I've yet to play the first Fable, so I jumped into Fable 2 entirely cold with few expectations and a low expectation that I would play much of it. Just to recap for those that don't entirely follow my opinion-drenched blog: I'm not much of a fan of RPGs, I suck at simulation games, I generally find the entire fantasy genre boring. Action RPGs tend to be better for me, but fantasy ARPGs still tend to push me towards a "point of apathy". The Zelda series is a perfect example: I've enjoyed the opening gameplay of several Zelda games, most particularly Ocarina of Time, but inevitably I get sick of the repetitive dungeons and the weak storyline fails to keep my interest and I give up. [1] To have Fable 2 described to me as Zelda melded with a dash of The Sims and a storyline involving choices of morality [2] against a backdrop of fate [3] did not give me much hope for sustaining interest in the game for the full storyline...

Cutting to the chase: I got seduced by Fable 2 and it was a wild love affair of late night gaming sessions. I completed all of the "good" quests and the storyline with my first character, have a second character about half-way through the storyline tackling all of the "evil" stuff and started a tertiary character...

The specific reason for my wild love of the game mostly boils down to the "virtual geography". If you read enough of my words that might not be all that surprising to some, as I've mentioned that as one of my reasons thus far for preferring Saint's Row to GTA. Fable 2's Albion is the most alive world that I've yet encountered in a video game, full of many of the things I've endlessly jabbered about wanting to see/build. It's not just the mini-sim of playing with the emotions of the randomly generated masses, although that certainly helps to set the stage. What continues to fascinate me is the work put into making the world change over time nearly giving the impression of truly alive urban development.

I wish I had access to a debug mode to do more direct comparisons of the variations of growth and decay that Albion's regions can take. Some of the changes are subtle and yet ultimately brutally effective. It almost seems a shame that the only way to visit these variations on the places is between multiple characters and sometimes being forced to play an entirely new character.

I rarely notice the lighting in effect in games [4], but Fable 2 uses a very nice hyper-real lighting palette that is perhaps chief among the subtle differences in area variations that has a very effective influence on the feel of a place, even beyond the fascinating day/night cycles of each area.

I find the connection of the growth/decay changes to player choices a bit heavy-handed, if not goofy/silly, but entirely congruent with the game's story/purpose. On the other hand I love the silly "hammerable" sim stuff. The sim stuff is just complex enough to remain entertaining over several playthroughs, yet simple enough to use the game's transparent sliders to sledgehammer the people into your chosen direction with the silly expressions. People have remarked about how two-dimensional this actually complex subsystem ends up feeling, because gamers can easily sledgehammer this fine watch. I find it congruent with the game's aims (it's attempting to show the effects of fame (or infamy) rather than The Sims: Albion), and preferably easy rather than annoyingly difficult.

That's difficulty level for Fable 2 is certainly more rewarding than punishing and that certainly helped my experience. Unlike Zelda I never found myself "failing" a dungeon or side quest. The enemies more often than not in any area or fight seemed big enough to be somewhat of a challenge, but never seeming an impediment to whatever progress I was attempting.

Before I sound too positive, I do have negative criticism for the game, but I think that this post is long enough and I'll save my annoyances and pet peeves for another post if I feel like writing it. It's not risen into my list of all-time favorites, but it has been a very amusing diversion and certainly a deeper and more interesting experience than I expected.

[1]Ocarina of Time is certainly my furthest explored Zelda game, and I think I eventually made it to the final boss (which I don't recall beating, but I may have), but that was after several cycles of giving up on the game for weeks and then forcing myself to return to it, eventually treating it like some grind-heavy dungeon walking job after borrowing someone's physical strategy guide...
[2]Quantifying morality is just silliness.
[3]Prophesies are stupid. You can quote me on that.
[4]That is, not much beyond my general sick love of bloom effects. When people complain about the overuse of bloom effects a few years ago