Fable 2 Updated Impressions - Characters and Environments

Designer Peter Molyneux guides us on yet another journey through the world of Fable 2, focusing on character and environmental customization.

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At a recent Microsoft press event, we caught another glimpse of Fable 2, the upcoming sequel to the 2004 Xbox action role-playing game. As it happens, our time with the game was spent--and guided--by none other than Lionhead designer Peter Molyneux. Unlike his last few presentations, this demo didn't have a particular theme to it, such as dogs or co-op gameplay. Instead, Molyneux went on about all sorts of features that players can expect to see when the game is released this autumn, including facial expressions, changing environments, and even a bit of bird poop.

The designer began by letting us know that Lionhead Studios has finally reached the point where the development team has stopped adding features to the game. Now, the team is focusing on fixing bugs and adding polish. This was evident in the game's visuals: Because we were seeing an early version of the game, the graphics seemed a bit choppy in certain spots, but those rough patches were overshadowed by hitch-free moments that led us to believe the game will wind up looking really good. The art style is very similar to that of the previous game, but now, cities and outdoor environments look far more detailed and vibrant.

Once Molyneux went over the basic details, the designer began the demo with the game's introductory sequence. In a tongue-in-cheek style, indicative of the game's somewhat humorous tone, this cinematic begins with a bird soaring over your home city of Bowerstone and ends with it perching on a ledge as it defecates right on your character. From here, we were introduced to the first of many companions who will guide you through the story: your sister. Through the game, you'll be accompanied by a series of companions who will travel with you through several chapters of the story. However, Molyneux was eager to suggest that you may not be required to pay even the slightest bit of attention to them as you play--it'll be completely up to you.

Soon after, Molyneux pointed out a key feature about Fable 2's interface: There's no longer any minimap to guide you around. This has been replaced by what's being referred to as a "breadcrumb trail," a glowing line on the ground that guides you to the next important scene. This trail brought us to a police officer who offered to give us a little work to help make his job easier. Because you and your sister begin the game as impoverished street urchins, you'll probably find this offer to be an intriguing one. The officer handed us five warrants for criminals being sought for arrest. From here, we had the option to find the fugitives and bring them back to the police for a little extra scratch or earn even more money by simply selling the warrants to the criminal fraternity, which essentially grants those thugs their freedom.

This was done to demonstrate what Molyneux is calling "dynamic regions." This little neighborhood in Bowerstone will be shaped by your choice in the situation. If you do the right thing by bringing the criminals in to justice, 10 or so game years down the line, this area will become a bustling haven for trade and shopping. If you side with the crooks, it will become a run-down ghetto filled with crime and vice. When players drop by your version of Bowerstone for a little co-op, Molyneux told us, they could wind up seeing an entirely different city from what they've shaped in their own stories.

After this, we got to see how Fable 2's character expressions have grown since the first game. In the original Fable, you could run around town displaying all sorts of friendly or vulgar gestures. These displays would then affect the opinion of each of the townspeople toward you. If you give them enough rude gestures, they'd start to say rude things any time you happened to visit their neighborhood later on in the story. This can still be done in Fable 2, but now you have the option of performing these little gestures during the story's cinematic cutscenes. If you happen to, say, fart during one of these interactive sequences, this will affect the outcome of the conversation. Exactly how much of an effect these moments will have isn't clear, but this is another example of the added level of "choice" that Molyneux is aiming for in the sequel.

Later on in our journey, we stumbled upon a roaming camp of gypsies gathered in the woods. Molyneux used this area to talk about some of the details that have been added to the game, which he freely admits 90 percent of all players will never see. In this little camp, you'll see people chatting, dancing, and building campfires. Interestingly, you'll also see little children using the power of their imaginations to act out the entirety of the original Fable's story. Molyneux described this as a form of "treasure hunting": Rather than go out looking for loot, players are also encouraged to go out looking for "little bits of life."

Finally, Molyneux finished things up by telling us about the game's simplified "one button combat" system. For starters, combat is actually controlled with one of three buttons. Swordsmen will use the X button, sharpshooters will use the Y button, and spellcasters will stick to the B button. Each combat upgrade is mapped to the same button, depending on the combat discipline that's being enhanced. So if you're a swordsman, you'll find yourself using a variety of techniques, such as environmental attacks, parries, charges, and counters using the X button. Once you've gotten really good at combat, you gain double experience points by linking your attacks together. Finally, the combat discipline you end up specializing in will affect your appearance just like your inclination toward good or evil.

As mentioned earlier, the timing that Molyneux used to target Fable 2's release was "autumn." This should come as good news for those worried it might not wind up being released until the very end of the year. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more coverage as autumn draws near.

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