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Post Mortem: Fable 2

In many ways, Fable 2 is a brilliant title. Lionhead simply nailed the environments, visuals, and musical score. Albion feels like a magical place; a mysterious landscape fully realized and brought to life. You really can't go anywhere and not have a beautiful vista to appreciate. The adventure aspects of the game are spot on, as well; every chest I opened brought me back to my glory days with The Legend of Zelda. The combat may not be as engaging as Ninja Gaiden, but at least it's fun trying to hit the combo's and activate the cool zoom/slo-mo cam.

Unfortunately, not all is as sublime as the celery in the wonderful world of Albion.

My primary gripe is one not restricted to Fable 2, but seems to be a recurring theme in certain "role playing games." To me, an RPG should allow you to develop a unique character each time you play it. Ultima Online was the first game that ever irritated me in this respect because if you wanted to compete with the toughest characters out there, you had to be a magic user. You ended up with a world full of 'corp por' battles. I don't expect even a fraction of you to "get" that.

Fable 2 revisits this inflexibility. Sure, if you want to make a character that only uses melee weapons, you're welcome to but you'll be unable to perform fighting combinations the way Lionhead intended (needless to say, you'll never get the gargoyles without a couple skill upgrades). Also, you'll run out of upgrades in a hurry, as you'll only level your strength up fourteen times. The game rewards you for creating a strength/will/skill user. Trust me; on my current play thru, I'm trying to fashion a skill/ranged character and combat is... boring, for lack of a better word.

The character you end up with at the end of the game may be unique in terms of good vs. evil (or fat vs. fit) and it's nice to see key areas of Albion that are affected by your decisions, but in terms of skills and abilities, your character isn't going to change much from play-through to play-through. Surprisingly, this holds true in the clothing department as well, which is the first in my list of major Fable 2 disappointments.

Be advised, the following section contains major spoilage regarding the story ending, treasures, demon doors, silver keys, etc.

Worst let-downs of Fable 2 (in no particular order):

1. No armor, and a dreadful lack of interesting clothes.

I wonder to myself how many people out there beat this game while wearing the Highwayman outfit (I raise my own hand). It's honestly the only outfit I liked. With exception of a few items here and there like the explorer boots, wizard hat, and the ranger coat, the clothing department of Fable 2 is drab, most of which is made up of villager/peasant/gypsy stuff.

I can appreciate Fable 2 is more of a 'steampunk' setting than its predecessor, and due to that there's not much in the way of armor, but would it have been too much to ask for a little leather? I assure you some folks were still wearing breastplates in the early days of blunderbusses and flintlocks.


2. Money.

There's no shortage of it. I'm on my second play through and to make this game fun, I have restricted myself from doing any woodcutting, blacksmithing, or purchasing of real-estate. You see, by the end of my first game, I owned everything and every Albion day, I was acquiring ten-thousand plus gold. I never had to 'save up' to purchase anything. At worst, I would go too sleep for seven days and wake up $100,000 richer. To make matters worse, even while you're Xbox is turned off, you still earn money. If you log into your savegame after a week of not playing, you suddenly have enough money to buy the entire kingdom seven times over. Silly. Unnecessary. Cool concept, not so cool in practice.

Even without doing jobs, I have yet to come up short when I want to purchase something. This is all thanks to my dog who's constantly sniffing out gold in 250- to 350-piece increments.


3. Difficulty (or lack thereof).

I was knocked out only once and used all of three revival potions on my first playthrough (and that was only because I really didn't give a damn anymore). I said it about Bioshock and I'll say it about Fable 2; when there are no true concequences to dying in a game, the challenge rating of a game tanks like GM stock prices. Additionally, you lose much of your emotional investment in your character. Playing Dungeons and Dragons in the days of old, death was waiting to greet my level 4 monk around every corner. This added a sense of urgency, a sense of caution, a sense of attachment Fable 2 misses entirely.

The least they could have done would be implement a difficulty slider. What's so hard about that? Everyone else is doing it! Easy games are boring games for most of us.


