While roaming the E3 show floor earlier today, we noticed that a demo version of Fable II was playable on two of Microsoft's kiosks. We had an appointment to check out the game with Peter Molyneux tomorrow but we're as eager to play the game as you are, so ahead of what will likely be a more substantial Fable II story 24 hours from now, here's a rundown of what we saw:
The E3 demo version of Fable II appears to comprise six distinct demos: Childhood Male, Childhood Female, Combat Ranged, Combat Melee, Combat Will (that's magic), and Combat All-Rounder. We were invited to choose one, and after being told that the all-rounder character was the most powerful one available, we opted for that one.
Upon learning that our chosen demo would take place in an area known as Wraithmarsh, we were unsurprised to find our no-shirt-wearing tough guy wandering through a sinister-looking marshland on paths flanked by dead trees. It didn't take long for our canine companion to prove useful--he found and directed us to a treasure chest that we might conceivably have missed otherwise. Then he ran on ahead and started barking when he realized that there were enemies in the marsh ahead.
As we neared the enemies, the Lionhead representative who was talking us through the demo encouraged us to experiment with all of the different attacks at our disposal. Mixing up your attacks not only causes enemies to drop more orbs for you to collect, but on this occasion, it also afforded us an opportunity to switch among sword, shotgun, and spell attacks on the fly for the first time.
Each combat style is mapped to a different face button: X is melee, Y is ranged, and B is will. Tapping any button causes your character to ready the relevant weapon and then subsequent moves are performed by tapping or holding the same button, as well as pushing the analog stick in different directions. We were certainly able to mash our way through the first couple of encounters pretty mindlessly, but it seems unlikely that you'll be able to make it through the entire game without at least some semblance of skill and understanding of how the combat really works. For example, you'll need to learn to use your block move effectively if you're going toe-to-toe with enemies using melee attacks. When using magic, you have to master both area-effect spells and projectiles.
Magic appeared to be one of the more interesting combat disciplines as far as the E3 demo goes, if only because we were shown how you'll be able to customize your arsenal as you progress through the game. You'll have five spell slots available to you, and by dropping different spells into them, you can decide which ones are tied to which controls. Furthermore, all spells appear to have area-effect and projectile variants, so, for example, when you learn to control fire, you can hurl fireballs at enemies or create a ring of fire around yourself.
After fighting our way through the marshland and across a bridge that fans of Fable will recognize from early in that game, we were told that we were nearing the end of the demo. At that point, the Lionhead rep hopped into our game for some co-op play simply by hitting start on a second controller linked to the console that, presumably, already had his character information saved onto it. Our new companion's arrival into the world was instant, and while we were certainly glad for the company ahead of the final battle, we were a little disappointed that she didn't appear to have brought her dog with her.
With that said, we hadn't really been paying any attention to our own mutt while in combat, and when the co-op play started, we noticed that the camera's priorities changed. In single-player, the camera did a good job of keeping both our hero and his dog in shot at all times, but when the second player joined in, she effectively took the dog's place and our pet. While still in the game, she would often wander out of view for short periods of time.
Loitering around the Microsoft booth after finishing our play-through of the demo, we noticed that other E3 attendees appeared to be having quite different experiences, presumably because they hadn't opted for the "Combat All-Rounder" version that we had. One guy appeared to be playing through a level much like ours, but his hero was sporting long robes and a katana. Another was sedately exploring a picturesque village, contemplating house prices (Manure Manor is up for grabs it seems), swimming in the river, and even taking time out to pose for a sculptor in what appeared to some kind of rhythm-based minigame.
We look forward to (hopefully) bringing you more information about that stuff after our meeting with Peter Molyneux tomorrow.