Fable II

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Lionhead

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Xbox 360 Preview - 'Fable 2'

by Rainier on Jan. 1, 2006 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Fable 2 is an inventive action RPG that will be a true sequel to the original, offering even more choices and building on the core gameplay theme of “Fable” where your every choice continually defines who you become, allowing you to truly live the life you choose. Set 500 years after the original, “Fable 2” will provide gamers with an epic story and innovative real-time gameplay including a massive amount of freedom and choice.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Games
Release Date: TBA 2008

Peter Molyneux has earned himself a curious reputation of making promises he can't keep in regards to his unreleased projects, but while the half-hearted backlash hasn't stopped the legendary developer from making prognostications, his most recent one leaves quite a bit of wiggle room.

"Fable 2 will be finished sometime next year... at 4:20 am," he said, opening a guided demo presentation of the massive (and massively anticipated) sequel. "Can't tell you the day, but I can tell you the time."

At least he still has a sense of humor about it all. Though very well received, the original Fable for Xbox (and eventually PC) lacked several of the key features detailed by Molyneux in the lead-up to its release. Instead of talking up the Xbox 360 demo right out of the gate, Molyneux emphasized that it was very much a work in progress, and that Lionhead had not specially prepared a demo for E3, as it would adversely affect the development cycle for the entire game.

Another year of development is expected for Fable 2, though Molyneux claims that the vast majority of the core gameplay is in place, and that the final year will be devoted solely to polishing and refining the overall experience. "That's really important, because we really want to make Fable 2 a landmark game," he said. "We think that we can make some differences to the RPG genre." With that, he launched into the demo, which would focus on two key aspects of the Fable 2 experience: combat and death.

Molyneux began with a discussion of the considerably altered combat system, before giving us a brief opportunity to down some random baddies in the overrun city of Bowerstone. As would be a common theme during the meeting, Molyneux assailed the original game, offering surprising criticisms that revealed either dissatisfaction in the final product, or merely an evolution in expectations.

"I want a system which is really accessible to use within a role-playing game, but a system that is much, much deeper than it was in Fable," he claimed. "[Fable's] combat was a little bit too button-mashy for my tastes. There wasn't enough variation there."

Surprisingly, his solution to this quandary was to simplify the control scheme, eliminating two of the three combat buttons from the original game. In Fable 2, all melee combat will stem from the X button, including standard attacks, blocking, and flourish moves. Ranged (weapon) attacks, meanwhile, will be executed with Y, while the B button will be tasked with unleashing magic spells. However, this meeting was all about melee combat, so he stuck with that concept and further explained his philosophy behind the button reduction.

"I know that's a pretty strange choice," he said, "because normally, in [Fable], we had the attack button, we had the block button, we had a parry and flourish button. We had three buttons, and we've reduced all that down to one button. But we want to try to make that as deep as we possibly can."

Indeed, one button can control it all. Tapping the X button will launch standard melee attacks, though mashing with reckless abandon will make for a difficult experience, as opponents will better be able to block and parry your advances. Instead, players must develop a rhythm to their button presses. In fact, during one heated battle, the faint sound of tribal drums could be heard in the background, accentuating the fact that a sturdy rhythm had been established.

Blocking attacks is as simple as holding down the button, which also allows the player to charge up a flourish attack. Mapping both to the same command might sound like a conflict, but it actually flows together nicely. Holding the button begins the charging process for the hero, but if an enemy attacks, he will automatically block, thus ending the charge. Should you charge an attack without being forced to block, you can simply release the button to launch a potentially deadly flourish attack. Despite the switch to a single button, the basic combat feels satisfying and certainly playable, with a combination of presses and holds allowing players to accomplish several distinct actions.

While that covers the basic combat options of the original game, Molyneux also made it a point to tell us about a couple of the additions implemented in the sequel. The environments will play heavily into what you can (or cannot) do in the game. In tight corridors, the hero will be unable to perform sweeping flourish moves, but he can slam his opponent's head into a brick wall, breaking its neck in the process. Such context-sensitive actions will also be used to throw enemies down stairwells or off of cliffs, as well as swing from chandeliers. In total, Molyneux suggested that hundreds of unique moves would be included in the final game. Additionally, loose objects (such as bottles and boxes) lying about can be heaved with a single button press.

"We've got fully interactive cut scenes," he said. "It's a similar system to what other people are doing. We never want to take the control away from you. We haven't got any canned cut scenes in Fable 2." Cut scenes will be instigated in one of two ways: by proximity (simply being close to the subject) or by using the "lookout button" to scope out the character, item, or event. As we looked down upon a grotesque potential foe, Molyneux grumbled a bit, pointing out the numerous graphical flaws that will be patched up during this final year of development. As he mentioned earlier, this wasn't meant to be a polished demo — just a glimpse at where they're at with the development process.

Before moving on to the concept of death, Molyneux briefly touched on the expansive nature of the game, which he says is "10 times the size of Fable." Every house in Bowerstone (and presumably the world) can be visited — and purchased! "We say this a lot, but it's really important," said Molyneux. "You can buy every single one of these houses. Any house you can go and visit, you can buy."

From the carriage house to the gargantuan castle, each and every structure can be owned. On top of that, most houses have cellars, which may grant the player access to some of the expansive underground terrain, which includes sewers, catacombs, caverns, and dungeons. Businesses, like the aforementioned carriage house, can be operated and thus profited from, though each has its own negative aspects. Molyneux mentioned that "highwomen" (highwaymen) may attack the carriages on their travels, prompting the player to fight the enemies off and protect the business.

With that, Molyneux launched into a brief discussion of how death is portrayed in video games, calmly (but sharply) voicing his displeasure with how recent games have used checkpoint systems as a crutch. "The idea of most games, including Fable, is that when you die, you go back to the last checkpoint or the start of the level," he said. "I just think that that's stupid nowadays. It really pisses me off. And I really feel ... if I do it more than twice, I feel like throwing the controller across the room. Because all the flow of the combat is broken by that, by you being defeated."

In place of such a system is one in which the player will fall in battle, but not actually die. Instead, as the surrounding enemies continue to pummel the hero, he will earn permanent scars that will shape the way he is perceived by other characters. "If you 'die' a lot, you get scarred a lot," Molyneux said. "You get scarred a lot, people react to you differently. Your wife, when you go back home, will come out and say, 'God, what happened to your face?' And that is a new emotion."

However, players will be given the option to escape the one-sided scrum, paying either experience or gold when prompted to avoid scars and continue unharmed. With that, our Fable 2 demo session had come to an end, though Molyneux asked the assembled crowd of journalists for questions. When the prospect of Xbox Live support came up, Molyneux had a very telling reply. "I can't talk about that," he said. "All I can say is, I love multiplayer, and I love co-op."

His publicist immediately chimed in, "I think that's enough clues for one day."

Preview by: Andrew Hayward

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