Microsoft and Lionhead Studios' Fable II is adventure/RPG gaming at its finest. You play as Sparrow, a homeless child (you choose your sex) raised by your older sister, Rose. After Rose dies, Theresa, the mysterious leader of the Hero's Guild of Albion, takes you in and raises you to fulfill your destiny as a hero. Theresa sets you to task gathering the other remaining heroes to defeat the evil Lord Lucien. Then the fun begins. Your hero has at his or her disposal close combat and ranged weapons as well as magic. Each kill gains you experience points to level up your strength, skill, or will (magic). The game actually tailors itself to your playing style; the experience you gain is determined by your gameplay, so the more magic, skill, or strength you use, the more experience you get to level up that skill. A cool feature for those of us who aren't exactly hardcore gamers is that there is no risk of death or game over. If you get knocked out, you simply lose any uncollected experience points. You do acquire scars that make your character less attractive to others, though.
Among the additions to Fable II is your furry best friend, a dog that helps you find hidden treasure and sniffs out spots to dig for other miscellaneous buried goodies. He also helps you defeat enemies by attacking them after you’ve knocked them down. He can get hurt, though, so make sure to administer the Dog Elixir when he's looking puny. As in the original, the choices you make affect your purity and appearance — good deeds keep you pretty while acting evil can cause horns to sprout from your head. Though your choice may sometimes seem obvious you, there are often unexpected consequences to your decisions, and often a good deed is accomplished only through personal sacrifice. The actual story is pretty short if you just do the minimum required to finish, but the open-ended gameplay allows you to proceed at your own pace. In addition to the main story line, there are side missions that can, and sometimes must, be played to gain gold or renown, both of which are valuable commodities in Albion. The missions don't ever have to be restarted, and there's really no way to mess them up, so novice gamers can feel a sense of accomplishment even when they don't really know what they're doing. And don't worry about getting lost; there's a glowing trail to follow that keeps you on track while you explore levels. The controls are button-masher friendly, but the game walks you through them anyway, explaining clearly how to execute melee-combat combos and use the intuitive ranged-weapon targeting system that allows players to quickly pull off bad-ass head shots at will.
As in the original, you can get married (more than once if you travel to another town to do it, you sneaky bigamist you) and seduce promiscuous villagers. You can even choose between protected or unprotected sex, but be careful. Just like in the real world, leaving home without a raincoat can have horrible consequences — nasty diseases or unplanned children. And don't think for a second that you'll be talking a medieval bar wench into a trip to the women's clinic.
The user-friendly controls and the action-based personalization of your character make for a great introduction to the fantasy adventure genre, and the visually stunning storybook scenery makes Fable II just as much fun to watch as it is to play.
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