Content review for this game:
Pertaining to the ESRB rating.
Recommended age: Although you can (rarely) behead, and the game is violent, the blood effects and combat system are very tame (even cartoony), and the language is barely mentionable.
However, you can have sex with prostitutes (males and/or females), contract STDs, get pregnant (if you're female) and drink until you throw up. You can also be as evil as you want, stealing and killing to no end, not to mention being able to give the finger and do pelvic thrusts--in other words, be a complete jerk.
Because of the breadth of choices I think it's definitely more suited towards an older audience. However, if your younger teen is the more responsible sort, and since all the sexual content is entirely optional, I could see him/her playing the game as a moral and very good guy/girl. But overall, I have to recommend this game for ages 17+.
Pros & Cons:
The game's graphic style is nearly unparalleled, and although there are some clipping issues (solid objects go through other solid objects), some minor texture/object pop-in, and the load times are quite frequent/long (at about 30 seconds each), the graphics are gorgeous, with an incredibly unique style, stunning architecture, lush landscapes, and vivid colors.
The presentation has gotten a boost from the last game, with all the static cutscenes being replaced with interactive ones instead. This means you can move and look around, and if there's a specific point of interest they want you to focus on, you can use LT to zoom in. The narrative (including the return of Monty Python-esque, tongue-in-cheek humor and chicken kicking) is more involving than the last, with the objective being to gather the three heroes and fight alongside them--this actually makes you feel like a part of something.
The main quests are really fun, and are bolstered by the streamlined and much improved combat system. Because of its simplicity (one button for melee ranged, and magic each), it makes you feel like your in a swashbuckling movie, which is furthered by the fact that the ranged weapons/magic are unlimited. And instead of having to earn your flourishes by hitting enemies a certain amount of times, only to lose them when you're hit--like the last game--the flourishes can be used at any time by holding the X button and a direction, and then letting them fly.
But, the most mentionable and lovable addition to this game is your dog. He follows you everywhere, fights by your side and will often run off the road and start to dig in a place where treasure is hidden. He'll sometimes get scared and you'll have to console him by praising him, and he can get injured in a fight, making him wine and limp pathetically until you heal him. You can also teach him new tricks and play fetch with his squeaky ball--he's just plain cute.
And even though the story mode is still quite short for this genre (if you rush through, it'll take you less than ten hours), the overworld is far larger than the last (about ten times). And even after completing the story and all of the side-quests (which include finding all silver keys/chests, opening all Demon Doors and destroying all 50 of the hidden gargoyle statues), you can still buy up and manage almost every store/house in the game; get married and have children; continue to do jobs; and completely customize your appearance, from your hair to clothes, and dye both with multiple colors.
In an odd twist, you can't die; instead, when you run out of health (which isn't easy to do), you just fall over, and then get back up, with the only penalty being some lost experience and light scarring on your face--if you have revive potions, there isn't even a penalty. There's also a gold dust trail (which can be turned off) representing the direction of your main quest, and although it often makes things a little too easy, it is helpful if you like to constantly wander off the beaten path.
The only real negative is that the movement controls while running are extremely flighty, meaning, when you sprint at full speed, or just walk, it feels like you're on an invisible track, and I don't know what they where thinking, as this issue wasn't present in the last game.
But overall, this is a deep, likable game, and almost all the shortcomings of the last are remedied here, with a heavily improved combat system, more involving story, a lovable dog, and incredible depth--the optional portions really resemble a life sim like Animal Crossing or Harvest moon, only far deeper. If you loved Fable, but thought it needed some improvements/fleshing out, look no further than this game.
Blood: When you or an enemy is hit, blood puffs in light and almost indiscernible amounts, and when you kill giant beetles they explode into a light puff of yellow/greenish goo. Blood does not splatter on floors, walls or linger, but there is some light static blood stained on walls and floors. Bodies do linger, and you see a few skeletons, lightly bloodied bodies, and near the end (in one brief corridor) there are some undetailed but bloodied bodies impaled on spikes, with swords, etc.
