Reviewed: October 13, 2004
Released: September 14, 2004
Much like the heroes whose lives you imitate therein, Fable has undertaken quite a quest as it journeyed from Big Blue Box to your Xbox. Starting life as ďProject EgoĒ Peter Molyneux promised, quite literally, the world. Project Ego would be a living, breathing, Universe where every action would have a consequence. It was to be the best RPG of all time.
Fable is none of those things, but is it a good game, for that we must start at the beginning.
So youíve forgotten your sisterís birthday AGAIN and to get her a present on time you need some quick cash. Fortunately dadís there to drag you out of the fire. Heís going to give a gold coin (now thatís an allowance, all I got was a quarter) for going around town and doing, ughÖ good deeds. Not to worry though. You only need three gold to buy that box of Nobsonís Finest Sweet Chocolates so you can get away with some destruction of property, some hush money to keep Old Man Teechís affair on the quiet, and then get the gold from Pop for ratting the cheating bastard out, and you come out smelling like roses.
Ah, those were the days. Of course now youíve graduated to robbery, assault, and murder, and have been known to dabble in the occasional tryst now and then, but your wife doesnít mind. Not if she knows whatís good for her.
It is amazing what a little training can accomplish. Had it not been for the Guild you would have died in that bandit raid, and where would have been the fun in that? Of course there is still that score to settle with Jack, but there are plenty of cleavers to go aroundÖ
Fable is an RPG, in a much more open sense then Final Fantasy. In Fable you are given a somewhat large framework from which to portray *yourself* or whomever you wish to as far as the game goes. Your character has a name, one that you can change, but he is not a character in the literal sense.
There is also no option to play as anything other than male; women and girls will be doing more role-playing then the rest of us as a result. Normally that wouldnít be a problem, but youíd imagine the greatest RPG of all time would have an option then even some First Person Shooters, a genre not known for its storytelling, have managed.
The crux of Fable is your Hero. He is whatever you do, and however you act. Your actions do have a result on many people you come across. Be a fearful, black horned tyrant and people will flee at the sight of you. Be a heavenly golden knight and people will fawn over you.
The story, in the loosest sense, is you trying to avenge the death of your family. This is the overriding theme and what serves to move the story along. Pretty standard stuff really. There are numerous side quests, mini-games, and other humorous actions to occupy your time however. You can get married, have sex, get drunk, go fishing, have affairs, and many other actions.
Fable does often seem like a living breathing world. Which is why some of the design decisions are quite puzzling. There are narrow paths to and from town and these cannot be deviated from, if trudging to and fro through the same paths gets tiring, it doesnít even need to be done as you are provided with a teleportation device. The fact the game is not GTA-style ďwonder anywhereĒ is quite disappointing.
Combat is in real-time and can be accomplished either through magic, the bow and quiver, or straight out fighting with knuckles and sword. It sometimes does get a wee bit repetitive, but you can switch up styles to stay entertained. The good news is that despite having a whole slew of combat actions, magic spells, and interaction possibilities the whole control scheme comes off with only a few hitches.
Iím a "righty", which normally doesn't impact a game like this, but for some reason this control scheme works out to my disadvantage. You pull down on the right trigger to bring up magic commands and spells where the left one does weapons and such. Problem is that all the action buttons regardless of the trigger are on the right side. Many a time was when I meant to pull my trusty axe, cleaver, mace, or what have you, and instead slowed down time, or threw some lightning, a small problem, but there nonetheless.
Next are the interaction commands. Iím as deft with the lasses as the next lad, but chasing them down is a bit of work, and then to have to scroll through all my options takes so long that sheís already moved on to greener pastures. I mean all I wanted was a little vulgar thrusting, andÖ well thatís neither here nor there. The point is that talking to the lasses is difficult no matter when or where your trying.
Every enemy you defeat, and how you defeat them, helps you to open up new powers. Melee gives you strength, Bow gives you skill, and Magic gives you will points. This way the more you use one style the easier it is to advance in that area. You can also get standard point that can be used for any skill.
Your main way of progressing the story is doing quests at the Heroes guild (sort of like a medieval Justice League.) Quests that advance the story are marked different then the others so you are free to move along at relatively your own pace.
Completing quests gives you renown. This opens up new expressions and raises your standing among the townspeople. You can also show off trophies gained from certain quests to get further renown.
Expressions, and items, can be mapped to the directional pad. You have the same basic RPG type items (food, health, revive potions, etc.) Expressions range from ďapologizeĒ to ďsneerĒ and each performs the specified action. People react to how you approach them and sneering at children isnít apt to make you very popular.
As far as mechanics go this game has an elaborate infrastructure, but, well it just canít live up to what weíve been lead to believe in the three years of hype leading up to this release. Yeah, you can change your hair and your tattoos, and if you use magic too much youíll start to go bald, but itís not as dynamic as weíve been lead to believe. Iíve spent a fair amount of time on my physique and Iím still rail thin. You donít get thin or fat that easily, and the only real difference that putting points into certain categories gets you is that balding spot common in mages.
What does alter some things, though lets be honest, it really is only cosmetic for the most part, is what you decide to do with yourself. You can be all little goody two-shoes and find yerself with plenty of admirers, a halo, and those dratted ethereal butterflies, or you can be a little moreÖ honest. That way youíll get horns, a red aura, flies, and the fear and respect you deserve. Also, and you didnít hear it from me, thereís word that the proper sacrifices will net you fabulous rewards, maybe even some extra time Ė if you know what I mean.
