These words were written just after the release of Fable II on these shores, I was knee-deep in the game and full of wonder – Far Cry 2 had just proved a disapointment and then out of nowhere this strange console RPG changed all my premonitions on the future of the genre.
You’ve travelled far, fought off packs of bandits, beetles and all sorts of nasties, and have the scars to show it. Weary from travel dirtied with grime and blood, you haul your battered hero down the last stretch of road to Oakfield. You blink your eyes, the dreary, grey palette of the bandit-ridden road so suddenly replaced by sparkling green, yellow and blue. Emerald grass glistens in the noon sun, a windmill spins happily in the distance against a clear blue sky. Merry cottages with golden thatch sit at the feet of tidy patches of farmland. Villages tend to chickens at their pens, modest stalls adorn the worn roads. You spy a pub on the other side of the bustling river. A man with at thick west-country accent waves a warm hello to you as you stand, in awe.
“Wow” you may well stop to think, “These people have it so much better off than me”
You may even stop to think, why are you questing on like this anyway, risking life and limb, fighting hordes of generic baddies, putting your own personal safety (and good looks) at risk? Wouldn’t it just be perfect to settle down in Oakfield, buy a farm, get a wife, and spend the rest of your days earning a modest lumberjack’s wage? It’d make a change, wouldn’t it?
Fable II is a game that asks you, almost begs you, to dream. To give you that option, to change your life, to make any of these charming microcosms of Albion’s stylized Victorian England your home. The above Oakfield example became the fate of one of my friends who played the game along side me – he actually stopped his quest to save the world and settled down, spending hours upon hours living out that simple life, and loving every bit of it.
At the same point in the game as him, my character was Bowerstone’s (which is basically Fable’s equivalent of Dickensian London) Bill Sikes, at least in looks. A dodgy looking, greasy haired, heavily side burned bastard. That may have been his reality, but he dreamed of life as an admired, middle class entrepreneur-come-millionaire in the big city. Preferably without any actual manual labour or risk involved getting there. He left his world-saving quest, moved to Bowerstone, scrounged up enough money to buy the local pie shop, and promptly set the prices extortionly high. The money was promptly spent on a lavish green velvet suit with a frilled white shirt and bow-tie. Each time a pie is sold 81 gold enters my pocket and simultaneously little icons that appear momentarily above every citizen of Bowerstone tell me they like slightly less.
Now I set my horizons further: I’m moving into the weapons industry.
Meanwhile, my vastly poorer but infinitely more liked friend lives the simple life with his town-girl wife at the old Oakfield farm. She has recently borne child. Actually, with barely any expenses to deal with and an increasingly healthy profit from his lumberjack business, my friend actually lives more comfortably than me. Nowadays I’ve moved in with Bowerstone’s hair Stylist, a not particularly attractive woman who, for some reason, never responds negatively to any of my character’s abusive expressions. Even when he slaps her, she suffers no change to her demeanour, simply looks into his eyes happily, and repeats how much she loves him.
Yes it’s tragic, but that is exactly the path I chose (or more my character did!).
Fable II is a game that just keeps giving and giving. Any direction you want to push, the game seems able to accommodate. For experimental purposes (saving first) I’ve slaughtered entire villages, returned to Bowerstone to find people fleeing at my sight in terror, and the price of goods local pub offers me markedly lower. Everyone saw me differently because now I was a murderer.
My character, noticing his public image declining at every over-priced pie sale, and being a smug git all too preoccupied with how popular he is (and the prices he gets as a result at aforementioned local pub), decided to take up puppet shows to try and rally some popularity around town. It worked a charm, problem being next time he tried his normal “Grr, Rargh, ah humbug!” routine at a beggar/child who was annoying him, his victim proceeded to burst out laughing, as apposed to running away in fear.
The more I play Fable, the more I start to suspect this might just be the future of gaming. The way every action, however minute, is picked up upon. Merely stand gormless, looking at an NPC for too long and they’ll get concerned. This little, fully-realized world where every house is a potential home, every passer by a potential love-interest, just being able to play in such a magical place sends a tingle down the spine. Just what will my character’s life be like tomorrow? I can’t even say – and here is the really amazing part: neither could Lionhead.