10 years later, Fable is still a fun adventure.
Fable is a franchise I've had a bit of a rocky relationship with. My first experience was Fable II (having completely missed the original), and it is one of my favorite games of the Xbox 360 era. Fable III, not so much. With Fable Anniversary coming out soon, the remake of the now 10 year old RPG, I figured why not just get a cheap copy of the original and see what it’s all about.
The premise starts you as a young boy in the town of Oakvale in the land of Albion, who has a loving sister and parents. But that kind of story makes for a boring video game, so a group of bandits attack your village, kidnaping your mother and sister, and murdering practically everyone else, including your father. But before you meet your own demise, you’re saved by a hero named Maze, and are inducted into the Guild of Heroes. In the world of Albion, a hero isn't just a title but an occupation, something you learn by joining the guild. The game switches over to your teenage years for your guild training and then finally to adulthood after you become a true hero. This is the first neat trick Fable does, giving your character, and the world, a real sense of growth. Seeing the world change around you as you grow and make choices is neat, and gives everything a sense of place.
Fable has the typical “your character glows if they’re good and pale skin and devil horns if you’re evil” that most games with morality like to do, but how you spec your character also affects them. If you put a bunch of points into strength, your character will become more bulky and muscular as a result, while if you put a lot of points into magic, you get glowing blue tattoos on your face. Unfortunately the options felt a bit too simple preventing me from having my character look exactly how I want. I like my characters to be a bit on the thin and scrawny side, probably because I myself am thin and scrawny, but there wasn't any way to go full on melee combat without forcing yourself to become a hulking beast. A little more variety on this front would have been cool.
In combat your main tool will be your melee, of which you are given a nice selection of fast swords like the katana, something with a bit more punch like great swords, and even more massive weapons like hammers. There’s not much in the ways of multiple attacks, it’s rather simplistic with one button for attacking and another for using a flourish attack when you build one up. It’s all about timing and avoiding your enemies with blocks and dodges. Getting in hits and avoiding them yourself builds up your combat multiplier, letting you deal more damage. It’s a system that works but by the end of the game I found myself a little tired of it. The ranged combat, bows and crossbows, I found to be rather useless. It has its place in certain situations but you’re not going to want to spec your character into a full ranged one, which is a disappointment. Magic is by far the most interesting and varied. There’s a ton of spells all put into a bunch of categories. So if you want to go full on attack magic you can throw points into lighting, fire, etc. Even if you’re melee focused like I was, it’s worth getting spells like slow time, which I found invaluable during the later parts of the game.
The core of Fable has you taking on guild quests, making choices, and being the "hero." The moral choice system is bit too black and white for my tastes. You’re never really given any grey area and it’s always very clear which is good and which is evil. Having a character say something like, "you can go do this quest for this reward, or I guess if you were some sort of evil person you could always just kill me," doesn't really leave much to the imagination. One nice thing however is the game does provide full good and full evil side quests, usually having them be on opposite sides of the same problem. Will you take the quest the farmers put up to help stop the bandit raids, or will you take the quest the bandits put up to help with the raid. Stuff like that’s more fun because it lets you put your intentions forward right away rather than giving you some black and white choice half way through the quest.
Another big component of the game is the interaction system with NPCs. You hero has a ton of different emotions they can express ranging from simple ones like laughing or saying hi, too more morality specific ones like flexing your heroic muscles or giving an evil laugh, too the ridiculously absurd such as farting and doing the chicken dance. Sadly I never found myself having any real gameplay reason to use them past their first time. For example you can flirt with NPCs and eventually have them fall in love with you. Cool idea, but no real benefit doing it. I didn't even have to try honestly. By the end of the game, every girl, and even some men, had a big enough heart above them that I could simply walk up to them, hand them a wedding ring, and be married before the sun set without even trying. The ability to interact with NPCs is a neat idea, and admittedly I got excited when they started to call me by my title I picked out and talking about past quests I did, but overall it feels more like a proof of concept than a fully implemented feature.
The story does go to some interesting places and has a large focus on family, with the hero's sister and mother coming heavily into play. This does give everything a more personal feel to it and I found myself caring in the hero's journey and his seeking revenge. The antagonist, Jack of Blades, lives up to his awesome name by being a great creepy villain. My only wish was that is motivations were explained better as I was never quite sure why he was doing what he was doing other than to just be evil.
It’s worth noting that I played the PC version, known as Fable: The Lost Chapters, which contains a bunch of extra characters, side quests, and continues the story after the final boss battle, which by the way was pretty weak. The extra content is cool, adding new characters and extra story that is welcome, but doesn't feel completely necessary. Also the new final boss somehow manages to be easier and lamer than the original.
Graphically the game holds up pretty well for being 10 years old. Stuff like faces and character animations feel a bit old and outdated however it is saved by Fable's art direction which still shines though. The game goes for a very classic bedtime story fantasy look, hence the name, and succeeds at it well. It’s a world that takes itself very seriously one minute, and starts poking fun at itself the next. It all manages to work very well; making Albion a world you want to spend time in. This is also helped greatly thanks to the music, which is quite wonderful, perfectly capturing the whimsy the game is throwing at you.
For a 10 year old game Fable one holds up surprisingly well. Moral choice in games has certainly grown in the years and in a lot of ways fable feels too simplistic in its decisions to a fault. But at the same time it all works well in the context of its storybook like nature. If you want a fun filled adventure where you get to be the hero, or villain, Fable is still a game worth checking out.