I was happy to let my wife and son die.
At the end of Fable II you’re given a choice. Wealth, love, or sacrifice: the needs of the one, the few or the many. Choose the first of those three and you get one million gold and everyone thinks you’re an arsehole. Pick the third, and the hundreds of Albion residents who died while building the bad guy’s giant magical tower of evil will be resurrected and returned to their families, while you get a statue built in your honour, and everyone in Albion will like you.
I was close to picking that option, even though it meant I’d never see my family again. I had a loving wife and son in a delightful thatched cottage in Oakfield, a gorgeous little rustic village that seemed almost permanently bathed in the warm, autumnal glow of the setting sun. I’d return to them regularly, bearing plentiful gifts and tales of thrilling adventure. And as a virtuous, noble hero I was bravely prepared to give all that up.
But I wasn’t prepared to give up my dog. If I chose the needs of the few, I’d get him back, so that became the only realistic option. And after I’d seen him murdered in such brutally cold fashion by antagonist Lucien - I’m not sure any moment in any video game has made me hate a villain more – that choice had already been made for me. Fuck you, Albion, I’m getting my dog back.
I don’t actually remember its name – or even if I gave it a name - but that’s because I’m old and my memory’s dreadful. I remember that it was a boy dog. At least I called it ‘boy’, like the awful sexist I am, but then that’s probably because I often think that dogs, being mostly stupid, noisy, messy, occasionally loveable and sometimes inexplicably aggressive creatures, are quite a lot like boys.
But there’s the thing: I was talking to the dog. Talking at the screen, saying things like “good boy!” when it led me to dig up some treasure, or “what’ve you found, boy?” when it scampered off ahead of me, urging me away from the golden breadcrumb trail. Here’s me forming a relationship with a bunch of polygons and a few lines of code. What an idiot, eh?
Maybe I’m not an idiot, though, because Fable II’s dog is a genuinely amazing thing. From a coldly mechanical standpoint, it’s enormously useful: it warns you about imminent threats, alerts you to nearby secrets, and encourages you not to stick to the well-trodden path. You follow it and you’re led somewhere you mightn’t have otherwise considered investigating. And it’s also a subtle indicator of your current moral status: if you’re being super-nice, it looks like a golden Labrador, but its coat darkens when you venture into murkier waters.
In all honesty, I never really considered any of that at the time. Because what Lionhead does most successfully is to make it feel like a real dog. You get a real sense of its presence in that world, which is communicated through smart AI behaviour, brilliant animation and perfectly judged sound effects. The high-pitched whine when it’s injured in combat is so horribly authentic you’ll instantly want to heal the poor thing, regardless of whether it puts your own character in mortal danger.
It’s such a reassuring presence over the course of your adventure that you really miss it when it’s not there. When I returned to Albion after ten years as a prisoner in The Spire, I was honestly choked up to see my faithful companion running up Oakfield pier to greet me, tail wagging furiously with excitement. Nothing had changed. We were both a little older, but regardless, my dog remained loyal. And unlike everyone else in Albion, he never judged me. Though I’d made some questionable choices, our bond remained unbreakable. All I had to do was pat him, give him some food, maybe teach him a few tricks, and he would love me.
Capturing the kind of affectionate relationship you’d associate with a family pet must have been quite a challenge for the developers at Lionhead. I spoke to one of them about Fable II once, and he admitted “the dog was all Peter”. Rightly or wrongly, Molyneux has been hauled over the coals in recent years because his reach constantly exceeds his grasp. For me, Fable II’s dog is one of the daft, brilliant ideas he’s had that he was properly able to clasp his fingers around.
Chris Schilling is the most consistently excellent freelance games writer the world has yet known. He was also too modest to write his own bio to go here so we've done it for him. Deal with it, Chris.