In addition, you can stab enemies when they're down; very rarely decapitate them (it's hard to pull off); after upgrading your ranged skill, you can shoot specific body parts; and the screen will sometimes zoom close and in slow-motion on some of your finishing moves, making the blood effect a bit more apparent. There is no option to turn blood off.
Language: There are under a dozen uses of the words, bastard, hell, d*mn, and a** in the main script; there are many uses of crap, stupid, idiot, fool; mildly rude English terms like bloody and bugger; and one expression is called, "Kiss my a**." Other than the main script, enemies and allied characters will very lightly use the words hell and d*mn throughout town, while fighting etc.
Crude Humor: (The ESRB didn't mention this in their rating) A few of the game's expressions allow you to pass gas, belch, do a Vulgar (pelvic) Thrust, and tell people to kiss your a** by turning around and lightly slapping your behind--this includes the ability to extend them, and make them even more offensive (like the Vulgar Thrust; instead of doing it once you'll continue to do it).
You can also commit "Public Indecency" by donning only your underwear and doing the expressions mentioned above; you can teach your dog to urinate on specific targets; and if you get your ranged weapon skill upgraded enough, you can aim and shoot people's crotches (all listed is entirely optional).
Sexual content: First off, if you get people to like you enough, you can invite them to bed (by using expressions like "Seduce," "Blow Kiss," "Pickup line," and, "Come back to my place"). Once you find/select a bed, it shows a screen asking if you want to have protected or unprotected sex--if you wish to have the first, you'll have to purchase a condom from a nearby shop (this also protects you from STDs). The screen then fades to black for about 15 seconds, while you hear them say things like, "Wow, just wow!" or "I've never felt anything so magical!" some light moaning, and you then appear back standing near the bed--it isn't at all shown (this goes for either gender).
You can also pay for sex by approaching the male (comically hideous men, with huge bellies sticking out, who are only garbed in pants and a large belt tied around their upper chest) and female (who don't fair much better than males appearance-wise, but do don scant, cleavage revealing clothing) prostitutes in the seedier portions of the game's world, who say things like, "Want a massage?" "We can make some sweet, sweet music!" "How much would you pay for the best five minutes of your life?" "I'll make you scream like a banshee!" and so forth, when you pass by.
Whether you're a male or female character you can have sex with either gender, as prostitutes (they give more STDs) and many of the civilians are bisexual, gay or lesbian (although some people of both genders/orientation won't have sex unless you get married first); you can have orgies by inviting multiple people (and genders) to the same bed; you can court and marry the same sex; and if you're male, you can cross-dress in female clothing, and even apply makeup.
However, there are straight people in the game, and if you want to go with something less perverse, you can marry a man if you're female and visa versa. Once married, you can either continue to have protected sex or choose to have a child, resulting in the woman getting pregnant (you'll be pregnant if you're female) and eventually having the baby, who will gradually grow into a small child.
You can abuse your spouse by hitting and/or neglecting them, which will eventually lead to them asking for a divorce; you can marry multiple partners (of mixed gender), and if the couples find out about each other they won't at all be happy; if you keep using rude/sexual gestures to a civilian for too long, the guards will charge you with harassment; if you're female you can buy scant clothing (basically dress as a prostitute) and you can remove all your clothes, leaving you in moderately revealing underwear; and an optional quest's reward is a sex change potion, which allows your character to permanently become male if you're female and visa versa (all listed is entirely optional).
Last of all, concerning the main storyline; near the very beginning, a creepy man propositions sex to your big sister in exchange for shelter, which she quickly refuses (she's maybe 13); later on, a bandit asks if you and a main character are "intimate"; some rougher people will tell you to "Grow a pair!"; Bandits will sometimes call you a "Son of a whore!" while you fight; and one of the three heroes vaguely mentions something that suggests he's bisexual.
