I walk into town, trusty dog at my side, looking to replenish supplies and maybe pick up a better ax. (The one I have just doesn't seem to cleave Hobbes and Banshees the way it used to.) But the moment the townsfolk catch sight of me they all run away screaming. Did I forget to shower? Maybe, but more likely it's my glowing red eyes and the horns sprouting from my forehead that are adding a bit of scare to my stride.
Girls Are Now Welcome
Four years ago the first Fable title was released to buzzing, excited praise for its inventive design. And besides a new storyline, things haven't changed much on this latest page. But there are a few differences. This time around, for instance, players start out their adventure as either a young boy or a young girl. Orphaned in the city of Bowerstone, they're cared for by an older sister until a tragic event and a mysterious blind woman set them on the path to fame, fortune and a to-be-fulfilled prophesy of vanquished evil.
As in the past, all this role-playing action unfolds in a place called Albion. It's a cartoonish, magical netherworld made up of numerous towns, gypsy camps and backwoods roadways. Bandits, trolls, ghostly entities, secret caves and hidden treasures are as common as the hoi polloi.
As players progress through this enchanted land, excelling in strength, shooting skills or the magical arts, they take on quests that earn them money and fame. More importantly, challenges help shape the emotional and moral path that their character will trod. (As well as how pretty they'll look while doing it.)
I Can Clearly Not Choose the Wine in Front of You
You can work for renown and add a bit of sparkle to your smile by protecting a township and rescuing innocents from slathering, sharp-clawed beasties. Or you can choose the wicked route, striking fear in the hearts of men while earning an incrementally more repulsive mug by killing or enslaving.
In a new twist, choices made can even change the very world in which you do battle. For example, as a child, you have a choice to aid the police in your little hamlet or turn to a back-alley element. Years later that simple choice has an impact on the area's financial prosperity and whether right or wrong rules the community roost.
Along with those kinds of choices and adventures, you can get married and have children, sell or rent properties, take on jobs such as blacksmith or bartender, fight all kinds of human and monster enemies, and generally build up your skills and weaponry to eventually face off with an all powerful and maniacal foe.
It all makes up a well-crafted, imaginative, open world that can keep players entangled in its fairy tale-ish tendrils for long hours once they venture in.
But as I'm sure you've already worked out in your head, those choices can also make for problematic play. Along with noble decisions, the game's designers made sure that Fable II allows lots of leeway when it comes to moral indiscretions. Lying, crude language ("h---," "d--n," "b--tard," "a--") and heavy drinking are a few of the lesser infractions. Down a rung from them, you can pull out a sword or crossbow to shoot and dismember the grisly creatures of the forest—and blow the heads off all the townspeople you encounter.
Other fleshly pursuits include initiating straight and/or gay sex, which is as easy as approaching a guy or a gal (sometimes a prostitute) with a come-hither expression and a wallet full of cash. After leading your consort to an open bed, the screen goes black and the bedded partner makes such giggling comments as "You're the best" and "Oh yes!" Also, female characters at times wear revealing clothes, and cross-dressing your avatar is possible.
And then there's the spiritual side of things. Players can turn to temples of light or shadows in their quest choices. The dark side awards fame points for things such as gathering innocents together for a mass human sacrifice—played for "chuckles" with a spinning game-show wheel full of execution methods.
Two Sides to Every Tale
To be fair, nefarious or sordid deeds come with social and trajectory penalties. Having unprotected paid sex, for example, saddles your character with an STD. But the downside rarely equals more than a slap on the wrist. And it certainly doesn't cancel out the celebratory nudge-and-wink that the game pushes front and center. The end result is that even if players set out to stick to the straight and narrow, it's made plain that turning to the wicked side will be lots of fun—when you play through for the second time.
So, though this is assuredly one of the more creative video game titles that will be showing up on wish lists this year, it's also one that readily shows an ugly Mr. Hyde lurking behind all the Dr. Jekyll brilliance.