Joystiq E3 hands-on: Fable 2

I should come right out and say that I'm probably not going to be giving you the most objective view on Fable 2. I know, exactly what you wanted to hear, right? I'm sorry in advance, but I'm a big fan of Fable, and that's the viewpoint I'm coming from.

To that end, I should open by saying this: If you too are a fan of Fable, you need read no further, though I know you will. Judging from the build I played, it's more of the stuff you love with richer combat and ... well, you're just going to adore it. Promise. But not everybody played Fable. In fact, there are a sad few that played it and didn't even like it. It's for them that I'm soldiering on.
I started playing as a child, my sister in tow, with only a wooden sword to defend us as we traveled around a village and ran a few odd jobs. I should mention that there was quite the cacophony of activity at Microsoft's party and without headphones I normally only had a vague idea of what was going on from a narrative perspective.

As a result, the first thing I noticed about the game was how much was communicated by the animations of the NPCs. At the end of my childhood demo I met a character who I could tell was a villain just from the sinister way he lurched around the room. Crowd scenes looked great too, with enough animation variety to make the city's denizens seem quite lifelike.

What wasn't so great was the technical quality of the graphics themselves. Though really pleasing from an artistic point-of-view, buildings and characters were often harshly jaggy in spots and some of the particle effects are just plain ugly. My hope is that these issues will be fixed before release, but with just a few months to go I'm a little unsure.

What players will likely notice first though is the sparkling bread crumb trail that leads you from objective to objective. In the demo, the brightness on the trail was cranked to full, and it was constantly drawing my eye away from the action. I was comforted to learn that the trail's relative brightness would be dynamic, glowing when it was followed and fading when you are off the trail.

After my all-too-brief childhood came to an end I jumped ship for an adjacent seat in the demo area and got into some adult combat.

When it was first presented to us, Fable 2's one-button battling seemed like a way to pull off really complicated maneuvers with simple inputs. Using one button for attacks (tap), blocking (hold) and flourishes (hold with a direction) is smart, but in practice in the chunk I saw it simply made sword fighting feel simplistic. I'm hoping that things will change in indoor environments, but what I saw was pretty far from a revolutionary step forward. It felt like a brawler.

What was surprisingly good was the firearm combat. Tapping the Y button shot from the hip, while holding it in allowed you to target, which I understand is a skill you have to procure. Guns feel powerfully satisfying, especially against some of the stringy zombies we were battling. Swordplay is functional, but I'd bet you'll spend a surprising amount of time using guns.

Magic has also been retooled from the original game. Tapping a button allows you to use an area of effect spell of your choice, while pressing it with a direction fires a projectile. You can also charge the button, which fills a meter through five levels of intensity as you hold it in. What spell is at which level is entirely up to you, so you could quick tap to use a fire bolt, hold it in for a second to use a level 2 ice spell, for two seconds to use a level 3 force push and so on. It's a really smart way of making you feel like you have a wide variety of different abilities at your disposal.

Speaking as a Fable fan, I left really pleased. It's not a quantum shift, but it's absolutely been refined for the better. My hope is that some of the graphical issues can be dealt with, and the game can become an experience that anyone, even non-Fable fans will be able to get on board with.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.