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Fable II addictive, but ending carries no weight

You come home at night, turn on the Xbox 360 and, before you know it, it’s time to eat breakfast. Regardless of the few flaws in Fable II, there’s no denying addiction and enjoyment go hand-in-hand, as one hour of play can become five in the blink of an eye.

Fable II takes place 500 years after the original, and it provides gamers with an epic story and innovative real-time gameplay. There is a massive amount of freedom and choice to do almost anything.

Despite the addiction, there are indications developer Lionhead Studios rushed too much to get this sequel out on time, especially because the story abruptly ends faster than The Flash can run. While the main storyline of this Microsoft-exclusive action/adventure role-playing game can be finished in 10-15 hours, it takes true willpower to stay to that task.

There are plenty of side quests to distract you, plenty of people to interact with and a gorgeously expansive world named Albion to explore, which actually rewards the players who like to inspect every last inch. And you inspect this world with a friend – a dog, which serves as your unquestioningly loyal companion through thick and thin.

Fable II allows you to shape your character into either a pure-hearted savior, an imposing, demonic hero, or somewhere in between by giving options for how to proceed through the story:

Do you want to purchase food from the store, or steal it? Do you knock on a citizen’s door and hope to gain entry, or do you break it down? Do you capture a bandit for terrorizing a farm, or do you help the bandit for a cut of the profits? Do you eat five baby chicks to be initiated into a club or do you simply forget about joining at all?

Your actions give points toward purity or corruption, which impacts your outward appearance and how you are treated by the many non-playable characters you meet. Evil characters lose color in their skin and grow horns, much like a Sith Lord, and barmaids don’t cozy up to a guy killing villagers.

Interacting with others is where the game gets a good deal of its flavor. Though your hero will never speak, you can use a library of actions from dancing and whistling to belching and flipping the bird to get your feelings across to any you meet. This changes their perception of you.

And while this system is much too simplistic – you can see not only a bar depicting how much you need to do to get them to love or hate you, but also a list of their likes and dislikes – it’s still a fun way of incorporating choice into silent interaction.

The bad news is that, as the game goes on, you’ll realize the repercussions of your actions are not as important as you once thought. Sure, if the shopkeepers love you, there will be a discount, but there is also a discount if they fear you.

There are only a handful of situations that actually force players to make moral decisions. For the most part, whether you choose to execute a job on the side of good or evil, you’re going to get the same amount of gold either way.

Later in the game, there are two instances where there are real consequences if you want to stay on the side of good, and these were the best two moments of the game.

If more choices were like these, “Fable II” would have been an instant classic instead of just a fun time.

The fighting mechanics are a joy. The “X” button is for melee attacks, with weapons ranging from swords to cleavers to hammers and everything in between. The “Y” button is for ranged attacks like guns and crossbows. The “B” button is for magic, with nearly a dozen spells that can all be upgraded five levels. That’s all there is to it, and the transitions from one type of attack to the next are very smooth. The camera, controlled with the right analog stick, is also not a problem.

The types of attacks you use to defeat an enemy determine the experience you acquire for leveling up. The down-side to all this is there are very few battles that truly challenge players. Only once did all my life run out, at which point my resurrect potion kicked in, and I finished the fight. Even if you do die, the only consequence is a little scarring and a few lost experience points.

Even without a true story mode, all of the above was sharp enough that I would recommend playing this game. However, the main story quest was an enormous disappointment. It begins in an epic manner, with a tragedy in your youth. It continues as you struggle to learn your powers and earn renown in the villages. But then it all goes wrong in the final 15 minutes.

For a game based entirely on emotion and interaction with others, the ending of this game carries no weight whatsoever, as if the developers ran out of time and just said “OK, tack on the ending, forget the rest of the story!”

But there are multiple endings to experience, as you’re given one final choice of good vs. evil, which does add to the re-playability.

E-mail Chad Smith at [email protected].

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