Fable 2: See the Future: First Impressions, Part Two

I just got through the Colosseum and the “See the Future” bit so I’ll add some more thoughts here.

I’ll start with the Colosseum since it was more interesting.

The Colosseum is flooded with monsters and you have (I think) 5:00 minutes to kill as many as you can. The more you kill, the more points you earn – but as you kill them, tougher monsters replace the fallen.

To shake things up a little, chickens magically appear every minute or so. If you kick one, you get bonus points – but of course that means weaving through the masses of enemies. Similarly, flit switches appear every so often and each time you successfully hit (it can be hard to hit them when they’re surrounded by monsters) one you add +1 to your current multiplier. Major points!

The goal is to get 15,000 points if you want to earn the Ultimate Reward (of course you do).

[edit: Actually, you want to hit 20,000 points, kill the Necromancer, and get a multiplier of 10x.]

To be honest, I thought I would nail it on my first try but I did not! In fact, on my first try I only got the third-place price. My second and third tries I got the second prize. Slight improvement. And then my fourth, fifth, and sixth tries I earned the first-place prize. I was having trouble figuring out how to nail the Ultimate Reward since my score was always around 12,000 and I was running out of time at the Banshee round.

Once I realized I kept running out of time because I couldn’t kill the Banshee quickly enough, however, I started wondering if Time Control would slow down the clock – and, of course, it does. So on my next try, lucky seven, I blew through the 15,000 point threshold, hitting close to 19,000 and earning the Ultimate Reward.

So what exactly did I do? It was pretty routine: third-level Time Control, fourth-level Animate Dead, third-level Time Control, fifth-level Shock. Repeat. I really waded through the monsters that way. Also, I went after the flit switches as soon as I could, and managed to get my multiplier to x8.

I’m not sure how high you can get it (in single player), but I hit almost every flit switch within a second of its appearance (thanks to the aforementioned Time Control and some targeting luck; so many times there’s an opponent behind me, for example, and I push in that direction and press the ranged attack, but I end up firing at someone across the map who isn’t even paying attention to me. It’s the same thing with the flit switches. Sometimes it’s just tricky to hit them. I found the best way to consistently hit the magic switches is with a ranged attack).

As for the Banshee, I nuked its little fellas with my gun and then took a few aimed head shots on the banshee to wipe it out pretty quickly. That got me right back into the masses of opponents and lots of points.

[edit – I got enough Will to upgrade to 4th-level Time Control and it seriously impacted my score. On my first try, I hit a x16 multiplier and a score of 65,390. I received a bonus of 226% on my earned experience. I think I killed the Banshee with 2:30 minutes left (one head shot, thanks to a better gun) and the Necromancer was gone with over a minute to go. In total, I killed 213 creatures. But only kicked 3 chickens. Ha!]

All in all, it’s pretty fun and a big addition to Fable. The only knock is that it’s a shame you can (I think) only access it *after* you beat the game – because it’s fun and you accumulate gobs of gold, experience, and items (experience potions, furniture, the aforementioned Ultimate Reward, etc.). But none of these rewards are very exciting after you have already beat the game.

So will I play it some more on subsequent play throughs? Eh… probably a couple times. Maybe. It (and the Crucible) just don’t have the addictiveness of a well-designed first-person shooter level (like capture the flag).

“Seeing the future” was less spectacular than I thought. I guess I was expecting something like a little quest map (like when you and your sister are on the farm and you get to shoot bottles and catch chickens), but instead you get a barely-interactive cut scene. You appear in a hallway, walk down a row of people while Theresa narrates, giving you some non-hints about the future (Fable 3?), and then you arrive at a throne where the scene wraps.

Bottom line: See the Future was a great piece of DLC. I liked the cheaper price, I liked the two quests, and I liked the Coloseum. I only wish the “future” was a little more fleshed out and that the Coloseum could be player earlier on in the adventure.

Fable 2: See the Future: First Impressions, Part One

Back in February, I played through Fable 2’s first batch of DLC and I thought it was “pretty forgetable. And that will leave me thinking twice about the next DLC – if there is anymore on the horizon.”

Well, there was more on the horizon, but when it was released I didn’t think twice. I picked up See the Future the day it came out. And the first impression?

