Sunday, 25 November 2012

A rather late review of Fable 2

I wrote this in September when I was ill and was planning to do a video, but once I did get better I had lots of work to do and it was waaay too long for a video ( I got a little carried away...haha). So here it is in all its textual glory!

Ok so I've been ill thanks to the appearance of FOUR KIDNEY STONES (WTH GENETICS?!) and in my hazy anaesthetic-draining-out-my-system state I watched an old episode of BBC's Merlin (i.e. underrated awesome medieval fantasy romp lovingly ripped off from Arthurian legend) and thought I WANT TO DO MAGICS LIKE HIM.

So I rustled through my game collection and nostalgically pulled out Fable 2 - a game that splits the gaming community, with me falling into the "OMG I LOVE IT" camp, mainly because it was one of my first xbox 360 game purchases and the first game that went "OOO LOOK AT THE POTENTIAL OF GAMING!" in my face. An open-worldyish ARPG, with a fun British-humour edge to the dark(ish) storyline full of death and monsters, and a fantastical beautiful oldie-worldy-cartoony feel that meant that you weren't completely bogged down by "over-realism" like you can be in GTA 4 (eff off Roman, I don't want to go bowling). 

Adjacent to this I've also stumbled across a YouTube show called Zero Punctuation, which became a massive time sponge thanks to a huge back catalogue of genuinely funny, brilliant and honest critical reviews with adorable little drawings. Then again, I may just be biased because the guy is British & the sort of witty person I'd invite to my "perfect imaginary dinner party", along with Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell. *sigh* beautiful...

Also, watching so much Zero Productions has meant that I have absorbed the spirit of "yahtzee", complete with metaphors and means that this whole review (yes, I'm doing a review so the two people who have asked for them should be happy…) is going to be a kind-of lovingly-ripped-off version of the show in an attempt to make you go watch them if you haven't already.

So. Fable 2. ZP did a brilliant review, which you should all watch, but I'd like to add my own view as a bit of a fangirl, but not a blindly-accepting-cultist fangirl, because whilst loving the game, it did fall short on a lot of things, preventing it from being perfect and quenching my thirst for ARGP gaming, my favourite gametype.

Firstly, things I love:

- combat, if a little easy, didn't work like trying to manoeuvre a reverse-steering remote control car with no wheels and didn't force you to only focus on one discipline like in many ARPGs, so was varied and made you feel like a badass, making tactical decisions and mixing up combat (unless you cheat and just power up magic & hold B like I did in my first run-through).

- weapons, if low in variety, were fun (especially when crotch-shotting bandits from miles away) and the amazing ones weren't all automatically available at the start like a massive expensive tease, or all held back until the very end becoming redundant. I also like that you had to work to get them by playing the enjoyable build-an-empire sidegame. Not the shop jobs though. They can suck it.

- trading was smooth(ish) & simple - no stupid "I'll only sell this at the base amount if you play a little confusing minigame" bulllcrap *cough* oblivion *cough*. Just be nice, bad or scary as you play, & prices are set automatically depending on the view of the owner. I also like the sales and shortages as I enjoy constantly ripping off low-stockists & Fairfax Gardens traders for an easy buck, with them still saying how awesome I was as I then pimped myself out with big piles of their money. LOL.

- the storyline was actually enjoyable & any jump in time seems like an actual story/game mechanic as the environment changes thanks to your actions, rather than an easy filler for writers as, after you leave everything perfectly, they then say "where were you for 10 years?! everything has gone to shit!" and hit the world with a hammer. They only do that if you want it to because you were an evil arsehole, and these changes genuinely make you come back for more, if just out of respect for the environment artists who had to make two of everything, all of which is cartoony & eye-achingly gorgeous.

- talking of good/evil, transformations depending on your alignments are pretty cool, if a little restricted.

- the enemies were vaguely ORIGINAL. Ok, bandits are a little old-hat, but they're well acted funny cockney geezers who spout some good lines at you whilst you're bashing in their skulls. Most weren't crappy default ones like GOD AWFUL SPIDERS THAT NEED TO BE REMOVED FROM  GAMES I YEARN TO PLAY SO MENTALLY DERANGED ARACHNOPHOBES LIKE ME CAN ACTUALLY PLAY THEM. I'm talking to you Skyrim… Instead they take default RPG enemies and give them a fun, if sightly demented, twist to make them unique to the land of Albion, managing to have them be visually scary enough that you go "AHHHH CRAP" when they first jump out at you, without relying on the user's uncontrollable fear of anything with more than six legs… But later on the fun of blasting away enemies takes over your fear and you vaporise them in one b-holding go. He he he… Also the staggered introduction of each reduces monotony and means you know more about what you're fighting, helping paint a slightly deeper picture of Albion.

