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Lionhead returns to Albion with the eagerly awaited sequel...
The relatively small amount of hype surrounding Lionhead's latest title seems a little odd and slightly disconcerting, considering the typical grandeur we've come to expect from creative director Peter Molyneux. Presumably slightly belittled by his claims billing the original Fable as the greatest RPG ever created, the return to Albion seems somewhat subdued to what we typically expect from a videogame sporting Lionhead's familiar logo. Perhaps some of the apprehension stems from the fact that, despite switching to new hardware, Fable 2 sticks largely to the same formula and adopts an evolutionary approach as opposed to rewriting the rulebook.
Like its predecessor before it, Fable 2 begins with the protagonist (male or female this time around) undertaking menial tasks that form the basis of a tutorial to the game's various mechanics. We won't be spoiling too many surprises by revealing that the initial stage revolves around carrying out a task for the local law enforcer, which depending on your choice, ultimately shapes the appearance and outcome of your surroundings as you advance through the formulative years of the main character's life. Quite quickly the child becomes the victim of an unspeakable evil (we'll try to avoid any spoilers throughout this piece), which establishes the motive for his/her adventures in Albion.
And So Our Adventure Begins
A sense of fear and panic spread around Fable 2 fans when Molyneux's wish for reviewers to consider playing Fable 2 along with a non-gamer recently emerged. The fact is Fable 2, like Fable before it, is an RPG for a wider audience. It hides the hardcore number-crunching, obscure acronyms, and more complex elements of the RPG genre, and injects a sense of charisma and personality with its socialising and customisation aspects that bear more in common with The Sims. Much of this stems from the expression system that makes an expanded return from the original Fable. In Fable 2 it's possible to view the likes, dislikes, and opinions of each and every individual of Albion. By expanding upon the basic selection of gestures available from the start you can begin to have a sway on these factors, whether it's stretching your biceps to impress the lads and ladies of Albion or mistiming a fart and following through for comic purpose. The effect is an RPG with a vivid, believable population that packs plenty of charm and personality.
Of course being a hero and showing Bandits, Hobbes and Trolls the sharp side of your shiny blade is one thing, however the toughest task perhaps comes when it's time to settle down and start a family. Again this is widely expanded upon from the concept in Fable, with the option of having sex (protected or unprotected) to bring your very own offspring into the world - just be careful of any nasty diseases. Getting hitched brings benefits and the occasional present (provided you keep your spouse happy), however maintaining the perfect family is perhaps one of the hardest tasks in Fable 2, so don't be too surprised to find divorce papers if you've decided to stay away from home for too long! The inclusion of man's best friend, the loyal dog, is a further touch to add some extra appeal. But like much of Fable 2, this also lends qualities to the traditional core gamer. There's a tangible sense of somebody to share the experience with, and although it doesn't quite rival the bond between Wanda and Agro in Sony's Shadow of the Colossus, we must confess to feeling quite attached to our faithful mutt. Visually changing to replicate the alignment of the main character, the dog also brings various benefits such as alerting you to nearby treasures and dig spots (no idly trawling through the landscape for 100%) and comes with his very own list of gestures.
Completing quests is all very good for raising your profile around Albion however it won't provide you with the funds to purchase new weapons, clothes, and other accessories and certainly won't keep food on the table for the family back home. So to pay the bills and afford that luxurious new home and furniture, you'll probably have to spend some time in the various jobs that are offered throughout the game. Performed with a timing based mini-game the hero can get his hands dirty chopping wood or forging blades, track and kill dangerous criminals as a bounty hunter or eliminate targets who pose a threat to the criminal underworld as an assassin, or simply serve drinks in the local tavern. Each job has various levels to rise through, which in turn makes the mini-game more challenging and increases the money you'll be paid as a result. Alternatively you could just take the plunge with the three gambling mini-games that appear in the taverns and were made available across Xbox Live Arcade - just be careful if you racked up a huge debt when merging your characters.
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