Ok, time for my review of my time in Albion.
Fable II is a pretty casual RPG. The story picks up many years after Fable I. In many ways, it feels like the same old Albion, but after the passage of time, it's definitely bigger.
Because of the sheer size of Albion, it can be a little daunting to figure out where things are. Fortunately, the game tends to lead you along to where you need to go next. When you set a quest destination, a golden trail appears that leads you along the path towards that destination. It's very similar to the footprint trail and the Marauder's Map used in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix game that made it very easy to find your way around what would've otherwise been a castle-sized maze. It's a convenience that lends it to more casual play. Additionally, you can "warp" to any destination you've already been, which makes it a lot less frustrating going back and forth between places that are geographically distant. If you find it too easy, though, you can always turn the trail off; however, the inaccessibility of the in-game map (which is only available via the pause menu and does not offer much in the way of markers or a zoom function) makes attempting to use it almost futile; so it's really a question of use the glowing trail, or nothing.
Combat is very simple to master. You have one melee weapon and one ranged weapon, and one button uses each. There is also one button for casting magic. This is probably the most complicated to set up, and even then it's not too difficult. You have five levels of spell, and what level you cast depends on how long you hold your spell button (a meter shows you what level you're about to cast). The spell that gets cast at each level is something you have to define, based on how many spells you've "purchased" with your experience points. But setting that up is very easy to do (and very easy to change with a really simple menu option). Once you have that set up to your liking, combat becomes fairly routine, as you'll have X, Y, and B for melee, shoot, and cast; all you have to do is decide what you want to do when, and press the button at will.
Clothing is pretty incidental to the game. While it does give you boosts in attractiveness or alignment, which can help you in interacting with NPCs, there is no "armor" component to them. You could effectively fight all your battles in your underwear with no penalty compared to fighting fully dressed. On the one hand, it does take away from the "RPG-ness", in that there's less you can do to build your character to prepare him for battle. However, on the plus side, it does give you the freedom to dress your character and make him look however you want, without having to sacrifice personal style for gameplay function. (Another choice for "casual play".)
Making money is pretty easy. Assuming you didn't abuse the glitch in the Pub Games and transfer in a million gold pieces (which, despite warnings to the contrary, did not result in any negative consequences to your character in Fable II), all you have to do is buy properties (houses, shops, food stalls). Money is automatically collected and deposited into your account in 5-minute increments. As an additional bonus, the game remembers when you played last, and the next time you start the game, it gives you all the money you would've earned if you had the game running in the meantime. (Some have found ways to abuse this by setting their system clock well into the future before starting the game.)
The story is pretty typical. You start as an orphan on the streets with your big sister. You see her killed, and an old blind woman ends up guiding you to become the next hero, destined to stop your sister's murderer from his grander scheme, which is to bring all of Albion under his rule. Along the way, you need to recruit three others who are also of the ancient line of Heroes and bring them together. You have your typical quests, which you can choose for good or for evil, which affects how people react to you and your general appearance. (It does not appear to have a direct impact on the game's storyline, as far as I can tell.) If you just stick to the main quests, you can probably finish the game in a weekend, much like Fable I. However, there is a number of side quests that come up that can substantially lengthen the game.
The multiplayer element leaves a lot to be desired. The way they chose to implement it, a second player can join in at any time. However, that second person joins in as one of a small set of pre-defined henchman, rather than bringing in their full hero. The hosting player chooses how the earned experience and gold is divided between players. Although the henchman doesn't bring much with him, the gold and EXP he earns can go back with him to his hero, so there is something to be gained.
While that is disappointing to those who want to compare heroes and have them fight side-by-side, I can understand it. It solves the problem of having a high-level hero and a low-level hero trying to play together, where one hero is essentially dragging the other.
The biggest disappointment to multiplayer, I found, is the lack of camera control. I guess the idea was to synchronize the experience on both consoles and to encourage (or force) teamwork, or to keep it from being too easy to get separated and lost, by making the camera fixed to both players; however, the henchman already has a quick option to return to the hero's side at the touch of a button. Not like it is really needed, since with the fixed camera, you can only separate by about 20 feet at most. The camera, therefore, only serves to limit your experience to a small window, one that often is pointing the wrong way to show you the direction you want to go (or the direction from which enemies are attacking).
One advantage to multiplayer is the achievements. Any achievement a hero earns in multiplayer is credited to both the hero and his henchman. Unfortunately, it really seems to be the only advantage to multiplayer; at least the only time I've played multiplayer is to earn or give achievements with someone else.
But it has brought out the Santa Claus in me; one of the more difficult achievements is the "Dollcatcher" achievement, as it requires collecting one of each of the five named "hero dolls" in the game. The trick is, the game will only give you one type of them. You may get more than one doll, but it will always be the same name. The only way to collect all five names is to get other people from Xbox Live to give them to you (as long as the game has chosen to give them a doll of a different name). Now, once you have all five dolls, the achievement will pop for you, but you can bring in a henchman and make a quick purchase at a gift shop in the game (which triggers a re-scan of your inventory, identifying that yes, you have all five hero dolls) and pops the achievement for your henchman.
After making some trades with some people in both Geezer Gamers and Achieve 360 Points forums (mostly in trade for the "Completionist" achievement — one that is possible to get on your own, but takes some extra effort, which I managed to do), I managed to get all five hero dolls. So now, I posted an offer in both forums. For nothing more than a message asking for help, I'll bring anyone in to give them the achievement. And since I already had the difficult achievements (I only had one left, which I've since earned on my own), I don't need anything in return. So I get to give away an achievement to a couple communities.
Yes, if you need the achievement, I can hook you up. Just send a message to me over Xbox Live. My gamertag is, well, pretty obvious if you're reading this blog.
All in all, I have really enjoyed this game. Could it be better? Absolutely. There could've been more consequences for your actions. (Good and evil does change how people react to you and your appearance, but it doesn't seem to really change the story.) There could've been more standard RPG elements (like armor, or more weapon choices, perhaps shields, or a requirement to choose between ranged and melee fighting styles with more than just a button press). Co-op could've been much better (a controlled camera, or independent views; ability to bring in your own hero, maybe with bonuses/handicaps to balance with the "host" so one player isn't doing all the work). The ending could've been much more climactic (without spoiling too much, it does end with not a lot of fanfare; although, to be honest, I don't necessarily mind that a game doesn't decide you have to endure a 20-minute boss-fight endgame *cough Halo 2 cough*). It could've been longer, with more main storyline quests (and more side quests even; they did start to get repetitious). But when it came to the end, I felt fairly satisfied. A good story was told, and I was a part of it.