Fable 2 and Buying Incomplete Unfinished Games

by Mike Shea on 26 October 2008

Fable 2 is the best true fantasy roleplaying game I've played. I could argue that games like Grand Theft Auto 4 and Knights of the Old Republic have the same character depth, but Fable 2 spends nearly all of its time letting you decide what type of person you want to be. Most roleplaying games come down to finishing quest, getting gear, and leveling up. Many games built on these ideas are a joy to play and we hardly miss character development at all.

That's not roleplaying however. In World of Warcraft, you are never given quests where you decide how to finish it and what you decide defines who you are. In Fable 2 this happens nearly all the time.

Fable 2 is a remarkable game from this perspective. It really lets you decide exactly who you want to be. For me, that's 50% Omar from the Wire and 50% Conan the Barbarian.

There's just one problem with Fable 2. It's not finished.

I should have known what I was getting into when great controversy rose up before the game's release. The highly-advertised co-op mode wouldn't be included with the game itself. Instead this would require an update. Granted it came out on the same day and granted PC users are used to things like this, but console games should include all advertised features without patches.

I didn't care about the co-op mode very much. I just wanted to enjoy a rich single-player console fantasy RPG. This problem, however, manifests itself elsewhere. Not only is the co-op mode unfinished but so is the graphic engine. So is the quest system. So is the character movement. So is the menu system. So is zone loading.

Fable 2 looks beautiful until you start moving around. In your starting town you see immediate graphical glitches. The game doesn't seem to have V-Sync enabled so you see all sorts of screen tearing. If you quickly look from left to right, you will see half the screen paint before the other half. It's hard to see if you're not looking for it but everyone who plays the game will surely FEEL the problem. It just won't seem right. Something will be a-miss.

The frame rate also shoots and dives all throughout the game. Some overland areas run beautifully but other areas drop the frame rate a lot, making for a jumpy sluggish ride.

Character movement is also all over the place. Sometimes I can hack my axe into a fallen opponent. Other times I have to shimmy around for ten seconds until it works. Sometimes I get stuck behind rocks. Sometimes a door tosses me across the screen.

The menu system is also sluggish and clumsy. Every screen seems to take longer than it should, making for a tedious inventory and skill system.

Zone loading is also horribly slow. I can take a pee break in between every zone's loading sequence. Every load sequence breaks you away from the world and makes you wish you had something better to do with your time than sit there and watch gears turn.

Now we're hearing about game-breaking bugs as well. Imagine getting six hours into the main quest of Fable 2 only to have it irrecoverably broken for walking out too early in a conversation. How do these sorts of things get past a quality assurance group? How about a recall?

I should have known from the very beginning what sort of problem this would be. Even as the initial screen loads the music jitters and farts into existence as the game loads off of the disk. Once loaded it sounds great but getting there sounded like a record skipping.

I can imagine how this happened. I imagine a deadline was in place and every project manager knew their ass hung on that deadline. Get it out before Christmas, it said, and, with these bugs in one hand and the deadline in the other, they made a decision that it was "good enough". Maybe they said "we'll fix this in a patch" but that's not good enough for a console game. That's the way PC games are. A lot of 360 owners don't go online. They get what you put out and if you put out an unfinished game, you're selling a broken product for hard-earned cash.

Worse are the game reviewers who give this game a 100% review. Fable 2 has four 100% scores on Metacritic and an average score of 90% for a game that even these reviews clearly state as being unfinished. Don't give high scores to unfinished work! The more game reviewers give high scores to shoddy work, the more shoddy games we're going to have. This is not acceptable. I should get a refund and this game should go back to the company until it IS finished.

I wouldn't be so mad about this if Fable 2 wasn't such a great game otherwise. The vision of the game and the game engine itself really make me want to fall in love with it. But I can't fall in love with a game that is clearly incomplete. And I can't forgive those that decide it's good enough and the reviewers who let them get away with it.

This will all lead to even more unfinished game released and sold and that is a sad state for the industry and a sad future for us players.