Last time on Bad Games That Should Have Been Great, I ripped into the first Dead Rising just in time for the sequel to come out. Now, a new huge title is looming near: The ultra-hyped Fable III. No more than a few months ago I played Fable II for the first and last time. The experience haunts me to the bone, so it only makes sense for me to explain my endless frustration with a title that a large number of people seem to love, my friend and fellow Internet blogger Lisa Foiles included. While there is nothing wrong with liking Fable II, or any game for that matter, what I’m ranting about is mostly my experience and my general lack of enjoyment, leading me to ask the ultimate question: “How does one enjoy Fable II?”
Oh, and as usual with these extended rants, this article has been rated Spoilerific for the amount of plot I’ll be giving away, including and especially the ending and any important details that you might not want to know should you yourself still wish to play Fable II. Here’s your last warning.
Fable II isn’t about anything. There’s no immediate threat in the game, or at least not one that ever really feels present save for when I go out of my way to bother it. The plot of Fable II feels like a hornet’s nest tucked away in some obscure place on my property, buzzing away without causing any trouble. Every so often a hornet flies off to gather materials and pesters someone on the other end of the property, causing them to freak out and think the nest is a problem. Ultimately, I’m sent over to said nest to eradicate it, but in doing so I cause an army of hornets to hate me forever, or at least until I’ve sprayed them dead. That’s how I feel about Fable II.
The game begins with a very promising cutscene. I went in expecting one hell of an experience and from the graphics in the cutscene I was pretty excited. The cutscene shows a bird flying around, until it craps on my young character’s head. This was my first red flag that something was wrong. The very first moments of the game began with the game crapping all over me. It was all downhill from there.
As I said with the hornet nest analogy, the plot feels content doing nothing until I force it to attack me. The actual plot revolves around my character, an orphan boy who apparently happens to be one of the last heroes of the land, going out to find three other heroes and make them stand on a place to transfer power to me so that I can…I’m not sure exactly why. These other characters were utterly useless in the game since each of them only specialized in one of the three specialties, Strength, Skill, and Will, whereas I could master all three.
Let’s look closer at those three there. Strength was all about physical combat with swords and hammers as well as increasing health and defense. After leveling my Strength stats a bit, most enemies easily fell to my giant sparkly hammer of doom. I used maybe three weapons in the game, with close to 50% being my big hammer, a huge letdown since part of the fun of an RPG is discovering newer, more powerful weapons as the game progresses. I was able to purchase the strongest weapons available for minimal work at jobs. More about jobs and money later.
Next was Skill, or more accurately, The Stat That Affects Guns and Arrows. Since you can use crossbows and guns- no wait- since you can use guns and why would you end up using a crossbow, you level up your accuracy and other Skill-based talents such as a zoom function and the ability to shoot specific body parts. Once you learn how to lock on to heads, there is no reasonable challenge left since you can just point at the head and shoot, blowing their head off with a blunderbuss. Zero strategy needed, zero strategy used. Most of the time enemies will run down a path at you single-file, making for extremely easy head popping targets.
The last specialty, Will, is magic. You can learn a bunch of magic spells, though I never used any of them except for Force Push since it was my favorite from the first Fable, a game I actually enjoyed quite a lot. While I know I could have learned to shoot fireballs and lightning and…some other stuff I think, I stuck to Force Push. I was capable of aiming it directly at enemies (useless next to just shooting them in the head) or I could charge it up to maximum and kill everything around me in one awesome attack. Sure I’ll take a bunch of damage as I’m charging, but who cares? It’s not like the game penalizes you for dying.
Oh right, the game doesn’t penalize you for dying. You fall over and look like a goober for a moment, then you stand back up and the game tells you that you lost some experience orbs comparable to you dropping your cereal on the floor and discovering that you’re only missing a few Lucky Charms. I died three times in a big plot-based battle since I didn’t see any negative side-effects and my strategy of “Keep shooting the weak point of the crystal thing with my blunderbuss” made more sense than “Dodge enemy strikes, be careful not to die, then attack when you have a chance!” Both strategies resulted in the same outcome, except my way was faster and involved less moving.
So as I’ve said, there are three side characters the plot demands you go find purposefully to create a plot for you to finish. I still don’t get why I need three other party members when I have all their skills and am, in fact, far better at them than they are. Furthermore, these other characters are incredibly annoying. The third one in particular, a pompous bastard who specialized in guns, was a character that my game persona would never, ever interact with due to my game persona being a good guy.
