Fable (Xbox) review
"For it's here more than anywhere else that Molyneux has succeeded, not in fashioning a true next gen RPG but in creating a world worthy of the simple joys of role playing itself. And that's kind of what he had set out to do right?. There are of course a number of side quests on offer, as well as a handful of obligatory parlor-esque mini-games to indulge in. All that however is simple window dressing that serves to further enhance the spectacular cause and effect style gameplay mechanics that we've found ourselves coveting these past four years. "
For the longest time now, we've been led to believe that Fable was going to revolutionize the way we played RPGs. It was after all legendary developer Peter Molyneux (Populous, Black & White) who first made this singularly outrageous claim, and who were we to argue? In Peter we trusted then, and for four long years he brandished the term "emergent gameplay" about the place with all the wanton abandon of man enjoying his job. Emergent gameplay... yeah! Who wouldn't be excited? Fable was going to free players of the constraints and limitations commonly associated with other similarly themed RPGs. Go anywhere, do anything. Toss in a few karma based gameplay mechanics and suddenly the prospect of deciding our own virtual destinies was about to become a reality. Avenge the slaughter of your family, grow old, get married, and if you're terribly unlucky, die a horribly painful death as well. Live, kill, cheat and steal, whatever. On and on the promises went, Fable this and Fable that. Molyneux had promised us the world and all we had to do was wait... and wait... and... ... unlike other fairy tales however, this one doesn't have a happy ending. Molyneux was wrong and his great genre defining Fable was little more than a farce. Talk is cheap in this industry my friends, and what ever you do from here on out... don't believe the hype.
1. A story about legendary persons and exploits.
Along with the now standard servings of hyperbole, a game's name can invariably fuel a certain, and some say justified, level of expectation among its target audience. Interesting point of fact then, Fable is to its dictionary definition as I am a turnip. Or in other words... get off the crack pipe Bub, it's time to face reality. Contrary to its namesake, Fable's simple narrative offers up little in terms of excitement, often being presented in a highly predictable fashion that irritates more than it entertains. And while the tale of a young boy's life long quest for revenge would seem to be the perfect breeding ground for a rip roaring adventure, rarely (if ever) does it manage to break free of the tedium that binds it. Your village is attacked, people die, and you're eventually whisked off to the Hero's Guild where a kindly old man instructs you in the ways of the sword. Come on, can we possibly be any more vanilla?! Persevere however and sooner or later things do begin to pick up. A number of vaguely predictable plot twists help keep things somewhat lively while the lusciously rendered game world slowly begins to make itself known. It's then and only then that you'll find yourself confronted by something vaguely resembling a few of Molyneux's promises... if you were to look at the game cross eyed through a glass of water that is.
Initially however, players are sure to find themselves disappointed with what Peter Molyneux and his team at Lionhead Studios have thrown together. For despite its overwhelming hype, Fable feels like any one of a hundred other hack'n slash style RPGs that you've no doubt previously enjoyed. Having selected your next mission from the Quest Table, players are instructed to sally forth into the countryside in order to complete the challenge and earn the experience points necessary to upgrade their character with. It's ye standard RPG design complete with ye standard RPG principles. And while the three combat disciplines (magic/ranged/melee) manage to generate a surprising amount of excitement, even such finely balanced action is incapable of dispelling the overall sense of deja-vu. So disappointingly familiar is everything that Fable's once holier than thou greatness comes complete with many of the usual teeth grinding annoyances commonly associated with similar second or third tier genre entries. From a lock-on system that simply can't keep up, to a graphics engine that's truly incapable of holding a steady 30fps, there's sure to be any number of reasons why you'll be looking to throw in the towel and go home. But hold your horses young man, don't go anywhere just yet! Much like the story that slowly manages to entertain, those who persevere will eventually find that Fable offers something that's far greater than the sum of its parts...
For unlike many of its brethren, Fable gives players an incredible amount of leeway in how seriously they decide to tackle the main quest. You could for instance grab the bull by the horns and charge through the game in little under 12 hours, completing your main objective and slaying the bad guys in the process. If do you opt for such hurried adventures however, you'd best understand that you'll be doing yourself a grave disservice as much of Fable's unique charm can be found in the quiet moments between story arcs. For it's here more than anywhere else that Molyneux has succeeded, not in fashioning a true next gen RPG but in creating a world worthy of the simple joys of role playing itself. And that's kind of what he had set out to do right?. There are of course a number of side quests on offer, as well as a handful of obligatory parlor-esque mini-games to indulge in. All that however is simple window dressing that serves to further enhance the spectacular cause and effect style gameplay mechanics that we've found ourselves coveting these past four years. Which, as luck would have it, are so tightly integrated into the game that players are forced to constantly mind their P's and Q's lest they risk a downward spiral into a life of villainy and crime. But then again, we all know you're going to tread that path anyway so who am I kidding?
