Earlier today, during a visit to the Microsoft-only Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica, we met with Lionhead Studios' Peter Molyneux to get an updated look at Fable 2, which is currently scheduled for release "definitely in 2008." Our last meeting with Molyneux focused on the unconditional love that you'll feel for your pet dog in the game, but on this occasion he chose to talk about Fable 2's one-button combat system--a presentation that we've been waiting for ever since the "This is NOT Fable 2" keynote at Leipzig last year.
After drawing attention to Fable 2's unfinished state by pointing out some visual quirks and flaws in the version that we were seeing, Molyneux kicked off his presentation proper with talk of his desire to make a landmark game, one feature of which will be a revolutionary combat system. His goals for Fable 2 include combat that's "so simple that anyone can play it" and that "makes you feel cool," both of which he hopes to achieve with just one button on the Xbox 360 controller button. The X button, in case you're wondering.
The presentation took place in the sizeable city of Bowerstone, where we're told that every building (there are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of them) will have an interior that you can explore. We weren't interested in checking out furniture or stealing cutlery on this occasion, though, because bandits were attacking the city. Before engaging any of them in combat, Molyneux took the opportunity to show off another new feature that has been implemented in the game: the lookout key. Holding down the left trigger button lets you instantly take a look at whatever is the most interesting thing going on in your vicinity, as if seeing through the eyes of a lookout. On this occasion, the most interesting thing going on was a bandit killing a civilian on a nearby street, and while still using the lookout cam it became clear that said bad guy had spotted our hero and was headed in his direction.
In the finished game, combat will be controlled using three buttons: one for melee weapons, one for ranged weapons, and one for magic. For the purposes of the E3 demo there were no guns or magic attacks, though, so all combat was controlled with just one button. How does that work? It's a quite elegant system, actually, and not nearly as button-masher-friendly as you might think. Tapping the button does a melee attack, holding down the button blocks, and releasing the button after a block performs a special attack. How hard you push buttons and how long you hold them for will have an effect on the attacks that you perform, as will your weapon choice, and your proximity to other enemies or environmental objects.
Those factors also play a part in determining whether or not cinematic "battle flourishes" are triggered during combat. Flourishes take the form of quick camera close-ups, slow-motion sequences, and the like, which look good enough to make you feel even cooler than usual as you do battle with multiple enemies, but aren't so indulgent that they interfere with the battle or its pacing. Another noteworthy feature of the flourishes is that they're not limited to special moves, so while slow-motion roundhouse attacks are cool and all, you'll also have plenty of opportunities to bask in the glory of a headbutt, an elbow to the face, or an attack from behind that you block without even turning around.
Given the combat system and the fact that your character in Fable 2 will be in a constant state of evolution, it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume that no two battles in the game will ever be quite the same. The handful of fights that we participated in played out quite differently to Molyneux's, for example, because while he appeared to favor pushing enemies up against walls and pillars that he could bash them into, we--admittedly more by luck than judgment--were skewering enemies from behind so that our blood-covered sword came out through their chest.
Based on our limited time with Fable 2's combat on this occasion, it certainly promises to be every bit as varied and as accessible as Molyneux wants it to be. It's worth noting that your pet dog will also have a role to play in combat as well, but Molyneux chose to leave his canine companion behind on this occasion.
Shortly before the end of today's presentation, Molyneux touched on another feature of Fable 2 with which he's seeking to innovate: death. When you "die" in Fable 2 you won't actually die, and you certainly won't have to return to a previous save or a checkpoint. Rather, you'll collapse on the ground, where enemies will continue to attack you. When you eventually get up you'll be scarred for life, and those scars will affect the way that some other characters treat you. You'll purportedly have the option to spend experience points on the Fable 2 equivalent of cosmetic surgery if your deformities become bothersome, by the way, but since scars are undeniably cool it seems like those points might be better spent on leveling up some skill or another.
We look forward to bringing you more information on Fable 2 as soon as it becomes available--most likely from the floor of next month's Leipzig Games Convention.