4. The Story's Ending.

Give me a break, Lionhead. That's all I have to say. As a character in Fable 2, I've waited my whole life to avenge my sister's death by battling this Lucian a-hole. So I get to him, amped up for the mother of all battles, I shoot him once and he dies.

Even the villagers are tougher than Lucian. A Hobb could have kicked his ass. How does he have any right bossing around all those lieutenant characters? They would have eaten him for breakfast.


5. The Demon Doors and Silver Chests.

The last demon door and 50-key silver chest in particular. You basically work your way through the entire game to unlock these two items and what do they give you? Gold. That's right. Another 150,000 gold to heap onto the millions I already have accumulated. Oh, and there's a book, too; a poem written by the god of albion(?). It's unusable and worth 48 gold or something like that. I sold it because I was afraid of destitution.

The funny thing is this: the 50 silver key chest requires you to purchase the castle. If you can afford to purchase the castle, obviously you're not hurting for money. Why not give us a crown to wear? A crown that matches the kind of character you have? Or at least some harlequin gloves for all our hard work? (that part was bitterly sarcastic, in case you missed it.)

Most of the demon doors and silver chests were major disappointments, offering little more than potions, money, and even a non-legendary weapon, in one case. It's strange so much development time went into some of the demon doors where the only prize you receive is a life meter upgrade or a little experience. It almost seems like the development team was in a crunch to finish things up so they decided to just add in money as a prize. Great! Now I can buy more sublime celery.

I would have preferred some of these challenges leading to alternate quests, or hidden regions to explore. Alas...


6. Farting.

I enjoy a good fart joke. And toilet humor seems to be right at home in Albion. However. I've never had a child or a dog in a game before. It was something of an emotional experience for me (call me a sentimental fool). I come home after being gone for 10 years and here's little Sheyla all grown up, telling me how much she's missed me. And I can either respond with a fart or a burp. I'd actually like to tell my wife how I thought of her every day I was gone... unfortunately, the best I can manage is a victory arm pump.

There's a stark contrast between some of the highly-emotional events that happen around you and your ability to interact. Basically, Fable 2's sense of humor does not lend itself to any seriousness what-so-ever. You can point and laugh when Hannah's father dies, or better yet, cluck like a chicken, but you can't hang your head in sympathy. You can't offer condolences. When you find Rose's diary buried where you once lived and think back to the night your sister was killed, a fart just doesn't suffice.


7. The dog.

Once again, Peter's made promises he just cannot deliver. We expected this dog to play a major role in how we play the game. From some of the earlier development diaries, there was supposed to be this untold level of interaction between you and the dog. It was said we'd be able to spend hours playing with the dog and training it. Instead, we get praise, scold, throw a ball, and a mutt that changes colors. He doesn't become a rottweiler for fighter characters, or a greyhound for skill characters. He doesn't do much of anything but bark, growl, and get injured.


Wrapping it up.

So those are my rants. Fable 2 is a fabulous game, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed my first play through and I'm playing again as an evil character this time. I have to say the dark brotherhood has me cracking up. However, I'm getting tired of developers promising the sun and delivering a candle. Molyneux is probably the worst offender. I seem to recall him saying Fable (1) was going to be the greatest role playing game of all time. Sorry, Pete. It was good, but no where close.

Jimmy's Bioshock Column (Spoilers)

So I completed Bioshock after some twenty hours (give or take) of gameplay, and while I felt somewhat fulfilled, there were a few bothersome things tickling at the back of my mind. First off, I must have missed at least four gun upgrades, so that set me in a foul mood, right there. You see, I started the game with every intention of being thorough and precise, but I'll be damned if the game doesn't begin to really drag out by the time you reach Fort Frollic.

Maybe the term "drag out" is a tad harsh, but once you get to Neptunes bounty, you can say goodbye to the fun little scripted sequences you saw at the beginning (Charlie? Charlie! Where you gone? OH CHARLIE!). No more crazed splicers hiding out in bathroom stalls, just waiting for you to flush a nearby toilet. No more Big Daddies ramming someone's head through a window. No more plane parts slamming into causeways. With exception to the spider and houdini splicer intros, I'm really having a hard time thinking of a time when the game seriously freaked me out in the latter stages.

