GDC 07: Fable 2 Impressions

Peter Molyneux shows a playable version of Fable 2 for the first time and makes good on his promise that one of the game's key ingredients will be unconditional love.

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Earlier this week, during a pre-GDC event thrown by Microsoft, we had an opportunity to meet with Lionhead Studios' Peter Molyneux and see Fable 2 in action for the first time. The demo took place in a test level that had been specially designed to show off one of the game's previously unannounced features--a pet dog. You heard right, the focus of Molyneux's presentation wasn't combat, or questing, or the fact that you'll have the option to purchase any building in the massive game world; it was a canine whose devotion to you, the player, knows no limits.

After kicking off his presentation with a series of disclaimers about how sequels are tricky things and certainly aren't his specialty, Molyneux talked about how he wants Fable 2 to be something other than just "more" and "better" than the first game. "I set up Lionhead to innovate and push...that's why we exist. I hope that's why Microsoft acquired us," he said at one point, before talking about his most memorable moments in gaming (his favorite being the ending of Ico) and his desire to fill Fable 2 with equally affecting content. Not simply by penning an epic story, he wants to get you so emotionally invested in other characters that their happiness and pain become your own.

We've known for some time that one of Molyneux's goals for Fable 2 is to make you experience unconditional love, but at previous presentations, the only characters cited as examples were your offspring and, to a lesser extent, your husband or wife. The pet dog that was introduced during today's demo is, perhaps, a character that you're even more likely to bond with, because while your family will welcome you back with open arms when you return home from a quest, your dog will be fighting alongside you every step of the way.

Without wishing to give too much away, you'll acquire your pet dog (or it'll acquire you, at least) early on in your Fable 2 experience when you're still a child. Like you and your in-game family, he'll age as you progress through the game, and his appearance will change to reflect the way you're playing. If you play as a good guy, you might end up with a mutt that looks like a big, fluffy Old English sheepdog, for example, while those of you with a Molyneux-like mean streak will end up with a vicious-looking Doberman or something. Lionhead's self-imposed design rules when adding the dog to the game were that it must love you unconditionally, its presence must never aggravate you, and you must never be required to look after it. Based on what we saw during the presentation, none of these rules appear to be in danger of being broken, and the canine companion promises to add an awful lot to the Fable 2 experience without ever detracting from it.

One of the most intriguing things about your pet dog is that you'll have no direct control over it whatsoever, while almost everything that you do will influence its behavior. When you're walking around, he'll rarely stray too far away from you, but he'll actively explore the area and, in doing so, he'll draw your attention to points of interest and anything that has changed since the last time you were there. Furthermore, when he senses danger, he'll move ahead of you and start barking and growling to alert you. Your dog will be your guide through the free-roaming world that Fable 2 takes place in, and he purportedly performs that duty so well that Lionhead has seen fit to do away with the first game's minimap.

Regardless of the promises that Fable 2 will let you start a family and invest in properties, its focus is, of course, still on completing quests by doing battle with all manner of enemies. When you engage bad guys or monsters in combat, your dog will do everything in its power to protect you, which basically means that it'll attack the enemy that poses the greatest threat. To demonstrate this, Molyneux unsheathed his sword in front of a small group of enemies, at which point his dog decided that the guy carrying a gun was the most immediate danger and charged at him. When Molyneux put his sword away and readied his rifle (Fable 2 takes place some 500 years after the original game), the dog figured out that the enemies with melee weapons were now the most dangerous and leapt at one of them instead.

The dog was injured during the battle that ensued, and we'd be lying if we said that seeing it limping around with only three working legs didn't tug at a few heartstrings. As a hero in the Fable 2 world, you'll have the ability to heal it with a simple magic spell, but before doing that, Molyneux opted to show just how evil he is in the games he creates by simply walking off and leaving the dog behind. Much whimpering and limping ensued, and when the camera was repositioned so we could see the hero moving farther away from the dog's point of view, it became clear that mistreating this loyal canine companion will be a tough thing to do. Had Molyneux proceeded to leave his pet behind, we're told that it would never give up looking for him and might very well have shown up weeks later, still carrying injuries and still hopelessly devoted to its cruel master.

Even Peter Molyneux has a soft side, and he claims that one of his favorite things to do in Fable 2 right now is to play with both his dog and his young son. We've yet to meet his Fable 2 family, but we did get to see Molyneux playing fetch with his dog using a squeaky ball that he'd purchased previously. The dog's movement and behavior during this game, as at all times during the demonstration, was remarkably convincing, and it was only after Molyneux used a few stern "expressions" to discipline his companion that it stopped wagging its tail and dropping the ball at his feet in the hope that it'd get thrown again. The dog even ran off to relieve itself against a tree at one point during the demo, and we're told that particularly evil mutts will enjoy soiling the bodies of slain enemies in the finished game.

With just a few minutes of the presentation remaining after the dog had been fully covered, we were treated to a brief video fly-through of different areas from the Fable 2 world. The most memorable location that we saw was undoubtedly the large city of Bowerstone, which you might remember was only a small town in the first game. The city comprised more buildings than we could even begin to count, including everything from small market stalls and houses through to a pub and a large castle. You'll have the option to purchase every single one of these structures if you've got enough gold, and each of them will have at least one quest attached to it.

Molyneux, who openly admits to becoming somewhat infamous for making and not delivering on promises about his games in recent years, ended the presentation with just one: "I promise you will feel moved," he said. We're not inclined to doubt him on this occasion, and we look forward to bringing you more information on Fable 2 as soon as it becomes available.

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