a swell of emotion when their character rises from the ground, like they are at their lowest point and they need to now regain some respect, and it works, when you see your character on the ground getting the hell kicked out of him it’s not pretty its not fun, but it really seems like a more “real” choice than just loading a saved game or starting the fight again, and when you do get up, you do feel more of a sense of hatred for your foes because of what they have done to you especially once you realise how this will affect you later.
Besides the fighting, dying and beautiful graphics I also noticed something else. There are no cut-scenes in Fable 2, with the exception of the intro movie that lasts “approximately 1 minute, 37 seconds.” After that, everything is in game and in your control. Anytime you want some cinema with your gameplay, just pull the Left Trigger. This acts like Gears of War’s “look” command. Only instead of just turning your character’s head towards an item of interest, the camera cuts to that character. They may notice you watching them, but you will get a clear view of whatever they are doing at the moment. It’s probably one of the most innovative features in Fable 2 but I did find that sometimes id forget about it, at the same time though it didn’t detract from my experience and I personally prefer games that don’t have cut scenes, especially ones not done in engine as I feel it breaks the illusion.
While only playing a couple of minutes out of the 50 or more hours Peter Molyneux has claimed it would take to do everything doesn’t exactly give a full realizing of the depth promise, I can assure you that the single-button combat works. And as a long-time RPG fan, I can see the potential for Fable 2 to have one of the best combat systems to date. Whether Molyneux and co. can deliver remains to be seen. But I have faith. A lot more faith than before and as I said this was early code so things can only have gotten better.
Last Updated: October 7, 2008