This is the biggest problem Fable II has: It asks you to build a game narrative for yourself with your character, yet completely disregards reason when putting you through plot points. The third hero is incredibly rich and owns a mansion in a town of ill repute. I see him murder a number of innocent NPC’s just because he can, plus he betrays me in the only task he asks me to do. I played the game as a super good guy, the type that’s in the running for next Jesus if the spot becomes available, so it becomes incredibly jarring when the narrative I’ve written for my character, as the game’s instructed, is shattered because my character just stands and watches a loathsome villain murder people in front of him. Given the choice I would have shot this guy, or at the very least refused to work with him. Instead, my character stairs blankly.
There’s one of Fable II’s biggest problems: The main character has zero personality. Dressing my character in new clothes and making him thrust his pelvis at strangers does not constitute personality. He’s shallow, making any moments the game intents to be powerful storytelling moments fall flat on their face.
The best example of this comes about half way through the game. The plot, once bothered by me, had me enter a tournament thing in order to impress the Big Bad of the game enough to recruit me into his army and grant me access to his big, scary tower. I easily won the tournament and got drafted, which caused me to get my head shaved and dress in the dopiest army costume for “The Bad Guys” I can possibly wear. Once done, the game tells me that I’m in Week One of my time on The Spire. Over the course of a few hokey “Go here and talk to this person for this scene” missions, the game jumps to tell me I’ve been on The Spire for 38 weeks, then 137 weeks, then 10 years. That’s right, the game decides to tell me that 10 full years have passed in this world, the world that I’ve had a hand in shaping, supposedly. Upon getting off The Spire and returning home, I’m told to go see my wife and child. In a previous mission unrelated to the plot, I had wooed a woman, married her, and had a child with her, allowing for this supposed “sentimental” reunion. I return home and see her (she looks exactly the same of course) and my son who is now…nine years old for some odd reason. He was a baby when I left for 10 years, now he’s nine. Alright, whatever.
To further explain why this “touching moment” means nothing, you need to understand one of the other game mechanics at work. Because Fable II is about establishing your own narrative, every NPC can and will interact with you based on three different scales which are “How scary/funny you are,” “How kind/rude you are,” and “How good you look.” You can change these scales by performing actions called “expressions” to people, such as dancing, playing the lute, growling, farting, or acting like your hands are sock puppets. If a woman doesn’t particularly love you, you can check to see what her favorite expression is, maybe Blow Kiss, and do that several times in a row until she falls in love with you and wants to get married.
These three scales helping NPC’s to evaluate you and act accordingly sound like a good idea in theory, but in practice they collide with one another to cause a complete disconnect with the believability of the world and the enjoyment of the player. At one point I walked by a townsperson who saw me and said, “Oh, you’re so wonderful! I think you and I should be married. No one is a great as you are. Ugh! You’re so ugly!” Keep in mind, that string of sentences was all from the same person in the same conversation. Apparently, someone at Lionhead Studios decided that while it’d be good to have NPC’s judge you off one scale, it’d be even better to have them judge you on all three at the same time, making for a mass of braindead strangers saying the same things over and over to you, even if the person right next to them is also saying the same thing.
This constant barrage of conversation from worthless characters is what ultimately destroyed my “touching moment” with my son, whom I’ve never seen as a nine-year-old. While trying to hear him weepily tell me he’s missed me and loves me, a crowd of villagers had assembled and proceeded to yell the usual inane prattle that they yell at you no matter what you’re doing, running through their stock lines of judgment based on my clothing, my deeds, and how often I danced for them, all while I’m trying to hear my son tell me something really tearful.
Keep in mind, this ten-year-absence of my character from the world has had no negative effects on said world. Beyond my son now being an improbable age, nothing has changed. No wait, I think one town goes from summer to fall seasons, but that’s it. I was really excited when I learned I had jumped 10 years because I figured my money would have accrued over the 10 years as well. See, each day within the game all the properties you own pay you rent. A feature I actually liked about the game had you receiving payment even if you haven’t played the game in a while, meaning I came back from four days of not playing to a huge wad of gold in my pocket. “Alright!” I said, “I’ve been gone 10 years! Bring on the millions!” Needless to say, I didn’t receive a single gold piece upon returning. What a waste.
