I’ve danced with cops, slapped aristocrats, tipped whores, married men and women, had sexually transmitted diseases, had children, sacrificed mothers at the Temple of Shadow, and had children’s services take my children away. I’ve tithed fortunes at the Temple of Light, signed autographs for tots, bought property, sold property, vandalized property, stolen from and fully furnished property. I’ve worked as a blacksmith, a woodcutter, and a bartender; adventured as a mage, a marksman, and a mercenary. I’ve dragged people into slavery, given them freedom, killed innocents, killed criminals, raised myself from the dead, begged money from a beggar, given gifts to a gift trader, drank with a potion seller, shot a pistol trader dead, and cut down a blacksmith with the sword he sold me. I’ve erected a pointing-and-laughing statue of myself in a countryside hamlet and then slaughtered the residents. I’ve paid fines for disorderly conduct, did community service for theft, resisted arrest for murder, and lived to tell about it all. That has been my fable. Anyone else’s, I can almost guarantee, will be different. None of my actions were critical to the main story arc. And yet, it was all completely critical to fully absorbing and experiencing the flora, fauna, peoples, and cultures.
When the soprano choir begins its ghostly chanting backed by curdling strings, or when sunlight and birds chirp through the treetops, or when a rattlesnake shaker serves as the sound of a death knell, or when there’s utter silence … the stage is impeccably set for one gorgeously-orchestrated moment after another.
While not the most heartbreaking tale this story tells, I would be remise not to mention the buggy peculiarities that have peppered my journey. In a game of this size, this scope, and this vision, it’s understandable that there are thousands upon thousands of variables to keep track of. But how so many slipped through the cracks of Quality Assurance at Lionhead Studios is disheartening.
I have (luckily) played a (relatively) un-buggy standard edition of Fable II, yet still: My dog once wandered away, tailed tucked between his legs, until he’d sauntered to the edge – and then off – the map. It took a reload to bring him back. I’ve frozen in midstride crossing a city’s town square. It took a reload to get me moving again. I’ve seen a man get stuck in the walls of a house, before he started sliding upwards in the architecture like he was on an elevator. I’m not sure if I ever saw him again. I went through one chapter of the game – The Tattered Spire – and had my physical appearance drastically altered without explanation.
Then in another example that I’m not 100 percent sure was a glitch, but didn’t necessarily make sense: I’d become a bigamist (and all-around jerk) when I married two people in one town and made them live as argumentative next door neighbors. When gay Tim the Villager decided he had enough and divorced me, my otherwise ecstatically-happy wife, Leyla the Whore, also did the slow “divorce march” out of town and out of my life, too. Despite this head-scratching scenario (Leyla found me all the more attractive when I’d yell at or frighten Tim), it’s hard not to chalk it up as one of the most personally memorable affairs I’ve experienced in gaming since playing The Sims (another game where the narrative is almost wholly player – and not developer – driven).
Therein lies the game’s true brilliance. Lionhead didn’t write out that above situation. There was no critical path of mission objectives for me to follow in order for that chain of events to have taken place. All Lionhead did – which is a massive undertaking, don’t get me wrong – was to provide me, the player, with the metaphorical pen and paper to write out that chapter for myself.
A coworker and fellow gamer, however, purchased the continually devolving limited edition, and his game-breaking bugs and subsequent paranoia forced him to create multiple saves on separate Xbox LIVE profiles – something no gamer should ever have to do. But it was necessary in his case since the overly-vague and only-one-saved-game-per-character system in Fable II forced his hand. More than once he had to reload a game from his secondary profile in order to keep playing. Was it something in the limited edition? Did his downloadable suit of Halo Master Chief armor break his game? The official Fable II forums are on fire with similar game-breaking stories. And while I can only review the game that I played (and not his), he’s now written off Peter Molyneux completely and has promised that he will not purchase a Fable III if there ever is one.
Of course, it still serves as a living testament to this extraordinary work of art as he continued to play, day in a day out, with all of these game-breaking bugs looming over his every move, and all of the other hot releases this fall also sitting on his shelf. He held off on Dead Space, held off on Far Cry 2, and held off on Fallout 3 in order to see Fable II through its bitter end. And though he found the ending dubious, I found it intriguing, and we both found that we were enthralled for every moment leading up to that closing chapter.
More On:Fable 2
Peter Molyneux has earned a standing ovation for realizing his magnum opus, with Fable II serving as the pinnacle of his body of work, and a high-water mark for player-concocted storytelling in a role-playing game.
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