Borrowing a page from Bioware's seminal Knights of the Old Republic, Fable makes use of a system of karmic balance in determining not only how NPCs interact with the player, but the appearance of their character as well. Those who choose to do good and serve the community will find themselves received with open arms where ever they go. Handsome and dashing, your on-screen appearance will elicit cries of admiration from passers by, sometimes resulting in a flirtatious encounter with the fairer sex. Play your cards right here Gentlemen and you may even get married! As involving as all that may sound, the opportunity for mischief and debauchery is often too great to refuse. Slaughter a household of simple living peasants and your karma will take an enormous hit. Flip off the witnesses afterwards however and you'll be seen as the nastiest S.O.B. around. But why stop there? There's always the opportunity to get drunk and chat up the wenches, perhaps grinding your pelvis in the air as a show of your dishonorable intentions. It's good to be bad, so what not indulge your dark side while you can? And though passers by are sure to heckle you on your journeys throughout the realm, they'll be but another notch on your belt once you're done showing them the error of their ways. Fear the pasty faced evil ones, for we are bad to the bone...
What comes as the biggest disappointment however is Fable's complete and utter lack of branching dialogue paths and story arcs. Which... well... damn it, didn't Molyneux promise us a new adventure each and every time we restarted the game? Rather than blossoming out into something truly worthy of the term "Emergent Gameplay", the structured narrative shuttles players down a strict and very linear path from points A to B to C, often failing to recognize any of the splendid character building that's gone on along the way. You could be the very picture of evil incarnate, yet many of the cinema sequences will still show people interacting with your avatar in such a way as to suggest he's little more than a regular Joe. Never mind the horns, glowing red eyes or overall pervading stench of brimstone, "Hi there, what can I do for you? It's jolly nice to meet you too". Bah, what's all this then? Had a little more effort been put into merging the story telling with the otherwise excellent character development then perhaps Fable could have lived up to some of its hype. And while it's true that a handful of side quests do in fact give players the choice of good or evil style objectives, their presence seems more like simple lip service to a promise that apparently should never have been made. Which is really kind of sad.
As it so transpires, this deep rooted sense of malaise extends right throughout the Fable experience, even going so far as to taint its otherwise jaw dropping visuals. Rich in texture and detail, the many environment types can be seen as representing the perfect balance of both tranquil beauty and pose. So unbelievably perfect are they that players will probably find themselves opting to take a few minutes in order soak up the raw beauty on offer. Leaves softly flutter to the ground, grass blows in the wind, and storm clouds roll in over head. Meanwhile far off in the distance you'll likely spy a lonely looking beach, its waves smoothly animated as to appear almost photo realistic in quality. It's with such good impressions hanging sweetly in the air that you'll no doubt be thinking to yourself... yeah, so maybe Fable isn't so bad after all. Aye, that may be true good sir... but the malaise is yet to come. For faster than you can say "holy crap what was that?!", a non-player character wanders across the screen in such a way as to bear only a passing resemblance to actual human movement. Stiff, wooden, or perhaps even a little painful looking. Whatever it may be, the feeling of immersion generated by the otherwise lush graphics has just been ruined. So much for that then. If only Lionhead Studios had been as thorough with their polish as Molyneux seems to have been with his mouth then maybe we could have... awww hell, never mind...
2. A falsehood; a lie.
As it turns out, Fable isn't all that bad. It's just not all that great either. If players were to strip away the hype, the myriad broken promises, and any prior expectations, chances are they would find themselves with something that could conceivably be called entertaining. The hack'n slash gameplay is fast and furious while there's little doubt in my mind that the 20+ magical abilities and upgradable weapons have served the action well. And if anything, the sheer power players have in customizing their character is thoroughly impressive. So much so that it's sure to keep a certain kind of gamer busy and content for weeks... providing they don't attempt to complete the main quest that is. But here we are again, back at square one and once more comparing the joys of role playing a character to the disappointments of the gameplay itself. And this is what we call, one hell of a conundrum. Ultimately when all is said and done, there really isn't much else that stands out as new, noteworthy, or even particularly clever. Simply put then, you've no doubt played this game, heard this story, and struggled with this lock-on system a hundred times before. Do you really want to do it all again? Maybe. For despite my apparent apathy, Fable can still be rewarding in its own little way. Don't ask it to redefine the wheel or change the world and you'll be fine. Remember though, from this moment on we've promised ourselves not to be taken in again by the hype... sad, but true.
3. Just a regular game burdened by unbelievable hype and prior expectations.
* Fable represents some of the very best character role playing around
* The hack'n slash combat is surprisingly enjoyable
* With 20+ magical skills to learn there'll always be something new to try
* There's a huge number of ways to customize your character
* Fable offers up a good range of side quests and mild diversions
* Stunning backgrounds offer up an incredible amount of detail
* The ability to trade items between townships and thusly earn some extra cash was a nice surprise
* Being bad has never been so much fun
* Fable's story is really kind of... blah
* The main game can be completed in as little as 10-12 hours
* A linear quest breaks Molyneux's most sacred of promises
* Poor character animations can bring players crashing back to earth
* The graphics engine seems incapable of sustaining a steady 30fps
Staff review by Michael Scott (November 08, 2004)
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