Use of alcohol: There are several pubs where you can buy a variety of alcohol, from beer to wine; drinking too much beer makes you grow fat, and after a few too many, the screen will start to sway and you'll eventually lurch over and spew a stream of green vomit (which also results in people finding you uglier); you can lead people to bars and get them drunk; a certain job has you serving beers to customers; and there are a few drunks who stagger and mumble around the game's streets (all activites listed are entirely optional).
Violence: Two poor orphans come upon a shady merchant, who says for five gold coins they can have a magic box that will make one wish come true. The children think this to be a foolish idea, until a mysterious blind woman informs them otherwise, leading the children to save up and purchase the box. When they make their wish (to live in the castle), the box disappears, leaving them hopeless, and they retire to bed. Soon after, they are awakened from their sleep, and informed that the Lord of the castle wishes to see them. After the children arrive, Lord Lucien asks what they wished for. When they tell him, he asks them both to stand in a magic circle, and soon discovers their blood is of Hero lineage. He then says something about them not being "One of the three," takes out his gun, shoots the sister, and then does the same to you, making you break through the window and fall to the ground below. The blind woman finds you half dead, revives you, and decides to take you under her wing. Ten years later, she confirms you are indeed a predecessor of Heroes, and it's your destiny to gather the three Heroes and stop the evil Lord Lucien from shaping the world into his own twisted image...
When starting a new game, you're given the choice to be either a male or female, and the intro scene then begins. The game opens with a bird defecating on the main character's head (a sign of things to come--that is, a bit of potty humor mixed with Monty Python sensibilities), and after your sister tells you it's said to be a sign of good luck (go figure), you follow her through town. You soon come upon the merchant and the magic box, and are then sent to earn these five gold coins. You're immediately introduced to the moral system that permeates the very core of this game, which presents you with very clear-cut black and white choices--saving or destroying. Ten years later, after your childhood, you find and reach the ruins of the Hero's Guild and gain your first magic powers. After this, the real quest begins...
The base gameplay consists of following the main quest while fighting enemies, solving minor puzzles (like stepping on switches, etc.), leveling up, upgrading equipment, earning money, and making moral choices. These quests mostly involve fetching things, escorting an ally while they go about their tasks or clearing out groups of enemies. However, sometimes the giver of a main quest won't be impressed with your character's reputation, so you'll have to complete secondary quests in order to earn renown and continue on. Beyond this, you can complete side-quests (like bounty/treasure hunting, etc.); buy up and manage properties; earn money by gambling, stealing or working; customize your character's appearance; teach your dog new tricks (literally); learn new expressions and interact with the people of Albion; get married, have a child--it's all up to you.
You start out with a crossbow and a long sword, but eventually gain the option to use more swords types (like katanas, cleavers and cutlasses), pistols, rifles, maces, axes, and magic like Inferno (fire), Shock (lighting), Force Push, Time Control, and even Raise Dead, which allows you to summon spirits to fight for you. You'll be using these weapons (and/or magic) against giant beetles and common bandits in the beginning, but further in, you'll be fighting Hobbs (goblin-like creatures), Hollowmen (skeleton zombies), Balverines (basically werewolves), giant Trolls, Banshees (a mix of Ring Wraiths from LotRs and Dementors from Harry Potter), Shadows (spectral versions of the game's enemies), and Spire guards--the main villain's fully armored men.
The combat system is, if anything, less violent than the last game, with a very silly, almost cartoony feel, meaning when you shock enemies with lightning their bodies will flash with skeleton visible, and while fighting bandits they'll say humorous things like, "I didn't like him much anyway (referring to the other you just killed)!" or "You killed him! He owed me money!" or "He was going to retire next week with a full pension!" etc. That's not to say that the combat isn't violent or chaotic, as it is, with you being able to stab them when they're down, knock them off ledges, have your dog finish them off while they lay on the floor, and you can (very rarely) behead them once certain abilities are upgraded. But overall, it's far more mild than other games of its kind, and this element is the least of your worries content-wise.
