Time Ex­tend

How Al­bion’s sopho­more form rep­re­sented Lion­head’s finest hour

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY CHRIS SCHILLING

A look back at Fable II, and how Al­bion’s sopho­more form rep­re­sented Lion­head’s finest hour

Late af­ter­noon on a balmy day in Oakfield, we fell in love. No, not with an­other per­son – though we had grown rather at­tached to our vir­tual wife and child – but with Al­bion it­self. Some­thing about that lowhang­ing sun, cast­ing the vil­lage’s quaint cot­tages in a sump­tu­ous au­tum­nal glow, to­gether with Rus­sell Shaw’s wist­ful, emo­tive score, con­vinced us that this rus­tic idyll was a place we could re­ally call home. Most videogame en­vi­ron­ments are places to delve into, pick clean and leave be­hind. Oc­ca­sion­ally we’re in­vited to rest, to set up a base of oper­a­tions. But most games view houses as Le Cor­bus­ier fa­mously did: as ma­chines for liv­ing in, and noth­ing more. This, how­ever, felt like a place to set­tle down; some­where to put your feet up at the end of a hard day’s ad­ven­tur­ing.

Al­bion – more specif­i­cally, Fable II’s Al­bion – is al­most cer­tainly Lion­head Stu­dios’ great­est achieve­ment. The orig­i­nal

Fable es­tab­lished a pleas­antly leafy, pas­toral set­ting, but it was com­par­a­tively flat and be­nign. Fable III’s vi­sion of an in­dus­tri­alised Al­bion, mean­while, gave us the grime but not the green­ery; a world re­luc­tantly caught up in the mid­dle of a rev­o­lu­tion with­out be­ing quite ready for it. The in-game his­tory books sug­gest a world in al­most con­stant tu­mult, but in Fable II we find it en­joy­ing a rare spell of peace, the calm be­fore a gath­er­ing storm. Not every­thing there is en­tirely green and pleas­ant, of course. There are plenty of Hobbes, Hol­low Men and Balver­ines, and also mo­ments of gen­uine tragedy – the haunt­ing, mist­shrouded Wraith­marsh in­duces shiv­ers rooted in sad­ness – but in the main there’s an un­de­ni­ably ap­peal­ingly up­beat, con­vivial at­mos­phere. Un­less you’re be­hav­ing very badly, there’s usu­ally some­one happy to see you. And if not, well, at least they’re vis­i­bly and au­di­bly aware of your pres­ence.

Much has been writ­ten about the ab­sence of most ortho­dox meth­ods of pun­ish­ment in Fable II, in par­tic­u­lar the re­moval of death for player char­ac­ters. Yet as con­ve­nient as it is not to re­turn to dis­tant check­points, nor to wit­ness a boss you’d al­most van­quished re-emerge with a dis­heart­en­ingly full health bar, this is per­haps the least in­ter­est­ing way Lion­head chooses to em­power you. Al­bion is a re­ac­tive world, one that yields to your pres­ence in ways small and large – en­vi­ron­ments change ac­cord­ing to the choices you make, and peo­ple change, too. In most games, you’ll recog­nise the im­pact of sig­nif­i­cant de­ci­sions, but in Fable II this hap­pens on a mo­ment-to-mo­ment ba­sis, with the slight­est shifts in your physique and stature af­fect­ing how the pop­u­lace re­sponds to you. Fate’s de­signs may have cast you as the Cho­sen One, but it’s a chas­ten­ing mo­ment when your be­hav­iour on the road causes towns­folk to greet you with a cheery “Hello, Knob­head!”

With­out its NPCs, Al­bion would still be an un­usu­ally rich and at­trac­tive world to save. With them, it’s one to savour. As with so many other RPGs, they’re quest-givers and al­lies, em­ploy­ers and store own­ers. They sell and craft weapons and ar­mour, give you hair­cuts and tat­toos. They can be wives and hus­bands, which is less com­mon, if hardly unique. Many are there to sim­ply add colour; again, that’s noth­ing new. What’s dif­fer­ent is that each and ev­ery one is there for your en­ter­tain­ment, and you for theirs. Your in­ter­ac­tions with them are rudi­men­tary yet mean­ing­ful, even at their sil­li­est. You can dance and flirt with them, threaten them, point and laugh at them, or in­vite them to kiss your arse. Earn suf­fi­cient renown and they might fawn over you, of­fer­ing you gifts or propos­ing mar­riage – or scut­tle off in fear as you ap­proach. The point be­ing, there’s a tan­gi­ble re­sponse to every­thing you do, no mat­ter how mi­nor. And, as such, their role in your story feels that bit more sig­nif­i­cant, your af­fec­tion for them grows, and Al­bion be­comes more love­able as a re­sult.

Then again, Al­bion had to be love­able to sup­port Lion­head’s riskier choices. Many of th­ese were at­trib­uted ex­clu­sively to founder and lead de­signer Peter Molyneux, which seems rather un­fair – not only to the stu­dio’s other cre­atives, but the poor coders who would find them­selves sud­denly tasked with try­ing to im­ple­ment Molyneux’s more fan­ci­ful con­ceits, of­ten re­vealed on a whim dur­ing in­ter­views and at in­dus­try events. His habit of mak­ing out­landish prom­ises, of course, had most in­fa­mously man­i­fested in the idea of an acorn flour­ish­ing into a

Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft Game Stu­dios De­vel­oper Lion­head Stu­dios For­mat Xbox 360 Re­lease 2008

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