for the Xbox (Lionhead Studios)

Well, I finally managed to get laid. It took me long enough. First I had to deck myself out in nice clothes and get a haircut. Then I had to buy like a billion roses and chocolates from a merchant, and then I had to flirt, flex my muscles, laugh, boast, and give gifts and beer to a lady until she asked for a wedding ring. Then I had to run to a different merchant, buy a ring, run back, give it to her, and then I had to buy a house, tell my lady friend to follow me to the bed, strip, flex, and flirt for like an eternity… and then the screen went black, I heard some giggles and moans, and there it was--my character in Fable was no longer a virgin. Awesome.

In the highly anticipated Fable, you take on a character as a young child, and lead him through a lifetime of plots, battles, and puzzles (and yeah, getting laid). An exceedingly ambitious game, Fable doesn't always live up to its promise, but it still does things that no other game has yet done.

Taking place in a sprawling land called Albion, you take charge of a young boy with some really rotten luck: an hour or so into the game, your family's killed and your idyllic village is destroyed. You end up at the Heroes' Guild, a place where you learn combat and magic before you head off into Albion. There's a pretty good (but not great) overarching plot that rears its head throughout Fable, but for the most part, you're free to take on whatever quests you desire--be they slaying countless foes in a Gladiator-style arena or spending your days peacefully fishing.

The most important aspect of Fable is the depth to which it takes every decision you make into the picture. Wipe out a den of thieves? You get brownie points, and people in villages around Albion will cheer you as a champion. Get bored by villagers' admiration and wipe them out in a gory, bloody display? The people in the next village will run, hide, or try to take you out themselves in self-defense. Fable takes the moral ambiguity and decision-dependent outcomes pioneered in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and pushes it a step farther--every choice you make affects not only how your character looks and is perceived, but the gameplay itself. (Your choices vary, too--for example, I was too busy trying to get some hetero love, but your avatar can even hook up with another guy, should your virtual humping tastes lean that way.)

It's a helluva concept, but there's no way that developer Lionhead Studios could really do all that they set out to do--Fable feels like just a piece of a far larger game, a weekend jaunt to Albion rather than a true lifetime spent there. That's not to say there's ever a lack of things to do--from battling trolls to getting drunk enough to puke at one of Albion's homey taverns, you'll be kept busy. Still, Fable's been four years in the making, and while all that work is apparent--Albion is a sprawling and varied video game world, with distinct, carefully rendered and textured graphics--one can't shake the feeling that for it to be all that it could have been, it could have used some more time. The framerate sometimes stutters with all that's going on onscreen, the map system is a bitch to navigate, it's impossible to save your game progress mid-quest, and for such a combat-heavy game, it's too easy to button-mash your way through foes (that said, the ability to decapitate a foe and punt his head into the distance is darkly satisfying).

But in Fable's big, big picture, those are relatively minor complaints, for while it's an excellent game, it will come to be looked at in decades to come as a development that furthered videogames as a whole, rather than an epochal event in and of itself. I'm having a lot of fun exploring Albion with my now-borderline geriatric hero, but I can't stop thinking about the trend Fable has set in the genre of realistic role playing games, and how much cooler the next generation of inspired progeny is going to be.