Release Date: TBD
There's an interesting, albeit vicious, cycle that accompanies most Lionhead games. The game is initially announced, Peter Molyneux hits the road to tell people about the game, he mentions some incredible or at least interesting feature that the game will have, the feature is eventually cut, and the game ships.
Fable 2 might be most notable at this point because it breaks the cycle. Molyneux drew reactions that ranged from intense interest to equally intense disparagement at this year's GDC, because as he explained, Fable 2 is about love. "We're Lionhead," Molyneux said. "We have to do something new ... we have to give you what you don't expect."
Molyneux discussed this as part of Microsoft's pre-GDC press event, held in San Francisco a day before. By his way of thinking, love is the last real emotional frontier in video games; we've had games invoke most of the other emotions you could care to name, but there's never been a game that made you feel a real sense of emotional attachment. Fable 2 is an attempt to change it.
The game is set 500 years after the first Fable and once again takes place in the land of Albion. While many of the same villages and buildings are still there, the world is, in Molyneux's terms, "a hundred times bigger." Once again, you'll begin the game as a child, and this time, you'll play as a girl or a boy. As your character grows up, you can choose his or her path, whether it's good or evil, warrior or mage, merchant or adventurer, and so on.
With enough money, you can buy any building you see. In Fable, you could run shops or buy houses, but in Fable 2, you can become the mayor of a village, the king, or the emperor himself.
That's all a little incidental to the process, though. The tricky part is how Molyneux intends to work love into the game. Essentially, there will be a number of ways in which Fable 2 attempts to try to tug on your heartstrings, provoking an emotional investment in the world of Albion and your role in it.
First, you'll get more of a reputation faster than you did in the original game. Molyneux simply says that "the world's going to appreciate you for who you are." Instead of just referring to you by your bizarre title, the people will react to you according to your reputation, with awe, fear, or respect as necessary.
Second, you'll again have the option to woo and eventually marry both men and women over the course of the game, putting them up in houses throughout the world and pursuing a barely secret polyandristic/polygamistic lifestyle. (You ever notice that the English language isn't really set up to handle polygamy?) When you're married to a member of the opposite gender, you can opt to have protected or unprotected sex with them, and if you opt for the latter, pregnancy may ensue. This not only means Fable 2 will be one of the first games where you could potentially play as a pregnant hero (the only other game I can think of that does this is Turok 3), but it may be the first game where your hero gets pregnant over the course of the game.
Naturally, in the fullness of time, you'll have a kid, and the kid will reflect your actions and morality. If you're playing as a good guy, your kid will be a decent sort; if you're evil, the kid will be a bully. One of the major emotional reactions Molyneux mentions here is the notion of your child running out of your house to greet you when you return home after a long day of adventuring.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your character will meet a puppy early on in his or her life, and as your character grows up, the puppy will grow into a dog. This dog will become your constant companion throughout Fable 2, serving as an early warning system, a pet, an attacker, and a sort of guide.
"Every ounce of what we know about doing simulations is in that dog," Molyneux says. "He's the best we can make." Lionhead's gone so far as to hire psychologists to ensure the dog won't be annoying or aggravating, and that you will in fact learn to love the dog. If it's hurt, it'll whine piteously; if it's hungry, it'll go looking for food on its own; and if you manage to somehow abandon the dog, it'll go on an "impossible journey" to find you. It may take hours, but eventually, you'll find the dog has found you yet again.
You discipline and interact with your dog using the trademark Fable expression system, but at the outset, the dog cares about and wants to please you. Towards that end, it'll really take care of both you and itself, attacking the most threatening enemies and taking what weapon you're currently using into account as it does so.
There's still a lot that isn't known about the dog at this point. Molyneux says that the dog's lifespan is an important part of the game that he's not yet willing to talk about; additionally, every player's dog will be different, but he wasn't saying just how.
This is where the doubt comes in, really. Molyneux is asking a lot of players with Fable 2, and may be asking for more than any developer ever has asked before. While Lionhead is trying something new here and deserves praise solely for that, one could be forgiven for remaining cynical. Are gamers really ready and willing to play a game that's asking it to love its characters? Are we, as a hobbyist culture, willing to commit that much emotional investment to a game's narrative?
Either way, Fable 2 is something we'll definitely need to watch as time goes on.
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