- For a collectables-loving-freak like me, opening Demon Doors  & shooting foul-mouthed gargoyles was ridiculous fun, especially after hearing them and managing to hunt them down through clever sound mechanics. However, I do feel slightly Xenophobic as a English southerner shooting something with a strong Scottish accent that has every right to hate me thanks to British history…

- the music - oh the sweet beautiful music that perfectly sets the scene for everything you do, especially when someone gently plucks a harp as you travel through the beautiful forests of Brightwood *sigh*. When it is taken away for atmospheric effect as windy noises make poking round corners in caves that bit more tense, I whimper like a child and feel like an alcoholic desperately trying to buy alcohol in Scotland after 10pm (niche joke to make up for shooting gargoyles) as I crave the blissful strings again, but can't hear them again unless I wade through wraithmarsh which scares the crap out of scaredy-cat me.

- it has superb voice acting and dialogue doesn't fall into the alienating "yea, verily" trap that some RPGs do. it also has STEPHEN FRY in it. and he plays an EVIL DICK. GENIUS. However at one point I was talking to white yokel Toby, only to recognise the voice as black actor Vas Blackwood, which threw me off a bit… But hearing Zoe Wannamaker say the words "you are now famous enough to use the kiss my arse expression" makes up for it as it made me giggle like a small child.

- and finally - THE DOGGIE. It actually has a good base in the plot & adds to the gameplay experience (for me anyway). It keeps you company on long treks, warns you for baddies hidden in bushes, helps you kill said baddies and finds crap so you don't have to spend hours searching through nothingness like with many collectables, even if they do occasionally find a rusty necklace that wasn't worth all the excited barking he made. Also he's ADORWABLE - at least mine was as i played good first time. I then made him EVEN MORE ADORWABLE when i turned him into a Husky thanks to a DLC. YAY! Damn my girly nature…

Now, things I want to Change:

- the world is a wee bit too linear and small - I love that it is not such a massive sandbox game that you have no idea what to do first & walk around so much you end up forgetting about the main story *cough* oblivion *cough*, but as a lover of wandering round and exploring i was a bit upset whenever i came to the edge of the world or couldn't climb over a small boulder. You can bash everyone into oblivion but you can't CLIMB OVER A ROCK…? Dammit video games…

- LOADING SCREENS CAN SOD OFF. Lionhead do try their best to ease the pain with pretty music repeated OVER AND OVER, obvious tips repeated OVER AND OVER and funny lines repeated OVER AND OVER, but as you can tell it DOESN'T HELP. Then once the place has loaded people always seem to miss the memo and phase in when they feel like it, with you just hearing weird disembodied voices. Faster loading is the one thing that makes me wish for a next gen console, but I know that all developers will then just up the graphics due to the higher specs and create the SAME BLOODY PROBLEM ALL OVER AGAIN.

- don't dangle customisation in front of me then go HAHA NO. Yes, I can be a girl, thank you, but if you power up your Will they cover you in crappy bright-blue tribal tattoos like a stupid hipster, if you build up your physique stat as a woman you just look fat & weird (yet the demented NPCs then find you more attractive?!), they need some new female or gay stylists in the design team because none of the female haircuts are any good, clothes have weapons attached to them you CAN'T BLOODY USE, you're constantly jealous of some random NPCs attire just because you cant buy it or loot it from them, and the coolest combinations of clothes all have evil or negative effects, which means if you play a good character and dress how you want (i.e. looking damn good & ungeneric), people surround you to say how awesome you are but then nitpick at your choice of attire, tutting you for your ugliness or labelling you as an aggressive arsehole or slut. And actually equipping your outfit is painful thanks to the clunky menu, like dying anything a new colour, as instead of going:
  *select item* 
  *try red* na 
  *try yellow* na 
  *try green* ooooo yes! 
it goes:
  *select dye* 
  *select body section* 
  *select item* 
  *remove previous dye* 
  *try new dye* na 
  *go back twice* 
  *select previous dye* 
  *select body section* 
  *select item* 
  *remove new dye* 
And sometimes you create a whole colour scheme for an outfit only to find that there's one stupid buckle on your trousers that you can't change the colour of and it RUINS EVERYTHING. *girly rage*

- so yeah, clunky menu systems need to be smoothed. Although not the sodding Sanctuary, the menu needs a few tweaks:
~ don't play the same bit of music from the beginning every time you open the menu. Just keep playing the same music that is playing in-world instead of chopping and changing like a crappy wannabe DJ.
~ separate it out a bit. You don't even use the Select button!! Why not be like assassin's creed and toggle the maps to it. oh wait, no, your tiny maps are ARSE which is why I get LOST all the time.
~ when you back out of a menu, don't go back to the top of the previous menu list. it's infuriating when you accidentally select the one above, then when you go back you find you have to go all the way down again, like you have to learn some sort of pointless lesson. Like Art, but less fun, creative & fulfilling.
~ don't store Lucien's diary PAGE BY BLOODY PAGE. I want to listen to the effort of the voice actor without having to go 
*books & documents* 
*lucien's diary page blah* 
*listen in world* 
*rinse and repeat for 17 BOLLOCKING PAGES*. 
Seriously, sell it as soon as you can 'cause it just clogs up your inventory like KFC in an artery, but without the deliciousness....
~ basically oil the whole thing up as it's as smooth & pretty as a pebble-dashed house.

