Role playing games have a long and celebrated history. They often elicit strong attachment from their players and can become thoroughly engrossing as players learn to identify with their avatar and develop a personal attachment to this alternate personification of themselves. The problem is that as deep as these games can be they can also be somewhat complicated and forbidding. Not all players want to study statistics, memorize obscure qualitative and quantitative relationships or deal with obsessive and often tedious exploration and documentation of their game world. Last week we had the chance to sit down with Xbox Canada’s Jake Reardon and Jeff MacDermot (pictured below) to go through Fable 2 at it’s launch event in Toronto and try it out first hand.
Fable 2 allows for an RPG style experience yet attempts to streamline it so as to be more accessible to casual players without sacrificing the richness that more dedicated players come to love from the genre. Beyond that the game also attempts to encompass concepts of morality, virtue, economy and sociology to create a rich world which is more the product of the player than the player is a product of it. This is an ambitious game and for better or worse lends itself so much to comparison with other RPG games that it is difficult to talk about it without discussing the rest of the genre.
As soon as you start the game you are presented with a choice – male or female. That is the extent to which you can customize your character for now. As you progress you will be able to change your hair, makeup, tattoos and clothes. Your behavior can also change your physique or add scars. Eat too much pie and see what happens. What’s nice is that you can dye your clothes (and hair) too adding further opportunities for individual expression. The selection of clothing items in the game could be better but with dyes and various combinations of items it would be surprising to see two players with identical avatars. You are further shaped by the choices you make through the game. For instance if you are particularly angelic you will evolve a halo hovering overhead. While you may not be able to change your race or see your character through adolescence or old age, your Avatar in fable will likely be a unique one and a reflection of your gameplay behavior.
Your interactions with others in the game can be pivotal. A good reputation or a bad reputation can have its share of pros and cons. Do you want a family? Do you want more than one? How will you treat your dog? There are lots of decisions to be made. Often in RPGs stealing is defacto – it is hard to finish a Zelda game, for instance, without ransacking someone’s home, smashing up all their clay pots and stealing all their rupees. In Fable you can get through without being such a jerk. Sure being a jerk can be easier and more fun but since being totally pure and virtuous is harder, it too has its own rewards. The social aspects of Fable 2 are a huge selling point and the game even goes so far as to track how many STDs you have contracted through your travels. The social system is even deep enough to allow for homosexuality, sexual deviance, and even masochism. Now that’s what I call a game. Thankfully despite the morality factor playing such a large role in Fable 2, the game is careful not to judge you too often and considers that everyone’s views on morality are different. For instance while some non-player characters (NPCs) are terribly conservative, you will find some with more liberal politics proving that this game does in fact seek to accommodate a spectrum of tastes and ambitions for role play.
Fable 2 seems to have been designed with simplicity in mind. It is very well suited to the new gamer. When following a quest you are guided through the world so that navigation is not an issue. Everything is as easy as it could be. The controls are simple. Picking out weapons, outfits, et cetera is all simple. That is great. You don’t even have to worry about picking this game up after not playing it for weeks or months, you should be able to get right back in to it. In that respect it’s great for the casual player. With a rich RPG many can get exceedingly complicated. With Fable 2 you can skip the complexity and get straight to the fun. This may be a problem for some players though. It can remove some of the explorative discovery elements familiar to many dedicated RPG fans. It doesn’t quite have the same richness as some of the more intricate RPGs have. It doesn’t reward exploration too much. But its much more casual and fun – for most people that’s a great tradeoff. The dedicated RPG fan can still find value here but this time it’s a lot less intimidating to the casual RPG fan. The interface is good and in most respects it’s well designed to let anybody get in to their role
While Fable 2 may be missing out on some of the intricacy of some RPGs and may not reward exploration and discovery as much as one might hope; it is still a rich and fulfilling experience. It’s simply fun. You don’t have the burden of having to memorize complex controls or figuring out countless factors. Its simplicity shouldn’t scare off more dedicated fans though as there is enough there with the social and economic aspects to keep them entertained for a while too. You can even buy up all the land in the kingdom, and rent it back out to the peasants, earning rent money in real time – even when you’re not playing the game. It might cheer you up during this sub-prime mortgage meltdown. Once you are done your main narrative quest you can still enjoy the world for hours, interacting with the NPCs, gaining wealth and exploring sub-quests. If you are interested in role playing at all, weather casually or obsessively, or are just curious to explore morality and virtue in the context of a game, this may be a worthwhile title for you to check out once it is released to the public tomorrow.