It’s been ten years since Peter Molyneux’s much-hyped RPG Fable graced Microsoft’s first game console. After months of great promises and fantastic ideas that really led gamers and critics alike to believe in all the hype, the game was finally released to critical acclaim, despite all the missing features. Due to the game’s success, two main sequels were released that further developed the mythology of the world of Albion, alongside two spin-off entries, and one coming for the Xbox One in 2015.
Developed by Lionhead Studios / Published by Microsoft
Available on the Xbox 360.
*Review copy provided by Microsoft
But what of those that jumped on the bandwagon with the second entry, Fable II? In celebration of the tenth anniversary of the series, Lionhead Studios is offering players a second chance to see how it all begins with Fable Anniversary, an HD remaster of the original Fable and the expansion The Lost Chapters. But is a fancy new skin, reworked menus, an improved save system, achievements and Xbox Smartglass support enough to draw fans back to this ten-year old relic?
It really depends on who you’re asking.
In Fable, you play as the Hero of Oakvale, a young boy who – after an attack by a group of bandits that leaves him orphan – is recruited by the Hero’s Guild and trained in the arts of Strength, Skill and Will. With a threat looming on the horizon, the Hero must grow both in prowess and spirit, either good or bad, in order to face the menace and hopefully save Albion.
If you’re familiar with the franchise or have played this entry before, then you’ll what you’re getting into. Fable’s storyline is one of the best in the franchise, perfectly weaving a good, old fashioned hero’s quest with a hint of humor. While the overall plot is nothing out of the ordinary, it’s an entertaining ride nonetheless, as we get to see how a hero or villain grows from boy to mature man, and fulfills his destiny or shies away from it. Solid voice acting and music, which has been remastered, also adds to the whole experience, giving the game a classic fantasy aesthetic and a flavor of its own that will later be seen in the sequels.
It’s not all about the story, right? What about the visuals? When Fable was first released, it was a good-looking title. Naturally though, what was impressive back then isn’t as hot now, and it doesn’t look too great nowadays if you take a look at any of the original’s screenshots. Thankfully, Lionhead’s HD remaster does wonders to the title, bringing it up to speed with visuals that rival what’s seen in the sequels. Albion and its inhabitants look as vibrant as they did ten years ago, colorful and fresh and cartoonish. Everything looks fantastic and pleasing, though a little more work could have been paid attention to NPC’s faces, which are mostly blank and occasionally muddy.
That being said, not all is well in the land of Albion. While the remaster does everything possible to make Fable look great again, the animations in the game are the same ones seen in the original. This leads to some jerky movement, combat, and NPC’s that move and behave erratically when walking around towns and beaten paths. The wonky animation is by no means a deal-breaker, but it definitively lets you know that this is an old game you’re playing.
The gameplay however, while antiquated, is still solid. Running around Albion and completing quests for the Hero’s Guild is as fun as ever, as most of the main missions are entertaining setpieces that have the player getting ever closer to fulfilling his destiny, while side quests keep the player entertained for hours as they complete a mixture of serious and off-beat missions. Mission variety keeps things fresh, and while the missions aren’t too original, especially in the fantasy department, they are very fun. Additionally, most missions allow you to pick from a good option and bad option, letting you either mold your hero into a good guy or a villain. Not only does this affect the storyline, but it essentially extends play time by offering two campaigns. Good stuff.
Combat is similar to the other games in the series, though somewhat primitive. Players can use the three schools of training to defeat all manner of foes. They can use strength to strike at enemies with melee weapons, use skill to attack faster and use ranged weapons, and finally use will to use different magic spells with different purposes. Each option is assigned to a face button, and works on command, making combat against monsters and people easy, straightforward, fast-paced and very fun. However, free-aiming with a ranged weapon and switching spells during combat is a pretty big hassle and is unpractical, so not all is well with the combat system.
Another issue with combat is that the hero has a super slow recovery animation after knockdown, which leads to big problems when fighting lots of enemies at the same time. The protagonist can block enemy attacks and dodge, but getting hit by big attacks will send you to the ground and set you up for further attacks. Recovering only to get knocked down again by random attacks and flying projectiles is nasty business, and since you can’t really defend against it as you’re vulnerable during the animation, it’s heartbreaking.
Using uncommon items also brings another set of issues. While potions and healing items are usually assigned to the directional buttons and are applied to the hero with a quick push to the corresponding direction, specific items must be used either by navigating a series of complicated menus in-game, or pausing to go to the menus, which is usually the easier alternative. Some work in this area would have been nice, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Thankfully, the leveling up system is great. Combat and completed missions grant points that can be used to upgrade the Hero in Strength, Skill, and Will, and allow players to customize the character as they see fit. Concentrating in strength allows for the Hero to deal more damage, have more health and defense, while upgrading Skill allows for faster attacks, more powerful ranged attacks and the ability to sneak and barter. Finally, investing in Will allows players to learn a variety of spells and upgrade them into even more powerful versions. The leveling up system is rich and varied, and gives players a reason to venture off and fight foes, in hopes of unlocking the next upgrade for the ever-growing hero.
The game is fun, but it’s unfortunately not devoid of game-breaking bugs. The one I frequently encountered, was that after 30 minutes to 2 hours of playtime, the game would lock up on me. If this happened once it wouldn’t be too big of an issue, but it happened to me a handful of times, forcing me to reset the Xbox 360. This would normally mean that a lot of progress would be lost, but thanks to the upgraded save and checkpoint system, it’s easy to continue where you left off as the game constantly saves automatically and you can save anywhere at any time. Still, locking up so often? It’s definitively a broken product, and one that hopefully will be fixed with a future patch.
In the end, Fable Anniversary takes one step forward and two steps back. New upgraded visuals, remastered audio, improved interfaces, a superior save system, and the bonus map and guide featured in Xbox Smartglass really do a great job of making the classic game feel fresh again, but the lack of tweaks to animations, item usage, and combat really show the game’s true age. It also doesn’t help that the game is saddled with game-breaking bugs too. If you’re interested in finding out how it all began in Albion or just want to revisit one of the Xbox’s classic adventures with a new skin, then you might want to check this out. But if you’re hoping for a vastly improved Fable, you might want to check out the sequels instead.