So far, I love it. Sad to say, but I think the reason I was so down on Knothole Island was because of the question of cost versus content – as in, it was short and expensive, for DLC. It feels like Lionhead went the other route this time, releasing a pretty lengthy, substantial download for a very fair price.

The first thing that happens when you install the DLC is that a trader by the name of Murgo shows up in the docks of the Bowerstone Market. He sells you a cursed snowglobe. Use the globe, and you get sucked into it – and a decent length adventure.

The Cursed Snowglobe Mission

On the inside, you find yourself in a black-n-white world. The culprits? Brightly-colored (yet shadowy) figures who are sucking the color from the world.

The creatures are blue, yellow, or red. And though I picked up that my skill-focused hero was yellow, my gun was yellow, and my blade was blue – I didn’t quite catch on to the fact that the three prime skills were coming into play with the world’s coloring. In other words, blue shadows can only be defeated with melee weaponry, red shadows with magic, and yellow shadows with ranged weaponry. As an additional clue, the blue shadows use melee weapons themselves, the yellow shadows fire guns, and the red shadows use magic (which is quite awesome since no other monsters use time control magic; it makes them quite fearsome).

And I have to laugh at myself for not picking up on it much more quickly. In QA at BioWare, if the designers had pulled something like this I would have criticized them for accusing the gamers of being imbeciles. They would have responded that you can never be clear enough, and they would have been right. Yes, I will admit that I spent at least 20 seconds shooting at the blue shadows before realizing that I had to match blue-with-blue and use the melee weapon. Duh! 🙂

The rest of the globe world consists of pressing forward, fighting through the waves of monsters before defeating the final encounter and restoring color to the world.

The Cursed Skull Mission

Back at the market, Murgo now offers to sell you a cursed skull. Using the skull transports you to an errie land of the dead. When you arrive, an actual, giant skull tells you that it’s trapped and only a hero can rescue it. It begs you to travel through the area to find wisps, and bring them back to him.

The wisps themselves are trapped in various locations that are sealed by magic statues. The statues, like statues in Fable 2’s main adventure, require you to do a specific pose – matching the appearance of the statue. However, the extra twist here is that you have to wear a specific costume, too. For example, you might have to dress as a Hobbe and then do the point-and-laugh emote.

The brunt of this quest entails getting three costumes and proceeding through the magically-locked doors to the wisps, then leading them back to the skull – while fighting monsters all along the way. Like the snowglobe, the map is well designed and looks great (much like Knothole Island, actually; both DLCs ramp up the pretty factor). And also like the snowglobe, the mood and setting were particularly well done.

When I commented on wanting some new game mechanic or twist, in Knothole Island, this is exactly what I meant. In other words, while Knothole Island was fun and looked great, it felt like more of the same. See the Future, with the multi-colored shadows and costumes impacting the quests, felt like something new.

More Still to Come!

I’ve spent a bit of time playing today between the two aforementioned adventures, but I haven’t seen all the content. I think I spent too much time collecting all the hidden dye and statues in order to get achievements (I’m up to 50 achievements now). :p

There are, apparently, three major facets to this piece of DLC – the first two the snowglobe and skull, with the third piece the Colliseum. I will make sure to write up a second review as soon as I get to it.

A Fable 2 Retrospective?

First, I have to admit that See the Future has completely renewed my interest in Fable 2.

After beating Fable 2, I started up a second game but started playing other games and forgot about Fable. In anticipation of playing the new DLC, I fired my second playthrough up again to strengthen my character a little. Then, after I got the DLC, I was too caught up in the main quest to check out the new content. Finally, after first meeting up with the Hero of Skill and acing every round of the Crucible (all perfects, 762 seconds total I think), I decided to check out the new DLC. Which, in turn, has gotten me more into simply playing Fable 2 – as opposed to a desire to burn through the new content and quit.

Yes, after this surge of playing I’m reminded of many of the things that seem like they should be flaws: the easy combat, the gobs of money and nothing to spend it on but expensive houses which only generate more money, the shallow interaction with people, the limited character development and ease of experience-point gains, and so on – but somehow it doesn’t matter. It’s just too much “casual” fun.

It really is a game that has a great level of depth to it, but that you can pick up and play for short stints or long ones.

