If Fable II turns out half as well as Peter Molyneux's descriptions of the game, we're in for something special.
Launching in the holiday window of 2008, the famed game designer and unrivaled pitchman spent time at GDC to demo new features and continue to pump up the sequel that ambitiously looks to reinvent the role-playing genre.
Closed-door demos of the game started by reiterating some of the previously announced gameplay. Welcome to a living world where time passes, characters age, and much of what happens in the world is controlled by simulations rather than scripting. Choices you make as you adventure across the land affect your reputation and your character's appearance. Here's your artificial intelligence dog companion that trots around the screen, nosing out interesting things and barking at danger. Here's your heroine -- and, yes, you can choose either male or female avatars this time around -- who happens to have a farm, a husband at home and a even a little boy. The combat system remains streamlined into a set of three buttons: one for sword attacks, one for ranged weapons including pistols and one for magic.
So what's new?
With his usually charming bravado, Molyneux unveiled what he described "the biggest feature of all," and one sorely missing in the world of role-playing games: co-op play.
Coyly insisting that he was only showing half of the co-op system, Molyneux described how single-play can easily turn to cooperative play at any point. Adding a second player pauses the game and brings up a henchmen screen. The second player chooses to use a system-generated character. Or, if a profile exists on the local Xbox 360, the game can generate a henchman based on the player's own hero. A quick negotiation of splits of experience, gold and renown between the two players allows for mixtures of play. An example might include a newbie player who invites a more experienced friend over for a little play. They agree to give the lion's share of experience to the new player while the experienced player takes a bigger cut of gold.
Any experience, gold or renown collected as a henchman becomes available when the player returns to their own world and adventure.
Molyneux demonstrated the potential of co-op RPG play by showing off the "crescendo combat" system as a high-energy ballet of swords and guns. Timed correctly, one player stunned a hobgoblin with a sword thrusting them into the air. Attacking at this moment of opportunity, the second player shot the flailing beast out of the air for double experience points for both players. The music and visuals, meanwhile, tracked dramatically, giving the combat a cinematic feel.
To push the idea of a living, open world where warriors can take wives and husbands and have kids and live emotional lives, Molyneux mischievously demoed one possibility. Wandering home after six months away, his warrior was first greeted first by her son, who chastised his mom for leaving the family farm for so long. The little boy eventually ran off and she then faced her husband as he henpecked her for her absence. Molyneux's henchman, played by one his developers, took the opportunity to whip out a pistol and shoot the stammering farmer dead.
"It?s OK," Molyneux assured the people in the room. "I have another husband in the town next door."
Capping off the cavalcade of new features in the game, Molyneux used his demo during the Microsoft keynote to demonstrate a new "pub game," Keystone. Released before the launch of Fable II as an Xbox Live Arcade title, this craps-styled gambling game allows players to import winnings from the Arcade directly into the Fable II world. Promised to launch two weeks before Fable II hits the shelves, players now have the opportunity to amass a fortune in gold before stepping foot into Molyneux?s ambitious new fantasy land.
This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game. The game is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2008.