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Joystiq's Top 10 of 2008: Fable 2

In many ways, Peter Molyneux and friends at Lionhead had a steeper hill to climb than most of the games on this list. Fable 2 is, after all, the sequel to 2004's Fable – one of gaming's great "disappointments." It went something like this: the delta between what was promised and what was delivered was so great, that the press – roped in by the charming Molyneux – and by proxy the players, retaliated. The result: what really wasn't a terrible game is still now, years later, remembered as a disappointment.

Enter: Fable 2. Like Nintendo's illustrious Zelda series, Fable 2 is more of an aesthetic, as opposed to a narrative, sequel. You'll spot familiar gameplay elements, familiar narrative themes, and even some familiar places – this is definitely a Fable game. But it's also something entirely new: a new Albion, with a new Hero, new quests, a new enemy and, most importantly, the newfound ability to marry execution with ambition.

With so many things to do in the world of Albion, your experience is really your own; decisions will have long-lasting (and often irreversible) consequences. Return the deeds as a child? Invest in Barnum's Westcliff plan? Take a wife? Two wives? Have a child? Children? Each of these decisions will not only affect how you play the game, but determine what kind of game you're playing, culminating in the final and (depending on how you've played) uncompromisingly difficult decision.

But, was that decision final? Upon "finishing" Fable 2, you're right back in Albion, living with the outcome of yet another decision. There's a handful of new quests available and, more than likely, some left over. And you'll want to come back: Fable 2's unique side-quests defy most traditional RPG's "Mad Libs" design model – each of the game's surfeit of quests pairs nuanced characters with clever writing (in fact, nearly every facet of the game carries the unmistakable imprint of British humor) to deliver a rewarding – and most notably, a memorable – experience.

And we'd be remiss to neglect the game's achievements. Not just a handful of collectible badges for the OCD-set, Lionhead used the game's achievements to encourage exploration of its myriad mechanics. Consider The Goth: dye your hair and clothing black. Or The Hunter: Turn Safety off so you "kill a sweet, innocent, fluffy bunny rabbit." Yes, even the achievements share the game's cheeky sense of humor.

Fable 2's Albion feels like a living, breathing creation. A world that continues spinning, with or without you. Don't believe us? Turn it off for a month and see how much gold you earn from your properties. Or visit the shooting range in Westcliff, toggle the settings so you can see all the Fable 2 players on Xbox Live (not just your friends), and witness an ad-hoc bartering session, floating orbs pleading for dolls (you can only win one, but need six for The Dollcatcher achievement). Oh, and then there's the forthcoming DLC! But we digress ...

Fable 2 has not only refined Molyneux's original promise but, in doing so, has even surpassed many of our earlier, admittedly inflated, expectations for that game. Much like Molyneux, Fable 2 is the comeback kid, knocked down in the first round, but with too much ambition – too much heart, like they say in boxing – to stay down.

Gallery: Fable 2 | 35 Photos

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