Fable 2 has been in the works for some years now, and the Xbox 360 exclusive RPG has a lot riding on it this festive season, Microsoft hoping that Lionhead's opus will provide a compelling reason for people to own their console over this key sales period. With the game out in late October, we're edging ever nearer to finding out if Molyneux's much discussed role-player was worth the wait, and we met with audio associate producer Georg Backer at Games Convention to see how the game is looking with just two months to go.
Dispensing with the pleasantries, Georg thrusts us straight into the world of Fable 2, banking that the game's lush visuals will convey what words cannot. The producer's gamble pays off instantly, Fable 2 looks wondrous. Our first view is of our central character, viewed third-person style, with a beautiful world laid out before them. The sense of a living, breathing space is palpable, and the wind gently blows the grasses and other plant life as we look out across a colourful, ye olde England-esque view.
The panoramas are genuinely impressive, the art team clearly having combined with the game's designers and programmers to create a vision of an RPG landscape that really does look like a fantasy obsessive's wet dream. The visuals are stylised, but not overly so, while the animation and attention to detail will surely be the 360 showcase Microsoft are hoping for.
As Georg begins moving his character through the land, incidental details continuing to delight, I'm taken aback by the lovely lighting and sunshine effects, which really enhance the whimsical feel of the game - aided by some appropriate sound effects and music.
Fable 2 is all about choices, however, and your decisions in Fable 2 will probably have more impact on your experience than in any game before it. The world is awash with NPCs to interact with. Some will help, some will hinder, and all will have an opinion on you of one kind or another. Reputation is the name of the game, if I might be so bold, and your actions will be reflected in the way people treat you. Fear, mistrust, kindness, anger will play a part in the kind of Fable you play out; while your direct actions will also see realistic reactions from locals, as Georg demonstrates when he starts swiping his sword around in a village, causing an appropriate amount of consternation.
However, we're not hear to strike fear into the hearts of the simple villagers (not yet at least), we're here to chat up a lovely young lady who we're hoping to woo. The speech system looks easy enough to use, and the choices you make here will once again have a huge impact on how you make the game's NPCs feel about your presence. Our hero is in charming form, luckily, dancing for the young lady in question and increasing the chance of her falling in love with you. Fall in love and you can eventually own a home of your own and get married.
So detailed is the world of Fable 2 that if you wish you can buy a house and rent it out, garnering income for spending elsewhere in the world. As well as dancing for your beloved you can also offer gifts as part of the courtship process, and every step of this procedure will be played out in detail. Wandering around the village after the seducing/slicing we meet a number of colourful characters you can choose whether or not to engage in conversation. Georg notes the mammoth task of recording the game's 38 hours of realistic dialogue, and this is evident in the local storyteller, who can tell you a yarn if you're looking for a diversion, or the games master, who will also be able to provide fitting entertainments.
You can of course skip the game's dialogue should you wish to, although from what I heard this adds greatly to the ambience so quite why you'd want to I'm not sure. Still, its another choice, isn't it. While this is an RPG title, Lionhead are an ashamedly populist developer, and as such they want this to be an adventure anyone can enjoy. With this in mind, new quests will be accessible by following the game's subtle 'golden trail', which will lead you to your next challenge, whatever it might be.
Jump in co-op play will also be a favourite feature, we'd imagine, and journeying into some mysteriously atmospheric caves on a quest to find a lost boy, we come across a young man opening a special chest who is faced by some rather nasty monsters. One of my fellow journalists duly took up the reigns as an additional character, while the NPC chap also helped us battle the nasties. XP will of course impact your abilities in melee and ranged-weapons combat, and as ever practice makes perfect.
Battle is an action-packed colourful affair, and you'll also be able to cast a few magic attacks on the fly, which not only look great but can also aid your levelling-up in the thick of the action. The game's open-world pretensions mean that combat is something that can happen at any time, depending on your actions in-game - while throughout the experience Lionhead have clearly worked hard to create a game with a strong atmosphere - a delicious slice of videogaming escapism. As Georg Backer notes, the audio is a key part of this, and the sheer volume of it in Fable 2 was something of an epic challenge for the producer.
With just a couple of months to go until Fable 2 arrives the game is certainly looking like a polished affair; the developer clearly keen to deliver on many of the original adventure's promises. We'll keep you posted on just how good the game could be as release nears.