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Fable 2

Preview: We get cosy with Lionhead's latest

Peter Molyneux's full of apologies. First, he apologises for kicking off our day's events slightly tardily, and for having put on a few pounds since we last met. "I've just given up smoking," he says, shovelling a digestive into his mouth.

The third thing the Lionhead boss wassorry for was the current state of the Fable 2 code he was about to show us. Clearly, the game's still a little way from being retail ready, even though the white board in the corner of the room says there are only seven days left until "content complete". Menu items are missing, shaders and shadows flicker in an un-finished fashion, and our hero's dog is bizarrely glowing pink.

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It doesn't matter though. Unlike most other game developers who control and obsess over every morsel of code and gameplay the press see, Molyneux's just desperate to lay his creation in front of us and let its innovations sell themselves.

"I probably shouldn't say this," he says glancing towards the burly American PR man lurking in the corner, "but on May 16 we're going to be content complete, which means we're going to have art and assets locked down."

It's this kind of disregard for the iron games PR machine that makes Molyneux - and a visit to Lionhead - so very refreshing. They'll take you on a full tour of the office, walk you through the development halls of games we'd be shot for uttering the names of, and cheekily let you take the Fable 2 joypad reigns while marketing men wince in the corner.

But despite the code being blotched with pink glitches and bugs, our first glimpse at the Fable 2 world isn't bad at all. The game kicks off with a gorgeous FMV sequence, cooked up outside of Lionhead by professional CGI studio Blur.

Needless to say, it looks terrific; a sparrow flutters through the snowy fields of Albion, majestically soaring towards the epic city of Bowerstone, just as the camera tosses and turns alongside the animal in a spectacular digital display. This is on par with the Halo 3 CGI commercial.

Naturally, Molyneux is keen to ethicise how the tiny bird's actions in this gorgeous sequence snowball the events of the entire game. Specifically, a single bullet-time bird dropping that spirals down to the ground, plopping on our young hero's head. They've got a lovely sense of humour in Guildford (more on that later).

"The world in Fable 2 is twenty times larger than the first game's", boasts Molyneux, spiralling the camera down to the now massive Bowerstone market. It really is a significant jump between the Xbox original and 360 metropolis.

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We hate to bring it up again, but the first thing that came to mind was GTA III Liberty City versus GTA IV Liberty City - it really is that much of a difference in scope and scale in Fable 2.

Although the original Fable was, for its time, a technical juggernaut, it never made us feel like a stunted midget in a sprawling medieval universe like we do in the sequel. Fable 2 is truly epic (a word we promise not to use again in this preview).

"There's a hell of a lot more sandbox," Peter says of the world. "There's also the fact that every single building, even the dungeons, are buyable."

FMV flashiness over, Pete's now in command of a familiar small child - though better proportioned than we remember - standing in a snowy side street of the cobbled Bowerstone market.

"I like giving the player a feeling of familiarity at the beginning," notes Peter, introducing our hero's equally pint-sized Sister Rose, who plays just as big a part in Fable II's story as your sibling did in the original.

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