Graphics are one area where Fable truly excels. Every person is well rendered, even if many of them share the same model. Foliage is lush (which makes the paths you must follow all the more aggravating) Trees look good as does the day night cycle. Sometimes it is so beautiful it hurts to look at it. Bright colors, highly detailed characters, monsters, and scenery, and animation that is smooth and satisfying, but this too falls just short of perfection.
The biggest failing is that EVERYTHING is sort of pastel and has a blur or light blooming effect, so ultimately everything you see is through some fuzzy filter. It is great for a "storybook style atmosphere" (anyone remember Herdy Gerdy on PS2) but gets old about an hour or two into the game. Even being evil doesnít help take an edge of this heavenly aura effect.
This isnít to say that theyíre covering up some shoddy work with filter effects. The models and settings are impeccable, with high detail work, on clothing and hair especially (you get a nice little breeze when your standing still for just the right touch). Also, this is a fantasy setting after all, so you need a little of the rose colored glasses treatment, only it gets a little hard to bear when itís nighttime and yer in a cave and it still looks like too much light glare is making everything blurry.
When day turns to night, the world seems the most alive. Your wife (or husband) will light the lanterns in your house, guards will light lamps, and children stay indoors. All very dynamic and adds a great deal to the experience. The light itself is also well rendered and is great for setting the mood.
Loading is a relatively painless process and you are not left waiting all that long. There is brief loading as you traverse some zone to zone, or when you teleport but thatís to be expected.
Your Hero can also amass a huge closest of clothing and armor. Each piece looks great and really fitís the mood youíre trying to express. From assassin to light mage, itís all covered. Haircuts and mustaches can also be changed and each feature (hair or clothing) raises or lowers your attractiveness and/or scariness. Tattoos are also featured if you really want to set yourself apart. There was even a rumor that you could tan if you ran around in the daytime, but Iím still white enough to produce glare.
Depending upon what areas you try to excel in, your character will change accordingly. Concentrate on magic and youíll start to lose hair and get magical tattoos. Strength makes you more buff and muscular while skill will cause to become quite lithe. As you go from evil to good (or vice versa) your character will also reflect this change. Dark hair, horns, and flies for the wife killing, village destroying, Devils. A halo, white locks, and butterflies for the courteous, present giving, Angels.
Animation is also great, but has a few drawbacks. Mostly itís just that there are plenty of times when someoneís talking and their mouth is a little out of synch with their speech. Otherwise things are smooth as a well polished marble. Combat has plenty of combos that blend one into the other, with nary a clipping problem.
Camera work is also surprisingly good with all the action that goes on, with the only problem being the aforementioned problems of getting a good look at yourself. Fable is capable of running in progressive scan mode but due to a weird quirk, may not automatically choose to display a true progressive scan 480p picture. It also does not possess a native widescreen mode - when will they learn?
Another of Fableís strong suits, sound and music are ever present in the game and are done with great care. EVERY line of dialogue has a voice behind it, which is incredible for an RPG. The fact the minor female characters seem to share two voice actresses is forgivable.
The fact you can be good or evil further separates the dialogue, which mustíve been a massive undertaking. There's almost two complete narratives buried in the game waiting to be unearthed. All the major characters sound distinct and the voices truly fit the roles. Of course after a short time you realize that the townsfolk only have so much to say, but you were planning on slaughtering the lot like the lambs they are so why complain? The narration sounds nice and clear, and is very good at relaying the events.
The soundtrack is your standard fantasy type overture and whatnot, the ambiance is decent, not overdone, or all that sparse. The music is a pleasure to listen to, well all except for that fool of a bard, but I decapitated him yesterday so thatís that. The battle music is appropriate for any fan of Braveheart and down time is just as important. There isnít anything here that could stand on its own, but itís great for setting the mood.
This is where some of Fableís faults become apparent. The game itself, as in the story it tells, is not all that long. Probably about ten hours if you rush through it. They do present a wealth of things, tales, and quests to distract you however.
Numerous bar games litter the local taverns, bards can be hired to sing your praises, you can take a wife, or husband, weapons and cloths can be collected. There is a lot to do in the world of Fable but they are largely one off things, not contributing to the main story, but you still have fun spending time in the inn trying to best Bimmy Jimfellow at table golf or win that next hand of cards..
Though short, this game is one of the few Iím tempted to play over. Mostly to be the exact opposite of the saintly character I used the first time through. It whole good and evil premise worked for KOTOR and it works for Fable. See how people react to me when Iím evil incarnate. Yourr alignment choices offer at least a few replays through the game, and then there are plenty of secrets to be had, so even after youíve finished the plot youíll probably spend another few hours trying to open that last Demon Door, or find the last piece to your dress or Dark Plate Mail.
Fable is Xbox Live Aware but not Live enabled so no multiplayer (another Project Ego feature to be dropped) nor any possibility for downloadable content. Youíre stuck with what you bought and nothing else. Even so, it's still a worthy invested for any true RPG or action-adventure fan, especially if you have been living on the edge of hype for the past three years.
In the end, we are left with what they delivered, not what was hyped. To be blunt, any game they released (within the same time frame) couldnít have feasibly fulfilled all they proclaimed. Fable is not the game Project Ego proclaimed to be, and the hype and excitement some of us built for that may be slightly tarnished.
Looking beyond that, we are left with a great game that is exceptional in its own way. It doesnít deliver on all fronts, has some dubious design choices, but is itself one of the finest RPGís on the Xbox and the most fun Iíve had with an RPG (a genre Iím not historically all that fond of) since Kingdom Hearts.
Fable delivers a one of a kind experience, of that there is no doubt. Itís gorgeous, fun, and engaging so itís well worth the look. In fact, it will probably become an addiction for a week or two for you. Just donít be surprised if it falls short of your own expectations.