Three hours with the finished Fable 2

In keeping with his policy of not talking about his games without something to show, Peter Molyneux brought along the finished version of Fable 2 when he came to San Francisco to speak to US media about the game. He also brought a nice, big HDTV to play it on and a bunch of Microsoft staff. It must have been pretty cramped in his luggage.

We were plopped down in front of the fruit of Lionhead's effort, handed a controller and wireless headphones, and set loose to see how far we could adventure before they had to pack it up. It ended up being a solid three hours worth of gameplay, and, as Molyneux remarked when he saw where we'd stopped, was "only scratching the surface" of the full experience.

Diving in, we were first and foremost given the option of playing as a male or female character – a choice that the original Fable didn't offer players. After making our selection (it was a boy, for reference) we were in the game world, controlling him following a brief intro cinematic. There was no character creation, of course, since, well, the entire game is one big character creator. One where the hero you end up with is the result of your actions and deeds throughout the adventure.

"Did we hand the bottle to the drunk, or give it to his wife who was pleading with him to give up drinking?"

We were immediately struck by how alive the game felt as we roamed the streets of town alongside our character's sister. People bustled around, going about their daily business; adults would "tsk" us as we ran past just for the simple fact we were rambunctious children; and shop keeps were touting all sorts of trinkets. We were allowed to explore the town freely, but noticed the game's method of keeping players on the story path fairly quickly. It's a glowing "breadcrumb" trail, which, as we found in the options menu, could be adjusted to be more or less in our faces. The default setting seemed just right, so we didn't mess with it.

Our first task was to buy a very special trinket, which, for the sake of not spoiling the plot, we'll only say cost five gold – something that a pair of orphaned kids certainly didn't have. The next 30 minutes or so saw us performing various errands – finding misplaced warrants, ridding a warehouse of beetles, recovering a drunkard's wine – all of which presented us with two moral choices. Did we hand the bottle to the drunk, or give it to his wife who was pleading with him to give up drinking? (We chose the latter.)

As in real life, childhood goes by quickly in Fable 2. After a series of totally spoiler-packed plot events, we found ourselves in a gypsy village, controlling a handsome young adventurer on a quest to do something quite spoilery. We took some time in this neutral setting to practice interacting with others in the camp – particularly wooing the ladies, one of which we could have married right away if we only had a ring – before heading off for the inaugural dungeon.

"Our dog went as far as to run after blade-wielding enemies, keeping them occupied while we dealt with the ones shooting at us."

Of course, we had our pooch – who we'd creatively named "Dog" – along for the adventure, and his abilities quickly came into play, growling as enemies grew near, and barking / running to spots where treasure was hidden. This early slice of gameplay introduced us to sword, gun, and magic combat. According to Molyneux, this was all "simple stuff," and that we wouldn't really experience the full depth of combat until after a key plot point ... one which we unfortunately didn't make it to in our time playing.

We did manage to amass a good amount of experience orbs in our early battles, however, which let us purchase new skills, increasing our combat proficiency through better agility, more damaging attacks, new spells, and more. We took on a mob of bandits and their leader, with Dog pouncing on downed baddies while we took on their still-standing cohorts. Dog went as far as to run after blade-wielding enemies, keeping them occupied while we dealt with the ones shooting at us.

With the local area rid of these creeps and their boss (whose slaves we subsequently set free, much to their relief – although, as Molyneux rather darkly pointed out, we could have befriended them, led them back to the slaver, and killed him in front of them) we headed for town. The road, previously barricaded against bandit attacks, was now open. Immediately upon stepping foot into the square, a minstrel greeted us and asked if he could be our guide. "Sure," we said (with a press of the A button).

This silly guy followed us around, singing about how great we were ... and pretty much everything we were doing. Like taking a job as a blacksmith for some gold to buy new clothes. Or walking into the Cow & Corset tavern, for which he comically didn't have anything that rhymed.

"Molyneux told us that we could eventually buy the tavern, set the prices to 'free,' and watch as the entire town got drunk."

We used some of our gold to buy new clothes, a better sword, and even pay the town crier to refer to us as "The Blade." It sounded better than "Chowder Head," another option. We bought a small beverage stand, which would earn us gold even when we weren't playing the game. Molyneux told us that we could eventually buy the Cow & Corset, set the prices to "free," and watch as the entire town got drunk.

Unfortunately, just as our main quest was about to begin, our time with the game had to come to an end.

Thinking back on the experience, it was incredibly engrossing, and, based solely on what we played, much better paced than the original Fable. The sheer amount of stuff we could do – what with the running of businesses, various jobs, and interacting with, well, everyone with lasting results – had us pulling ourselves away quite reluctantly, but confidently knowing that, when the game arrives in stores next month, it has the potential to be a much more polished and lasting experience than we'd previously expected.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.