The most potentially offending and very extensive element, is the moral system. First off, a new addition to this game is the "Safety Mode," which if enabled, stops you from accidentally (or purposely) hitting, shooting, or killing civilians (including bunnies, yes, bunnies). You can turn this feature off, allowing you to hit or kill innocents (including women and the elderly, but not children--they're invincible) at anytime. You also have the choice on whether to earn money the honest way by working jobs (like blacksmithing, woodcutting, etc.); the risky (and addictive) way by gambling in the world's many pubs; or the evil way, by breaking down doors (instead of knocking--you can knock...and then steal) and then stealing thing from shops and homes. Other than vandalizing, villainous characters can take evil jobs, like assassinating targets or enslaving innocent villagers (good characters have the opposites, like bounty hunting for criminals, and freeing slaves).
However, evil actions do have consequences, and if you're caught stealing, killing, hitting, vandalizing (by breaking down doors and windows), trespassing, or not paying your back gambling debt, the guards will rush in and give you three choices: you can either pay the fine for that specific offense, do community service, or resist--this will result in all the guards attacking you. In addition, the expression system affects how everyone in the game's world thinks of you; if you pull your sword or gun out in towns, people will react in fear, running for their lives, and cause the guards to investigate. This plays into every expression you perform, and if you're constantly yelling and flinging insults at civilians, the less they'll like you. On the flipside, if you regularly use positive gestures, people will come to love you, giving you gifts, asking for autographs, etc.--it's entirely your choice.
Every action you make affects two gauges: the purity/corruption meter, and the good/evil meter. This means, whenever you steal or don't steal, kill or don't kill innocents, you'll gradually earn evil or good points and change your and your dog's physical appearance, depending on what you choose. The purity/corruption refers to your choice of food, drink and money handling; if you eat fatty foods, drink lots of beer and hike up your rent/prices (by owning stores and/or housing), you'll grow fat, lazy, ugly, and earn corruption points. In turn, if you eat healthy food, abstain from too much drink and handle money fairly, you'll earn purity points.
Also, the good and bad characters each have their own temples to donate to; if you're good, you can donate money to the Temple of Light, rewarding you with more good points; and if you're bad, not only can you donate money to the Temple of Shadows to earn bad points, but you can lure in and sacrifice (not shown in detail) innocent civilians. Concerning moral choices in the main missions, they are plainly black and white, with the options ranging solely in opposites, like steal or give, be honest or lie, murder or save, seek vengeance or justice--and a couple of the quests have conflicting objectives where you either work for the bad guy, or protect the good from the same group.
A good example of moral choice is when you go undercover as a guard in the main villain's lair and are fitted with an obedience collar. If you do what the leader says things will go fine, but if you disobey, the collar on your neck will activate, and you'll drop to the floor in agony, as the collar not only shocks you, but drains you of your experience points. You'll then have to choose whether to submit or resist the leader's orders, like feed starving prisoners or not, and either killing a fellow disobedient guard (and friend), or striking the leader instead.
There are a few more difficult decisions near the end, like deciding whether to sacrifice a young, innocent and healthy woman to the "Shadow Judges," who will suck her good health and youth, or you can sacrifice yourself and take her place, which will result in you taking the risk of aging heavily (and maybe permanently); there's a
gut-wrenching sequence involving your dog near the very end; and after defeating the last boss, you're given three very tough choices--once you pick one, there's absolutely no going back.
Concerning kids, this game is far too complicated, time consuming and there's way too much optional, but objectional content. And in regards to younger teens, it's hard to call. On one hand, every bit of the sexual choices, crude content and evil activities are completely optional (and quite avoidable), but at the same time, it's all there, and most in that age group would probably gravitate towards exploring these elements. So considering this, I'd have to recommend the game to older teens and young adults. However, as always, it's up to you as the parent to make the choice, and I could see some more responsible (and sensible) young teens play this game as a clean and moral good guy (as I did).
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