A decade of hyperbole and a big pile of promises later, and Lionhead has finally, thankfully, released its best game to date, Fable II, even if in Peter Molyneux tradition it doesn't quite deliver on every promise.
Off the bat, Fable II's let down by an overly-hand-holding opening section which, after the fanfare surrounding the removal of nearly any sort of HUD, the scrapping of all cut-scenes and the usual Lionhead promise of letting you shape the world as you see fit, is a slightly disappointing way to start off your epic quest.
Your experience as a child is fairly linear with tutorials dealt out at machine gun pace, and you're constricted to the point where the game even tells you to go to bed. It's a shame because once you put your lad years behind you Fable II really is a wonderfully crafted, absorbing adventure, and Lionhead mostly avoids the mistakes it made with the original.
The sequel takes place a few hundred years after the events of Fable and Albion's moved into more of a Renaissance era than the original's medieval period. The time of magic and heroes has been long forgotten in Fable II's world, and naturally it's up to you as a lad (or lass) treading the path of a hero to bring back the old legends and save the world.
As always, choice is at the center of Fable II's adventure, whether it be good or evil, fat or thin, kick or kiss (you get the idea).
Although the surprising part is that Fable II manages to present this slightly over-played theme of moral choice in a refreshingly un-clichéd manor in the main quest, with almost none of the 'kill/don't kill?' sequences from the first game, but stuff much more compelling.This time around Lionhead seems to understand the strengths of Fable's formula, and more often than not your adventure revolves around building your reputation (or "renown") around Albion rather than subjecting you to obvious 'save prisoner or set him on fire?' moral choices.
You can build up your reputation with the inhabitants of Albion by performing quests, defeating notorious bandit bosses or showing off your trophies with the townsfolk (via a social command). Once your hero career gets rolling you can even pay a sculptor to erect statues of you around town.
The process of wooing the townsfolk of Albion is made really enjoyable thanks to a massive selection of social commands, ranging from dances to farts to giving someone the finger. The way the world reacts to your actions is really compelling and you'll find yourself role-playing for your own amusement, with stats liberally ticking from villager's heads in reaction.
But for the few clearly signposted decisions that are in the game, Fable II has in many ways finally succeeded in creating some of those Jack Bauer-style "emotional choices" every game from the current generation has promised - and failed - to deliver.
You won't find yourself crying onto your control pad or shouting hallelujah that your mate Harry the bandit survived, but you will spend a good few minutes pondering various decisions during your quest - which on its own adds massive brownie points to the whole RPG experience.
They have genuine consequences too - and not just in the plot. You'll sometimes be put in a position to choose between doing something evil, or keeping your morality at the sacrifice of some of your hard-earned XP. That, believe us, has you contemplating your options. Unless, of course, you actually want to be evil.
The dialogue is funnier and snappier than ever, and once again it's a real joy to discover that Lionhead rarely wonders into cliché territory with its in-game speech - and when it does it mocks the trends.