I especially love that all of the missions can be finished in something like 30 minutes. Since you cannot save during a mission, the shorter duration never leaves you feeling like you’re trapped in a lengthy quest and needing to set aside blocks of time to play. Similarly, the fact that you earn money even when you’re not playing is a brilliant design decision as it encourages you to get back to the game – if only to see how much money you’ve earned (again, even though there’s nothing to buy, but that doesn’t even matter) and buy a few more houses with your new stash of wealth.

Fable 1 did a lot of things right, but there are some huge improvements in terms of the gameplay between 1 and 2. It’s impressive.

Achievements

“I am a die-hard believer that if you finish a single-player game on Xbox 360, on normal settings, you should get something like 600 achievement points,” he said. “It irritates me to death when I get 120 points after finishing a 20-hour game on normal because I didn’t headshot 250 people through the eye.” [gamasutra.com]

I have had a few different conversations about this. I tend to agree that a number of achievements should come about as you progress through the game – and many developers agree. But I’ve also heard the argument that achievements imply a heroic accomplishment and most of them should be more rare to come by – and there are a lot of developers who follow that strategy as well. GTA IV, I think, is a decet example of the latter. Fable 2 is a good example of the former.

Thoughts?

PS The linked article talks about more than just achievements. It’s a good read.

Review: Knothole Island (Fable 2 DLC)

(today’s post: 599 words)

Knothole Island is a piece of DLC (downloadable content) for Fable 2. It costs a somewhat-steep 800 Microsoft points ($10.00 USD) for about one-to-three hours of content (I played from 7:15pm until 10:30pm).

Once you’ve downloaded the DLC, a man in a steampunk submarine shows up by the Bowerstone Market and asks you to come with him to snowy Knothole Island. The island’s chieftain wants you to go on a quest to recover an artifact to bring warmth to the land. First you find the key to the temple, then you meander through the temple until you find the artifact. Shortly after using the artifact, however, it’s so warm that all the water is drying up. To fight the drought, the chieftain sends you on a second quest to bring storms to the island. Another key and temple down, and the chieftain wants you to deal with unchecked flooding by returning things to the way they were at the start. That last step completed, the module wraps with you freely distributing the weather-controlling artifacts to the people or taking a bribe to give it to the chieftain alone.

The temples are small dungeons where you have to fight or puzzle (Fable 2 *reaction* puzzles where you attack the flying orb – not to be confused with *thinking* puzzles) your way through a series of doors until you get to the artifact. Anything else? You get some achievement points for completing the module. You also get some achievement points for finding all the books and picking up each of the items at the surprise shop.

Picking Fable 2 up again after a bit of a break was a little less than spectacular. For one, I’m reminded of how easy combat is. Target an opponent with your ranged weapon, focus on his head, and pull the trigger. Dozens of opponents are gone in seconds – even banshee battles end quickly. For a second, I’m reminded at how awful the bloom effect is. That’s a shame because the graphics are really good but there’s this soft blur/fog/glow lighting effect on everything that, for me, detracts from the visuals. For a third, if you play the DLC after beating Fable 2 then you’re not getting anything to help your character. Money? Already had 4 million. What’s a chest with an extra 2,000 coins? Property? I was already making over 14,000 every few minutes. Now it’s over 16,000. Experience? I already have all the abilities at maximum – and 1 or 2 million experience points that I can’t spend.

The island itself was a little lackluster, too. No memorable citizens about town. No new monsters. Nothing story related. No new side plots or new quest types. The only “new” was some different items and potions, clothing, and so forth. So it’s awful. Isn’t it? No. Not at all. The maps for the island and dungeons were put together well. There’s a lot of back-and-forth; areas you can’t get to when it’s icy open up when it’s dry. And? Well… uh… er… Fable 2 is still a great game. And there’s nothing wrong with jumping back in for a few more hours. Or drinking potions that drop you down to the size of a peasant. Though I think I would have been more excited, and satisfied, to start up a new game in Fable 2 and play away at that for a few hours.

All said, I don’t regret the download but I wish there had been some new gameplay mechanic or higher-level skills/opponents to make it more worthwhile. As is, it’s pretty forgetable. And that will leave me thinking twice about the next DLC – if there is anymore on the horizon.

Console Patching

(today’s post: 245 words)

I spotted the announcement of an upcoming patch for Fable 2 on the Xbox 360 and it got me thinking…

One of the perks of console gaming used to be that games were “finished”. Once the internet became prevalent, games on the PC were often shipped with bugs that were later fixed while console games had to work; there was no way to patch them. It forced console game-developers to have quality standards.

