The residents of Knothole Island are suffering a prolonged winter. And--like any good, ironically-staged tragedy--it’s a suffering that’s brought down upon themselves, by themselves. Not as much through their actions as through their inaction.
Knothole Island is a pine-studded atoll punctured by the caw of seagulls and the pang of a ship bell, and geographically heightened by a sun temple on one hilly rise and a trio of waterfalls on another. The chieftain of Knothole Island, a man both smarmy and hapless, is at the end of his rope when it comes to ideas on how to solve the problem of the extra-long winter. So the chieftain reaches out for aid, sending his envoy, Gordon the Ship Captain, to import a hero to report for duty.
Revealed in part by the island’s chieftain--and in greater depth through ten volumes of scattered books--Knothole’s misfortune runs parallel to the greater Albion-wide tragedy of lessening heroes. Through magical means, Knothole was capable of controlling its weather patterns. This obscenely advanced magical technology still required the actions of heroes to implement it, however, and the steady atrophy of the heroic population finally proved Knothole’s downfall.
But that’s where you come in, of course.
The simple-minded lives and look of Knothole’s citizens notwithstanding, their subtly advanced magical technology pervades their shops’ store shelves. Without having to lift a solitary finger (a concept contrary to Fable’s reap-the-appearance-you-sow through adventure), potions abound that can increase or decrease your height, raise and drop your weight, or remove and prevent scarring. These are the byproducts of a culture succumbing to false images of heroism that steadily feed Knothole its defeat. Plus it’s a dirty mirror held up to modern society: a modern society that, for the right price, can temporarily solve any manner of conceived physical ‘defects.’
It would be ideal to space out Knothole Island’s chaptered adventures between your other adventures across Albion. But since there’s no way to enforce this steadier pace (and perhaps because you’ve already seen Fable II’s tale to its conclusion with nothing left to do), it’s likely that most will play straight through Knothole’s content without interruption. Sadly, and by no fault of Lionhead Studios’ design, this will jog you through the content too briskly.
What’s questionable about Knothole’s conclusion is its inconclusiveness. Bereft of pomp and circumstance thanking you for your efforts--which is likely how Knothole’s chieftain would prefer it--it simply feels like you’re to wander away from Knothole Island with little reason to stick around. At the same time, it feels as though Knothole is no closer to a solution for its problematic existence, and has only delayed its woes for yet another season. With nary more than a sigh and a wave-off, you shoulder your sword/crossbow/staff and head back down to the creaky docks for the return trip to Bowerstone. No one, not even the bards that populate the taverns, are any wiser of your efforts on that island.
One great reason for a return trip to Knothole Island, however, is the ingeniously established Box of Secrets store. Being the endmost shop in the horseshoe of buildings around Knothole town, the Box of Secrets is a dully white structure. And while the base value of the building is 52,000 gold pieces, what’s in store is far more entertaining than sitting around and collecting rent. The proprietor, Jessica, with her large-stitched dress, porcelain doll makeup and silently subversive view of the town’s chieftain, owns a shop full of delights--but they strictly can’t be bought with money. Several plainly gift-wrapped packages line the walls, each one requiring an odd cocktail of items in exchange: one Eternal Love Ring will net you “a stylish accessory” (the descriptions of the boxes are tantalizingly vague); two Puny Carrots get you some “murderous attire”; two lutes bestow a “weapon of note”; trading in your monk robes yields “a saintly weapon.”
There’s something for everyone at the Box of Secrets. Not only does this mysterious bartering send you on a rarified treasure hunt, but it also serves in contrast to Knothole’s lack of heroism and incapacity to remedy its weather issues. For all their inability to solve their own problems, however, everything in the Box of Secrets is crafted by the people of Knothole Island. It’s a comforting thought that they’re not an incapable people after all, but simply people whose magical technology outstripped their mortal capability. It’s an additional comfort that--unlike all of their body-altering potions--these are all gifts that cannot be purchased with gold.
Despite the short length of the adventure (it’s only a few hours long, as the crow flies), the inherent richness and humor of the Fable universe is intact. At the graveyard skirting the tree-lined edge of town, you can read the tombstones of former Knothole residents like Harri Baker, who “died crimping-off a loaf,” or Kevin Watt, “Electrocuted.” You can have an eyebrow-raising moment standing outside of “Greta’s Funny-Tasting Liquid Emporium,” to find out that the liquids in question are clothing and hair dyes. (“Funny-tasting” indeed.) You can crowd around Adam the Bard (who likes people either fat or muscled) out by the General Goods Trader stand, rain or shine, as he tells fantastical tales beyond your own story. You can watch Gary the Crate Carrier haul a box from one end of the ramshackle docks to the other, then perhaps watch him wander about without a task for days on end after that, all while the few children in the town run about, play, and fight.
One more entertaining thing to come out of Knothole Island is a “black wheel gang” set of leathers that will help kick off your own ‘brutal legend.’ Either that or the suit of knightly armor that’s a shiny must-have for Fable’s do-gooders, but ironically serves as nothing more than an impractical skin for a bygone image of legends-old heroes. The subtexts to Knothole Island are cherry compared to simply going through the sword-swinging motions of the mission.
All said, Knothole serves as an entertaining little tale in the world of Fable II. While memorable in its own right, that unsatisfied feeling in your stomach afterwards is altogether intentional, but doesn’t make you feel much better when you realize that this cautionary tale is beyond your own heroics to completely disentangle. Once again, Lionhead Studios pulls off another somewhat non-ending, but you have to wonder at just how many more of these non-endings they can do before players realize and resent the fact that the differences in the world they should be making are being robbed from them.
On a more mechanical and niggling note, Knothole Island would’ve benefited from inserting another star-earning job along the lines of the blacksmith, woodcutter or bartender professions. I spent many an hour playing the frighteningly-addictive Fortune’s Tower card game while in Knothole, but there’s nothing to satiate the obsessive-compulsives…unless you count the creative tracking and re-tracking across the island you must do in order to hit the (all too many) dig spots.