November 23, 2008 4:00 PM |
['The Game Anthropologist' is Michael Walbridge's regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column looking at gaming communities and subcultures. This week he explores how Fable II lacks clarity at first, and how an early multiplayer experience powerfully changed his own journey through the main storyline, among other things.]
(Spoiler notification: if you've heard nothing about Fable II's ending or the characters you meet in it and don't want to yet, you will want to stop reading.)
Most games, even bad ones, at least have plain and simple goals. Fable II does not; even if one includes the many unedited, uncoached musings of Peter Molyneux, there are still some design decisions in the game that are not easily understood by the player. Is it an RPG? Is it like the Sims? Both? Fable II can't make up its mind. Maybe the Fable II-related announcement due this Monday the 24th will let us know, whatever it is.
For example, it seems apparent even from both sides of the box cover ("Who will you become?") that Fable II is a place to explore morality, but the consequences of choices seem weak. I started off playing the game with a friend I know from college, wondering if the world would be a place that is shared together, but it is not. It is just one player playing the role of visitor to another; worlds cannot be shared, and this makes Fable II a mostly solitary game even if there is a multiplayer option.
And the multiplayer actually changed the outcome of my own world! The friend I played with was ahead of me; I earned almost 100,000 gold from his real estate empire by playing with him for just two hours. Where was the challenge in that? Then again, the game wasn't meant to be challenging; it's easy to chop, shoot, and explode enemies away, though admittedly very enjoyable.
Still, it powered me through by enabling to purchase powerful weapons early in my own story. I didn't have to take the time to be a blacksmith or bartender and feel like I'd worked hard; Fable II gives you more money from buying businesses and buildings and by playing tiresome mini-games, but without working I'd earned plenty of money. So the multiplayer aspect, the community aspect, seems like a choice that is made for the benefit of the gamers, but not the game.
When I beat the game, I was faced with the choice to choose the needs of many, the needs of my few loved ones, or to just be selfish and choose a wad of cash. Because everyone thought the latter boring and I'd heard nothing about it, I decided to take the wealth. I was disappointed and not planning on playing the game anymore anyway.
So I got 1,000,000 gold and immediately received notice that Castle Fairfax, the castle your sister wanted, was available for sale. I went straight there, wondering what it would be like to own the game's biggest building. It was huge and the butler said the bed was the best bed in the world--magical powers, or something.
Owning it made me irresistible--33 people feel in love with me instantly. But no sooner than I had first stepped in the building, bandits attacked it! Upon their decimation, my butler announced he was quitting--he couldn't take the pressure.
I talked to him but he hated my guts, as polite as he'd been. I hadn't noticed. In fact, everyone hated me, I later discovered. Everyone in the world except those in love with me; except they hated me, too. Maybe they wanted me only for my money. Cute.
I shot the butler in the back as he walked away, bitter at the game's hype, brevity, and acclaim. I was mad more at myself, really; I misunderstood the game's desire to want me to play house, and that was my fault; Fable II is good, but I didn't realize it then.
In the library, the butler had traced the bandits' entry route: an underground tunnel. At the end, I found a sex change potion and the warning that failure to drink it now is a choice to never drink it.
I drank it, of course. I looked exactly the same under the bulk of five pies from fifteen years earlier, yet only celery could help me lose weight. I took my clothes off to see if anything had really happened. Well, there were breasts now, but little else had changed, making me look like the transexual version of an archetypal comic book store guy. And magic had given me lots of glowing, blue raspberry lightning bolts over my body.
I was hideous and everyone in the world hated me, despite having a neutralish moral system. Life was not fair and this game sucked. So I decided to do something I've never done, not even in Oblivion: I was going to go on a rampage.
I set out for Oakfield village. I danced and posed and farted and whistled until I got 25 people around me. Then, I turned the safety off on my character. I cast the inferno spell up to 5 levels and let it loose. Let's see Grand Theft Auto beat that! 2/3 of a village, over two dozen people, dead in one move. Also, I think I killed the parents of some children. The children, of course, survived. The guards were pitifully weak; one child walked the entire village road with his hands over his head, limping, not crying, but in shock.
There were literally only five characters I'd met in the game, and they were long gone, not even in the world. The story was over. I could still do most of or all of the quests, I could still get all my virtue back and weight lost and the wife I'd married and the child I'd had I'd spent little time with. I'd been married for 45 minutes before beating the main storyline--had I taken my sweet time, perhaps I'd have felt more regret or anguish over the choice, but the dog wasn't convincing. No one had a hold on me. The world was the only thing that did, and my actions seemed to have little impact over it.
I became violent to feel a little more something from the simple, controllable people, but I felt I had to beat it out of them. Still, few consequences. Horns and a new achievement: Paragon. The Paragon achievement says "Reach 100% good or evil, or see another Hero do so."
Now that's an interesting idea. I don't usually pay attention to achievements; most of these achievements have that "or see another Hero do so" at the end. Why is it so important that everything be seen instead of done?
Well, I said it has few characters, but it did have some. What did they have to say?
Lucien, the villain, said we should make the world what it ought to be. Hammer said people are more products of the home they are raised in; she also bemoans that issue versus her own choices. The other two characters had some outlooks on the world of their own.
In fact, they mostly just keep saying what they are going to do with their lives and why; they represent the three choices Theresa gives you. This whole time, your character has a stupid grin on his or her (or both, in my case) face. He listens to the world speak. Character or no, every single person in the game except Theresa talks out loud, to herself. And all Theresa really says is that you must choose.
And you? Once you take leave of speaking or interacting with Albion's inhabitants, you are left with your own thoughts about the topics of death, marriage, parenting, personal health and hygiene, popularity, economics, religion, violence, sexuality, animals, drugs, gambling, housing, morality, and what your choices mean in the world.
What do you think? What choices do you want to make? Which have you already essentially made? What issues does every person in every culture and every age have to deal with? A new Fable emerges in your own mind, one of your own writing.
Looks like Fable II is making up its mind after all. Maybe it will again on the 24th. That's nothing unlike the digital and real people playing and living in it. Anyone who plays Fable II will likely forget the characters, but not what he did, and maybe not what he learned about himself, either.
Categories: Column: The Game Anthropologist