GDC '08: Fable 2 Co-op First Look

We meet with Peter Molyneux before GDC and get a demo of Fable 2's previously unannounced co-op mode.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Earlier this week, during a pre-GDC meeting with Peter Molyneux, we were treated to the latest of the ambitious game designer's presentations of Fable 2. At last year's Game Developers' Conference, we were introduced to the pet dog that will accompany you through your Fable 2 adventure, and four months later at E3 we had an opportunity to try out the game's one-button combat system for the first time. Molyneux had another ace up his sleeve for GDC 08: the unveiling of Fable 2's "dynamic" offline cooperative-play system.

If you've been following our previous coverage of Fable 2, you already know that the large world in which your story takes place will ultimately be shaped by your actions as one of its heroes. However, none of us knew until now that you'll be able to invite other players' heroes into your world where, at least in theory, they'll play alongside you as obedient henchmen. When asked, Molyneux didn't deny that online play will be supported in the finished game, but for the purposes of our demo both players were using a single console. The second player's character's information was retrieved using his Xbox Live gamertag, and we were told that at the end of the co-op session any experience and money earned by the henchman would be taken back to his version of the gameworld. Furthermore, before playing together, you'll have the option to determine what percentage of the experience points, gold, and renown earned will be awarded to each of you.

Fable 2's co-op mode is set up in a way that encourages you to play nice with friends. Nevertheless, this wouldn't be a Molyneux game if it didn't give you the freedom to be a complete jerk, and sure enough, it was only a matter of time before Microsoft Game Studios' Josh Atkins, a guest in Molyneux's Fable 2 world, set about ensuring that he'd never be invited back.

After the pair showed off some of the "flirt," "pose," and other emotes that your heroes can perform in an attempt to outdo and impress one another, Molyneux decided that they should pay a visit to his (female) character's family. As they approached the picturesque farm cottage, a small boy, perhaps 5 years old, ran out to greet them--clearly thrilled to see his adventuring mother, who had purportedly been away from home for around six in-game months. On the other hand, the husband was quick to express his displeasure at her being away for so long, and perhaps wasn't thrilled that Molyneux had returned with a good-looking henchman in tow. Less than a minute into the husband's rant, henchman Atkins pulled out a gun and shot him dead. In the moment, those watching the demo laughed out loud. Then Molyneux went on to explain the consequences of his colleague's actions.

Molyneux's husband, whom he (OK, she) had presumably spent some time fostering a relationship with before marrying and getting pregnant with, was dead--forever. The child, who along with his father was completely dependent on the income of the adventuring mother, would now end up alone at the family home for months at a time, and we're told that ultimately he'd end up in an orphanage. You could track him down there if you really wanted to, but it's unlikely he'd ever be the same carefree little kid again. Needless to say, the potential for "griefing" in Fable 2's co-op mode is massive, so you'll want to be careful whom you choose to share your world with.

As the pair continued to explore the beautiful countryside, Molyneux's dog was keeping a watchful eye out for enemies. It started growling as they approached what appeared to be an abandoned mine, and when they got close enough, a small button icon appeared on the screen, prompting one of them to press the left trigger for a better look at the entrance off to the side of the road. Sure enough, there were a couple of enemies lying in wait there, and though the ensuing battle didn't last long, it afforded us ample opportunity to see both the melee and ranged attack buttons being put to good use. The third combat button, which will be used to perform all magic, is still being kept under wraps for the moment. Experience is earned in combat by collecting the small glowing shards dropped by slain enemies, and in keeping with games that employ similar mechanics, the shards gravitate toward you so that you don't have to waste too much time picking them up.

On the other hand, money doesn't appear to be something that you'll earn much of as an adventurer, so you might want to give your finances some serious thought before settling down and starting a family. However, you can earn a salary for helping out other players as a henchman. Toward the end of our meeting, Molyneux even mentioned that his character had dabbled in real estate and that you'll have the option to work a regular job in what free time your adventuring allows you. He didn't want to go into much detail about the professions in Fable 2 just yet, but we're told that the positions needing to be filled in the gameworld include blacksmith, barman, and assassin.

Another way to earn money in Fable 2, or at least for Fable 2, will be gambling. The pub game of choice in Fable 2 is apparently a hybrid of roulette and craps known as Keystone. This game will be made available for download on Xbox Live Arcade a few weeks before the release of Fable 2, giving you an opportunity to earn your Fable 2 character a mountain of gold before his or her adventure even gets under way.

Before we bring this preview to as abrupt an end as Molyneux's handlers did our meeting, we simply have to tell you that Fable 2's visuals have improved a great deal since we last saw the game. The environments that we saw were nicely detailed, considering the scale of the world, and the colors were really vibrant. Animated shadows cast by tree foliage, windmills, and the like have added a great deal to the overall look, and details such as a rooster parading around the farmyard were noticeable but understated. Incidentally, the environment's colors all get very muted during fights, but at the same time the colors of combatants remain vibrant, which makes it easier to keep up with what's going on and--let's face it--just looks really cool. We should also point out that, at least during the tightly-scripted demo, the camera did a good job of keeping both co-op players in shot even when they moved a reasonable distance apart.

Fable 2 is currently scheduled for release later this year. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.

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