10/28/2010

10-28-10 - Game Review - Fable 2

I beat Fable 2 a while ago and thought it was pretty rubbish (but amusing enough to play through to the end of the main story line). The whole time I was playing I was thinking "man this is rubbish" but I also didn't stop playing, because it was so ridiculously easy and mostly non-frustrating that it never gave me a point where I threw down the controller in disugst and stopped playing.

(the closest it got to making me quit was when I was in the spire and had basically a 30 minute non-interactive sequence where they make you press A every 5 minutes and pretend you're playing, but it's all forced and canned. I hate this trend in games; I think it comes from Valve and their "cinematics while the player still has control" which everyone seems to like so much; I fucking hate it, there's no point in giving me control and saying "walk over to the reactor" when that's my only choice, just make it a fucking non-interactive sequence and walk me over to the reactor for me, thank you. That way I can at least set down my controller and go to the bathroom or get a drink, this fucking semi-interactive canned sequence thing is real shit. If it's a fucking cinematic, make it a fucking cinematic, and you know what, fucking pre-render it too, I don't want god damn low poly in game character models with shitty lip sync, if you're showing me a movie, show me something good)

Games like Fable 2 are really tragic to me, because I thought the art was pretty cool and some of the play mechanics were okay (or could have been okay with a bit of better guidance), but the design and direction was just so completely retarded that it spoils the game.

I like the game world, sort of semi-realistic recent past but with magic, and very British, but I don't find all the stealing from pop culture very amusing (Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.). Make up your own damn fantasy world, or use historical references. I like the fact that it's colorful and playful and cheery and whimsical and all that, it's a nice break from all the horrible gray and "gritty" and grim and gruesome.

There's all this work on the expression system and the town interactions, but it actually does almost nothing for the game play, it's not actually integrated into the story or anything like that, so it's just pointless. Obviously the way your character changes over time is a complete gimmick and completely irrelevant. Like it affects the way townspeople interact with you, but you always have such a huge excess of money that it doesn't matter if they give you good prices or not. It's classic pot-smoking game "director" style designed where they have a bunch of "cool ideas" but don't actually think about how they will be used in game balance and play dynamics.

It's ridiculously badly balanced. They use the classic "I'm a bad designer" RPG trick of making each step up the experience ladder like 10X more expensive than the last. This is a standard crutch and it just ruins RPGs, but it's the only way for designers to fix broken games at the last minute. Let me do an aside on this for a moment because it's such a general problem.

The classic problem with RPGs which makes them difficult to develop is that players have so much freedom in how they develop their character, what side quests they do, etc. that when they reach story point X in the game, two different players could have just massively different development. This makes it almost impossible to tweak for difficulty statically. There are a few good solutions : 1. dynamic difficulty based on player development, 2. just a massive amount of side quests so that if a player is insufficiently developed they are sent off to buff up in side quests. But most shitty developers use the "I'm a bad designer" solution - make each level of advancement so big that it makes all previous advancement irrelevant, and then give out huge gold/exp rewards along the main quest. This means that player A who did a bunch of side quests and highly developed his character is only slightly powerful than player B who was a moron at chosing upgrades. You can tell that a designer is doing this to you when the next step up of a weapon is like 2X as good as the previous weapon (eg. you go from 10 damage to 20 damage, as opposed to like 10 to 12), also when the exp for a level is just massive, it makes it irrelevant whether you got the exp from side quests - eg. in the beginning of the game you're fighting mobs that give you 50 exp, suddenly you start meeting guys who gives you 500. It makes it pretty irrelevant whether you killed a bunch of extra early mobs or not. It's a way of wiping out the past, and as soon as you detect this in an RPG you know that you can just stop doing any side quests or worrying about your purchases.

The spells are terribly designed; the vast majority of them are completely identical (all the damage spells), but then Raise Dead is absurdly out of balance. All you need is level 1 raise dead and you can beat the game easily with no other magic.

The main quest is really short, I guess there are a lot of side quests but they just feel so pointless because the rewards are unnecessary. In a proper RPG the main quest should feel really difficult if you don't do any side quests, and the side quests should feel like they give you something useful that makes the main quest easier.

Generally it's just way way too easy. You can beat the game by just mashing X for all the combat, so there's no need to ever bother to learn any of the combo moves or strategy.

The controls are also just horribly broken; obviously the spell selector is just super rubbish, but the worst sin is that they massively miss button presses. This was the game that pushed me over the edge and made me write the game controls rant . I was constantly holding B to cast spells or holding A to run, and my guy's not actually doing it, and I'm like "friggling fracking WTF" and have to let go of the button and press it again to make them register it.

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