All I'm saying is that by the time I finished the medical pavilion, the production really fell flat. That's not to say the level design drops the ball or the plasmids become boring...that's just me wondering why so much attention was given to the introduction while the rest of the game is not really scary at all. I actually got used to Rapture. I calmly watched the ceilings for Spidersplicers. I assaulted big daddies without even loading up the proper ammo prior to the attack. I'd say the greatest Bioshock failure, hands down,are those stupid vita-chamber do-whackies. If you want to kill all sense of tension and suspension of disbelief, then make dying a thing of absolutely zero consequence. Why should I care if I'm fighting two big daddies, two thugs and a nitro splicer? If they kill me, I'll just come back to life and have another stab at it.

One of my alltime favorite gaming experiences was playing cooperative Doom on a peer to peer computer network back in the day. On Ultraviolence, that game becomes exceptionally tense and it doesn't have to rely on things like fancy lighting, speical effects, or meticulous level design. No, instead it all had to do with ammunition. Give a man twenty shotgun shells to fell twenty imps and you've suddenly got a very intense situation on your hands. Bioshock takes the opposite route with everything from napalm to armor piercing pistol ammunition. You find the stuff everywhere. And don't even get me started on money, which basically becomes irrelevent five minutes after you start the game. In playing through the first time, there wasn't a single time I couldn't afford to heal myself or at least buy a first aid kit. Not that it even matters in a game where you really can't die.

Okay, so with all that stuff out of the way, let's get to the serious spoilers. Firstly, if I'm a big daddy, where's my kickass drill hand? Where's my plasmid that lets me grab peoples' heads and slam them around? Why can't I charge splicers down, or at the very least, scream and make it hard for them to see? Where's my proximity mine thrower, my rivet gun... I'll tell you where they all are: straight up my ass where I obviously can't utilize them. No, in the game of Bioshock, becoming a big daddy basically means your view goes all **** you clomp around in your huge boots, and make pregnant whale noises whenever you're injured. Oh, and how many times are we told "this procedure of becomming a big daddy is a one way street"? Yet I really didn't come away from the ending sequence with this feeling that I had to live out the rest of my daystrapped in the body of alumbering beast.

Secondly, Fontaine. I had to roll my eyes with one of the last things he tells me: "You're like a son to me... this is betrayal!" Wow... coming from a man that told me to 'go get stepped on by a big daddy' and thentried to stop my heart with an embedded mind trigger, forgive me if I sayit sounded a little hokey.Oh, and I get the whole Irish accent. I even get the stereotypical New Jersey thug accent. But when I met the guy face to face... well, he suddenly develops a new voice altogether. Maybe the production crew figured that idiotic Yankeevoice just didn't quite fit with the hulking frame that you have to content with? No, much better to throw in a third accent... a very generalized north american accent... On top of all that, the guy was a piece of cake. I didn't struggle in the slightest, fighting him. In fact, I found big daddies to be harder to take down, even with traps laid out, than UberFontaine.

I suppose I could also provided a running commentary on the camera picture taking system of Bioshock. I was getting quite sick and tired of snapping photos by the time I got through the game, but it's a bit of a requirement by the time you get past Hephaestus. Around there, the splicersbecome mysteriously resistant to bullets. It would have been nice had this been explained in the game as "stone skin plasmids" or something, but it's not really mentioned. Your only cue is that electrical archs start following the thugs around and they are unphased by electro bolts. So, once you get that far, you better hope you have some damage bonuses built up. My main complaint on the photo system though, is the fact that you take all these pictures that you can never see... Maybe it's just me, but that seems a bit peculiar.

So those are my complaints. I really did enjoy the game, regardless. I loved every creepy sound effect, I enjoyed every recorded journal I picked up (most especially: I WANT TO TAKE THE EARS OFF). I loved to see the gun upgrades take effect and was utterly enamoured with the rage plasmid. I plan to go through on hard difficulty now, and hopefully I'll find it to be a bit more of an intense experience. So far, I've only made it to the medical pavilian entrance and judging from that much, I think hard difficulty only means the splicers have more health and plasmids require more eve... but we'll see.