Take combat, for example. Where other games would give you a range of buttons and modifiers for different attacks. Fable 2 gives you one button to fire your missile weapon, one button with which you wield your close combat weapon and one button with which to use magic. What attack or block you use or spell you deploy depends entirely upon context and timing. Tap the magic button and it lets loose your basic spell. Hold then release, and you charge your way up through the levels. Through simple taps and holds you can let loose a barrage of slashes, thrusts and parries, impaling fallen foes or sweeping through an enemy’s defences with an impressive, unblockable swing. Anyone can pick this up and make it look like they know what they’re doing, though you’ll get experience bonuses for fighting well. That attitude sums up Fable 2 all over: it’s in with the carrot, out with the stick.
The most controversial aspect of this, in a game where instant travel and carefully managed enemy levels already take a lot of the headache out of playing, is that it seems to be impossible to die. Get swarmed by enemies or whacked down by a high-end villain and you’ll hop back up, slightly poorer in experience terms, but basically ready to get back in there. Some hardcore gamers – the sort who felt the vita chambers completely ruined Bioshock – are going to complain that this is dumbing down. If it is, then let’s have more of it. Not once have I felt like I’ve wasted time or been frustrated playing Fable 2. The combat is challenging enough to be enjoyable, but the days of loading, saving and returning to base to heal are out of the window. If you stock up on potions and healing foods, it’s only because being knocked down is, somehow, a bit embarrassing.
I could go on. There are a dozen more great ideas in Fable 2, ranging from the easy to understand way in which you level up spells and combat skills with experience to the way that context sensitive shortcut controls make it easy to heal yourself or dig a hole without having to wade through inventory screens beforehand. The great thing about Fable 2 is that you don’t have to think about these things because somebody at Lionhead has already thought about them for you. All you have to do is get out there, explore, try things out, be good, be bad, be brave, be silly. Just be your own sort of hero, in other words.
In terms of niggles, the only things I can come up with are the odd spots of pop-in and slowdown, and a few moments where my hero or an enemy got stuck on scenery. This is a big game and one you’ll be happy to continue with even once the main quest has ended. If you have a 360 or some means of gaining access to Microsoft’s hardware, this is one game you really don’t want to miss.
The most appealing, entertaining and accessible action RPG ever made, rivalling Zelda for side quest tomfoolery, but with a layer of open-world depth that even Nintendo has never aspired to. Finally, Lionhead delivers on its promise.