Why 'Fable II' is the game of the year

Don Reisinger thinks <i>Fable II</i> is the game of the year. But once it hits store shelves Tuesday, will others agree?

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read
Fable II
Fable II is the game of the year. Microsoft

I may be going out on a limb here considering Little Big Planet, Far Cry 2, and countless other titles will be hitting store shelves over the the next few months, but I don't care. After playing through the world of Fable II and considering the impression it made on me, I can say, without a doubt, that Fable II is 2008's game of the year.

Now, I know that CNET's Dan Ackerman told us all last week that Dead Space should top the list for this year's best game, but I have to disagree.

But then again, Fable II is an acquired taste. It's not the kind of game that will make the world rejoice, but it's the kind of game that any person who enjoys a fantastic storyline, even better gameplay, and a living, breathing world, will enjoy. In other words, the Wii gamer--someone who only enjoys playing Wii Sports or Wii Fit--will probably look at Fable II as a relic of the past that holds little merit. But for the rest of us--those that love gaming and enjoy varying styles of gameplay--Fable II will sit atop our lists as one of the best games we've ever played.

Trust me. It's that good.

I won't review everything about Fable II here (you'll have to wait for this Friday's Digital Home Video show for that), but the game's storyline is second to none. That said, it's extremely difficult to describe it without giving away too many details.

So, let me just say that you can play as a man or woman in Albion 500 years after the conclusion of the original Fable. Much like the first game, you're forced to make a series of tough decisions each step of the way as you progress through the game and every single choice you make will have a lasting impact on your notoriety, the way villagers think of you, and whether or not you'll be able to progress through the story. Some decisions are easy: do you want to help the villagers or kill them? Others are far more difficult: do you want to sacrifice someone for the good of your mission or help them and forgo the job you were sent to perform? For better or worse, the choice is yours.

But it's that choice that makes Fable II such a compelling title. Maybe you'll decide to get married and buy a house for your spouse. Some houses (usually those that are cheaper) won't appeal to your upper-class wife, so you'll need to go find a job to make enough money to buy the nicer home. Or maybe you just lost 100 Gold in a game and you're sick and tired of losing so you decide to kill the person running the game. When that happens, you get confronted by the Sheriff and his henchmen and maybe you decide to kill them instead of paying a fine to stay out of jail. Or maybe you decide to pay for your crime and perform some community service. It's all up to you.

Unlike the first Fable game, which suffered from a somewhat dull world, the new Albion is much bigger and far more entertaining. Regardless of where you are, what you've done, or who you've become, Albion is a living, breathing world that won't stop for you or anyone else. If you decide to be evil, villagers will react to you and run as soon as they see your ugly face. If you decide to be a good person that never does wrong, villagers will offer you gifts and become attracted to your dashing looks. And all the while, you can enjoy having praise heaped upon you, marry two women in 10 minutes and put them up in houses across the street from each other to make them fight, or spend some time working for the Bowerstone Market blacksmith. Every one of those decisions will change the way people look at you.

But it's the main story and solid fighting mechanics that sets Fable II apart from the rest of the games released so far this year. Without giving too much away, the story is superb. It's a tale of revenge, deceit, retribution, and patience. It's a story that will rival any RPG ever released and will make you actually care what happens.

Much like the story, fighting in Fable II is fantastic. You can wield crossbows, melee weapons, swords, cast spells, or shoot guns at enemies and along the way, you'll be happy to know that you can target any enemy you want and attacking has never been easier. On some levels, Fable II's fighting mechanics remind me of the God of War's, but I think the latter's is slightly better.

For as great as Fable II is, it should be noted that it's an easy game. You don't really "die." Instead, you get "knocked out" and lose all experience points that you didn't collect during a fight. Once you wake up, you're back into the fight where you left off and will stay there until you kill all the enemies. In one difficult area in the game, I died three times during a fight and wasn't forced to start over or face more enemies. That may be a problem to the RPG faithful out there, but I think it made the game more enjoyable.

So why is Fable II the game of the year? Two reasons: I don't see too many candidates out there now that would be deserving of such a title and the game's storyline, consequence engine, fighting, and lively, graphically gorgeous world make it almost perfect. And that's before I even mention the fact that Xbox Live will play an important role in extending this game beyond your home and that a dog accompanies you throughout the game to help you in your quest.

Most games today fail to impress me on too many fronts. Some titles are boring, others have poor control schemes, and still others lack in gameplay. But Fable II is different. It's a game that not only impressed me, it made me wonder why more companies aren't willing to go the extra mile to create a living, breathing environment that will have a direct impact on you as a person.

Once you play Fable II, you won't want to put it down. Trust me, it's that good.

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