What we have here is a cunning plan concocted from the depths of Peter Molyneux’s mind to get gamers hooked on Fable II prior to its release.
Fable II Pub Games costs either 800 MS Points or is free with preorders of Fable II Collector's Edition. As a bonus, that’s a pretty neat little bit of icing on your Fable II cake - but sold separately, is it worth the 800 MS Points tag, or is it better suited to the depths of Xbox Live Arcade disappointment?
As the sequel to one of the top-selling titles on the original Xbox, Fable II is among Microsoft's most important 360 releases for this year. It has been anticipated for a very long time, and its name recognition is high enough that just about anything with the name Fable II on it is going to do well. Fable II Pub Games is clearly wanting to capitalise on that.
The idea of the title is that you can play three different casino-style mini-games prior to the release of Fable II in an attempt to earn some in-game money. Your Fable II character will then get to start with that money on day one. You can also unlock special content in the game including new haircuts and items. This gives you the chance to start Fable II either with a wallet full of cash... or massively in debt, depending on your luck. Unfortunately, judging by the way the game plays, the latter may be the more likely outcome.
The three games that are included in the title are Spinnerbox, Keystone and Fortune’s Tower, each of which is essentially a rip off of a similar casino game. On the upside, the games are all beautifully animated and are a pleasure to look at. They are all reasonably straightforward and quick to learn, but there is a tutorial in-game that will explain the unique aspects of these games over their real life counterparts.
Spinnerbox is probably the worst of them all. It is basically just a pokie machine, a virtual one-armed bandit. You place a bet, press the A button on the controller and away it goes. Because there is no skill involved in this whatsoever, it is difficult to know how high to set your bets, and your losses are more than likely going to outweigh your winnings. Personally, I don’t appreciate a game that doesn’t let you make any choices other than how much money you’ll throw into the machine, and this becomes tiresome very, very quickly.
Keystone is average. It plays like a game of roulette. There are arches across the game board and as you roll numbers these arches are removed. You bet on which arches will be rolled, which colours, which shapes etc. As the arches drop away, the overriding arch’s strength is compromised, and when it collapses the game is over.
Again, not being much of a fan of roulette in the first place I can’t help feeling that the original might in fact have been more fun. A game like roulette is simply not suited to an arcade game, particularly not when there is not even a multiplayer mode which may have acted as a redeeming factor.
The final game is Fortune’s Tower. This is the only game which appealed to me from the word go and was reasonably fun to play. Essentially you start with a deck of cards which are laid out in a pyramid shape. Starting with one card which is turned face down (but which can save you later on in the game) more rows are laid. Two, then three cards, then four cards - each time the risk of losing the game increases. You lose when a card in one row is touching the same card in the next row, and they then burn out. If this happens once, your saving card can be used to attempt to save you, and if you're lucky it will.
However if you have too many cards matching across the rows you will need to be really lucky and pull a knight card which can fend off any burning cards and allows you to complete a roll. The minimum bet is 15 gold, and the amount you win is dependent on the cards that you have drawn added together. If you make it to the eighth row without using your saving card and without losing, you win the jackpot, which is the sum of all the cards in the game.
The amount you win also directly relates to the amount you bet, so the more you bet, the more you win.
The best aspect of the Fable II Pub Games is the way the game, across all game modes, punishes you for being greedy. If you play carefully and cautiously your money will grow slowly but surely. It's when you start hoping for more and more money, and bigger wins, particularly in Fortune’s Tower, do you really start taking hits. It will be interesting to see how Fable II deals with greed, as the Pub Games suggest this may be a real part of the title. You do have the ability to reset your Pub Games character, so the losses aren’t too serious, but you also lose your unlocks with them - so you will have to think long and hard whether this is something you want to do.
Finally the inclusion of a tournament mode is good, however you can only play the games vs. the AI. No Live mode is included aside from leaderboards. In tournament mode you can bet large sums of money in the hope that you will come out at the end of a round having won the most, and therefore go through to the next round to play for the tournament prize money. Fortunately, playing tournaments is not done with your own money (except some of the games which have a buy-in), which means that you don’t need to be so concerned about losing them, and they are a good way to learn - as well as to claw back grave defeats.
Overall Fable II Pub Games just feels like a gimmick. As part of the larger game, they may act as a nice distraction to the adventuring you do in Fable II, but as a solo release it feels far too light.
If you are not planning on buying Fable II this is a complete waste of money. If you are buying Fable II, ponder it carefully. Either pre-order the Collector's Edition (albeit this costs $20 more, but you also get some other extras) and pick the Pub Games up for free, or don’t bother. Bear in mind, too, that the actual worth of the gold and effect of the unlockables you win won’t be known until Fable II is finally released.
Fable II Pub Games falls far short of impressing and does little to ease the wait for Fable II.