- Make me not want to kill all NPCs - they block me in corners & houses; they kick me out of houses I OWN when I'm trying to make them NICER for them, calling me a CRIMINAL; all of the men are weedy and look like my female hero could snap them like a twig with a hug, let alone sex; they all look the same; they all sound the same (albeit with decent voice actors); and unless I fulfil their every whim they constantly judge me and make bitchy comments about how I look, like I've suddenly travelled back in time to secondary school, which is not what I want in a fun escapist fantasy game.

- The Demon Door Fairfax Castle can EFF OFF - thanks for the 50k, I really needed it as I only have a BAJILLION coins by the point I'm able to actually open it… Why not open a new quest or land as a "well done on taking the time to complete this! here's some more content!"? No? I have to buy the DLCs for new stuff? Thanks...

- have SOME dialogue - I actually liked the expressions wheel, but there's only so much farting you can do before it gets a bit old. I like that the character isn't voiced, meaning I can project myself onto it, but I'm a HERO - why can't i have some mass-effect type dialogue (if unspoken) rather than just having me do a puppet show to get people who hated me two minutes ago to like me?! "yes, she did just kill my wife but that HILARIOUS puppet show and her stupid dances make up for everything!"

- talking of Mass Effect, that series does a brilliant job of letting you choose a NEUTRAL option. There's a bit in the Spire where you can kill a guy or not kill a guy (annoyingly he dies anyway, which is a shame as he seemed to be the one non-main NPC I didn't want to THROTTLE at first sight & you genuinely feel sorry for him). The "good" option is to stand there for 10 seconds and not kill him. Surely that should be the "indecisive" action, whilst the good option is ramming the sword up the evil-guy's arse…? Players should be rewarded for MORE OPTIONS - something you *kind of* suggest by giving us three bloody options at the end, even though it has no difference except whether you have a dog or not. I want to play a naughty-but-nice rogue, but if I do that then your "oooo transformations!" just IGNORES ME.

- Make families USEFUL other than changing benefits to stupid houses that don't seem to do much.

I only got married in one gamebecause I wanted to be good and not have a soppy guy commit suicide in a quest (oops, spoiler). I then decided to try and have a kid just to see it grow up after going off to piss about in the Spire for a few years.

Sadly, putting your kid in a 4 star house does nothing to make them cuter than if they were living in a hellhole. I came back to find a street urchin, and not the adorable Artful Dodger kind as you were in the beginning, but the creepy skinhead oh-god-i-hope-he-doesn't-have-a-big-brother kind.

Also, I didn't expect to go away for nearly 10 years to come back and find my child with black eye. A BLACK EYE. I left my spouse happily satisfied and with TONNES of cash, only to find him a suspect of child abuse, evidently bored of something to do in the empty beauty of serenity farm. Yes the kid doesn't seem to shut up so i suspect he had to listen to years of "when's mum coming back??" and "I'm going to be a hero just like my mum!", but surely he could use part of the 4-star staircase as a naughty step instead of socking him in the face.

However, my son then said "dad doesn't look very happy", and, frantically worried as I'd just put out and had suddenly thought I'd done something wrong in the black-screen-of-suggested-nakedness, like missing some evil invisible quicktime scene, I  checked the status of my spouse in my main menu and it said he WAS happy. So the little bugger is being a whining attention-seeking brat, trying to make you feel guilty about being trapped on an island prison for 10 years by unequally putting tonnes of black eye-shadow and saying "but daddy said you'd be here FOREVERRRRR". Sorry kid, but I have to go in order to STOP THE DESTRUCTION OF YOUR VERY EXISTENCE, so SHUT UP before I make your eye shadow look more balanced WITH MY FIST.

I've said a lot of negatives, but they are sort of forgivable - they must be as I currently have three save-games. All these are just said as CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM so that when they make Fable 4 they can actually improve the game instead of crap on our hopes and dreams like Fable 3 did. Please, Lionhead, go back a bit and work with something genuinely good rather than a "LOOK EVERYTHING IS SHINY AND INDUSTRIAL AND INSTEAD OF JUST EXPANDING THE ORIGINAL WORLD WE'VE CHANGED THE BUILDINGS & GEOGRAPHY A TINY BIT SO THAT IT ANNOYS YOU BECAUSE EVERYTHING LOOKS A TINY BIT DIFFERENT FROM THE WORLD YOU KNEW AND LOVED". Or not, you unloving arseholes.

And don't even get me started on Fable 'please-buy-a-kinect' Journey...