Starting with the original Xbox that shifted. The internet came to consoles.

At first, there was resistance. In fact, I remember working for a particular video game company and us sneaking bug fixes out to consumers, hiding a patch behind bonus content (like slipping dog pills in a piece of bread). I don’t know why it couldn’t just be said, “Hey, we know this is broken. Don’t do [this] to avoid the bug or download this fix.”

Maybe it was because everyone realized it’s a slippery slope.

Fable 2, in PC-like fashion, had a patch available day one (the day the game arrived in stores). There’s a second patch set to arrive in mid-December.

To be fair, the first Fable 2 patch enabled multiplayer. And I like bonus-content patches (even if there are bug fixes hidden in there). I also don’t mind rare issues getting addressed – like the bug on the aforementioned project I was on. But the idea of patches becoming common place is… well, it allows developers to be sloppy.

Where’s the quality assurance?

Fable 2: First Impressions

Candice and I are cat-sitting for Lisa’s kitty, Winkle, which means that Winkle is curled up beside me and I’m (typing, and) watching Candice play Fable 2 on the 50+ inch 1080P TV (I have to admit Fable 2 looks really good on the big, high-def screen). Here are a few early thoughts on the title:

  • Graphics: I played Fable 1 for about 20 minutes to remind myself of that game, and then popped in Fable 2. I was hugely impressed by the differences. In fact, when the game started I didn’t do anything because I thought I was in a cutscene. There’s some pop-in and you’ll see areas re-light. There’s fog of war and motion blur. There are frame rate dips. But those are somewhat standard and to say any more than that is to nitpick unfairly. This game is gorgeous.
  • Exploration: The world feels big. In Fable 1, there’s a mini-map when you enter an area. It shows you the exits and roughly what the area looks like. I think that made areas feel smaller and your travel through them more efficient; in Fable 2, they moved the mini-map to the start menu (hiding it) and enlarged the areas. It feels like you can just wander anywhere.
  • Combat: I’m a fan of lots of early combat. I feel like it helps me understand the game mechanics better. Fable 2 doesn’t have much combat early on. I took on a quest to kill 100 Hollow Men and that felt like my first real combat fun.
  • Interface 1: I know the project lead, Peter Molyneux, hates elements on the interface. He says it distracts from immersion and reminds you that you’re playing a game. That’s odd because Fable 2 gives you a glowing trail that tells you where to go. Personally, I love it. But it can feel a bit like cheating.
  • Interface 2: I’m very frugal with my gear. So when I see that an item heals me 26 points, I don’t want to use it unless I am 26 or more points away from full. Unfortunately, your health bar is just a red squiggle. You never know if the item you’re using is overkill for healing. I find that mildly annoying.
  • Interface 3: The d-pad is bound to different things. It might let you heal your dog or do a heroic pose or eat some food. It bothered me in Fable 1 that you couldn’t pick what was there. It also bothered me that I might accidentally do something I didn’t intend to because the context suddenly changed (kind of like hitting Y to get more information about a targeted person, but then they walked away and now Y makes you pull out a weapon and scare everyone). Nothing has changed in Fable 2.
  • Story: I feel like they hit a good balance between maintaining tension and allowing a more relaxed pace. You feel pulled along by the story but at the same time you can relax and wander off to the side and get into the world. Obviously, I’ll comment on the actual story when I’ve gotten further into the game.
  • Side-Plots: Speaking of wandering off to the side, there’s a lot of fun stuff to do. I spent an hour or two working as a blacksmith, making swords for money. You can also take part in non-story related quests. You can dig around for treasures. You can buy shops or rent out homes. You can play cards and other pub games. The list goes on. I only wish it impacted your character – kind of like how it worked in GTA: San Andreas where working out was a fun mini-game but it also improved your character.
  • The Dog: I really like the dog. I wasn’t sure if it would work but so far it completely does. I feel an attachment to it, both because of its body language and its usefulness; I love how he finds places for you to dig and helps you in fights by attacking downed foes. He can even complement your expressions. And I thought it was cute to see Candice get mad at a baddie after he kicked her dog. 🙂
  • Multi-player: I haven’t played around with multi-player yet, though Candice is playing now to get her character set up. Then we can play together. We’ll see how that is.

This post is longer than the usual so I’ll stop there.