Granted, the currency in the world is utterly worthless after a certain point, and that point is the first time you decide to master a job. The first job I could perform was that of a blacksmith, which gave me the chance to play a little mini-game where I made knives. You can gain a few levels of blacksmith skill here, meaning each knife you forge will give you more gold, eventually allowing you to earn enough to buy the best weapons in the town, plus a handful of properties. Once you own enough properties, money stops existing for you, or at least in any way that has meaning. Every in-game day will start giving you thousands of gold, making any little find that your dog wants you to dig up mean absolutely nothing. Why should I care about digging up 150 gold pieces when I get 90,000 every day within the game?
Speaking of the dog, I hated the dog in this game. He’s worthless as a companion since he does nothing but bark and whine, making me stop my forward momentum to placate his needs. He’s supposed to help you find treasure chests and places where you can dig for items, but he’s not useful at either. Most of the time you’ll be running along a road toward your destination, only to have your dog make a beeline in the opposite direction while barking. You hopefully saw where he ran off to so that you can follow him. Once you find him and he tells you to dig, you’ll usually dig up chump change, worthless gifts for villagers that I didn’t care about, and pies. So many pies are apparently buried in this world, as if magic pie nymphs do nothing but bake pies that they then burry for someone to find at a later date. Though God help you if you eat the pie to recover as every pie consumed will make you fatter and more corrupt. Let it be known: pie makes you corrupt.
Many aspects of Fable II just felt like the QA guy didn’t care one scrap about what he was approving. The best example of this comes from the bartending mini-game. It’s simple enough as it tasks you with pressing the A button to stop a meter as it fills from red to yellow to green. Stop it when the meter is green and you’ve poured a perfect pint of beer. While the game itself isn’t that bad, other than the master bartender standing off screen saying the same babble for every beer poured (“A perfect pouring,” “A tasty pint,” “A perfect pint,” “A nice head on that pint,” etc), the thing that boggles my mind is the lack of attention to the animation of the beer pouring. The game designers programmed a beer tap but decided to make it a double tap instead of just a single. My character would place a mug under the first spigot and pull the first lever, but the second lever would be pulled down, the one next to the actual lever he was pulling. This wasn’t a one-time thing, either. This happened every single time I played the bartender mini-game. I still have no clue how a game with this much backing has stupid things like magic levers getting by anyone with half a brain on the development end..
Everything comes crashing down in the finale of the game. After the battle I mentioned earlier with a big crystal thing, I expected there to be much more to do, yet the game sent me to the final conclusion almost instantly. The Big Bad showed up when the other three heroes were standing in some special “Give Me Your Power” circles that don’t do anything except poke the hornet’s nest and killed us all, except my character because naturally he can’t die. He just had a dream-like sequence that mades me want to stab myself in the ear just to make it stop. After yet another failed attempt at drama, I got back up and could now kill the Big Bad, a process as simple as grabbing my blunderbuss, aiming at his face, and pulling the trigger. Easiest final boss of any game ever.
That’s when the real kicker comes in. The Spire can apparently perform miracles and grant me any one wish I desire, but then I’m only given three plot-related options: Revive my family and dog, revive all those killed during the making of The Spire, or instantly get a million gold pieces. First off, this felt extremely bothersome to me since the narrative I’d built meant nothing in the grant scheme. I could have easily chosen to take the money instead of saving anyone despite playing the entirety of the game as a perfect saint, an aspect that really lessened the importance of playing one way or the other. Playing completely good or completely evil is only really there to reward you an achievement for maxing out your good/evil scale to one extreme, even though it should be the thing that ultimately decides what you choose. “You wanted your family to survive? Too bad, you’ve been a murderer and a cheat, so you live alone with your money.” Worthless.
Furthermore, Dragonball Z has taught me wish-logic, meaning that of the three choices, one was obviously evil and two were moronic. If one wish revives everyone killed during the making of The Spire, and one revives just your family, why doesn’t the wish reviving everyone killed during the making of The Spire also revive your family? They were killed as a direct result of The Spire. The proper two choices should have been, “Take the money and run,” or “Wish back everyone killed as a result of Lucian.” That simple. It worked on Namek, why shouldn’t it work in Albion? Once again, worthless.
I could keep ranting about Fable II for pages, but I see no point. Fable III will come out and be a smashing success even though Fable II is a mess of a concept. So please, someone explain to me why so many people enjoyed it. I don’t understand and I honestly need someone to spell it out for me. Leave a comment and tell me what you either did or did not like about Fable II. In the mean time, I’m going to reminisce on the next Bad Game That Should Have Been Great: Star Fox Adventures.
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