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X3F hands-on: Fable 2's musical combat

You may or may not know this, but Peter Molyneux has something of a silver tongue. Having witnessed its power at GDC when he revealed "the dog," we weren't sure what to expect at the E3 Fable 2 presentation. Of course, Peter employed that same silver tongue to describe the original Fable, which, while being a good game in its own right, wasn't exactly what he promised. So, when he told us that Fable 2's combat is controlled with one button, we were a bit skeptical.

The presentation opened up with Molyneux explaining the melee combat. Every melee combat action you perform is mapped to the X button. Every one of them: block, strike, counterattack, power attacks, environmental attacks, everything. But how does it work? Attacking is easy, just mash the X button. Hold X to block. Hold X and release for a power attack. Press X at just the right moment to counter attack. It sounds simple -- and it is -- but it works surprisingly well.

Molyneux also showed off environmental attacks. For instance, say you spy some glass bottles on the ground and enemies in the distance. Press X near a bottle and you'll pick it up and toss it at an enemy. Naturally, we were concerned about how you differentiate between throwing a bottle and using your sword in the middle of combat. According to Molyneux, your hero will always choose the most effective and appropriate action for any given situation. A sword is more effective than a bottle, so your hero opt to slash an enemy within range rather than toss a bottle. There are also context sensitive maneuvers near walls and the like. One particularly brutal move had our hero press and enemy to the wall while slashing his neck.

Power attacks -- called flourishes in Fable 2 -- are also dynamic. They react to directional input, creating different attacks for different situations. For example, a forward power attack may produce a leaping vertical slash, while a backward power attack may cause your hero to deftly spin around and stab a would be assassin.

All of the game's combat will be handled in this way, even with ranged weapons and magic, though they will be mapped to the Y and B buttons respectively. All the actions apply to ranged weapons and magic as well, including counterattacks and flourishes. Very cool.

The last tidbit of information we learned from Peter Molyneux: musical combat. Molyneux informed us that each weapon and spell in Fable 2 will be endowed with certain musical qualities. Molyneux demonstrated this with a sword. As players begin landing blows, drums begin to fade in. As more blows, parry strikes, counterattacks, and flourishes are made, more drums and music will begin layering into the background. Eventually, you have a full on orchestra blaring and adding extra drama to battles. Sure, it doesn't really alter the gameplay, but it's very cool in practice.

In the end, Fable 2's combat isn't mind blowing, but it's certainly entertaining and it's far from frustrating. Throw in a dog that will help defend you from foes (the dog was regrettably left behind for our demo), and we're starting to see something truly appealing. What we've seen so far shows real promise.

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