Fable - Reader Retroview  

Even if you're a villain, you're still a hero!
by omegabyte

15 to 25 hours


Rating definitions 

   Let's face it: very few RPGamers actually owned an XBox during the last console generation. It wasn't that it was a bad console, or even a hatred of Microsoft (though that may have been a factor for many), it was simply that for RPGamers, there was never a good reason. With fewer RPGs than you can count on one hand, the XBox was anything but a haven for the genre, and as a result, many of us, myself included, missed out on a game that we probably all heard about - things both good and bad: Fable. However, a new console generation has arrived, and with big name games such as Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, and yes, even Fable 2, all coming our way this year, many of us are thinking about picking up (or have already) an XBox 360. Thanks to the system's backwards compatibility, those who fit into this category now have the opportunity to play this excellent game.

   Leaving aside the controversy surrounding designer Peter Molyneux's outlandish claims of RPG revolution, Fable takes some of the best concepts from Dungeons & Dragons inspired North American RPGs and blends them with the action-packed game play of adventure games like the Legend of Zelda or God of War series. The result is a game with simple, fluid controls and fast-paced combat that maintains the air of exploration and intrigue that the RPG genre is so famous for.

In the course of Fable, you'll go from this... In the course of Fable, you'll go from this...

   You begin the game as a small boy in the town of Oakvale. It's your sister's birthday, and you need to buy her a present - but you don't have any money! Your father promises to give you a gold coin for every good deed you do around town, and from there you're sent off to help the townspeople with whatever you can. After securing a gift for your sister, a group of bandits raid the town, slaughtering everyone they see, including your father and sister, and before you know it you're being whisked away to the Heroes' Guild by a mysterious man, and thus begins your journey as a hero of Albion, an adventure that will span decades of your life (or your character's life, anyways). As a hero, your job is to perform deeds of heroism (or villainy, should you choose the path of evil), and perhaps even discover the truth of what happened that fateful day - and get your revenge.

   Central to the game are the themes of good and evil, and how the choices you make affect your life and the lives of those around you. Every action in Fable can be considered either good or evil, and as you begin to sway to one side, you will notice that the people around you view and treat you differently. A benevolent hero might encounter a mass of cheering fans as he walks through a city, while a dark villain might watch people scream and run away in fear at the very sight of him. What's more, your characters appearance will change through the course of the game as you sway to one side or the other, granting you a halo and holy aura, or wicked horns and a twisted scowl. At key points in the story, you are also able to make moral choices, generally in the genre of allowing someone to live or die, and these choices will ultimately affect the outcome of the story as well as how the population of Albion views you. Also central to the game is the concept of renown - how well known you are throughout the world. Your renown affects numerous things, including shop prices and the quests that you are able to take on.

   Fable also employs a rather unique experience system that may seem complicated at first, but it actually quite straightforward. There are three branches of skills in the game - Strength, Skill, and Will. Strength governs your abilities with melee weapons, Skill governs your damage with a bow as well as your speed, and Will governs your ability to use magic. As you go through the game, you will gain general experience that can be spent on any skills, but you will also gain experience unique to each skill branch that can only be spent on those skills. How much of this experience you gain is determined by how often you use the skills governed by them. Every time you swing your sword you will gain strength experience, while every time you use a magic spell you will gain will experience. These experience points can then be spent to improve the different aspects of your character, allowing you to be as focused or diverse as you wish.

... To this! ... To this!

   Regardless of which path you wish to travel down, you will almost universally need to choose at least three spells to hold in your arsenal, but thankfully the spells themselves are not all fireballs and lightning bolts. Many of the spells are designed with the melee or ranged fighter in mind. Assassin Rush allows you to quickly close the distance between yourself and a foe, and even puts you behind him for easy unblockable attacks. There are spells that knock nearby enemies away, that split a single arrow into a barrage, and even one that slows time for a short period! Because only three spells can be hot-keyed at a time, most players will wish to focus on only three of these, but there is an option of multiple hot-key sets that can be switched on the fly. Because of the sheer number of skills available, as well as the numerous types of weapons and armor, it is possible to play through Fable many times over and never have the same character.

   Your character's appearance is also largely customizable. You can change your hairstyle and facial hair by visiting a barber, and your clothing changes as you change your armor. While every piece of armor is part of a larger set, it is perfectly acceptable to mix and match the pieces as you see fit until you have a design that you like. You can also give your character a myriad of different tattoo designs that cover different parts of the body. All these appearance modifiers also come with two stats - attractiveness and scariness, which, like renown and alignment, affect how people react to you, and can also be key in landing yourself a hot wife - yet another of the many features of the game that I simply cannot get into.

   Visually the game is quite impressive and still manages to hold its own against the more recent titles to hit the market, even if it can't quite match up to the next-generation graphics seen in XBox 360 and PS3 games. More than anything, you will simply be amazed at how alive the world seems. There are people everywhere, and they're always coming and going. You'll encounter trade caravans along roads who you can shop from, shopkeepers and playing children and taverns in the cities, and a wide variety of different locations to visit, from the dreary Witchwood Forest to the snowy hills of the northern reaches, a new area added to the game in The Lost Chapters.

   The game's sound is top-notch, featuring excellent voice work for all the characters, both major and minor, and all of whom sport clearly British accents, most of which have a very obvious cockney dialect about them. The music has a very epic feel, particularly the main theme, and helps set an adventurous tone throughout the game.

   One of the few drawbacks you'll experience if you're playing on an XBox 360 like I am is long loading times. Most of this I expect is caused by the software emulation used by the 360, but it may be similar on the original XBox. Regardless, I can also say that if you are playing on the XBox 360 there is a danger of a game crash. Though it happens rarely, it can be frustrating, particularly if you're nearing the end of a rather long quest, during which your progress in the quest cannot be saved (though your character data can be, so save often so you don't lose that experience!)

   Other than that, the only real problem with the game is its length. While the Lost Chapters addition managed to tack on another five or so hours to the overall game, it still only manages to clock in at 15 to 25 hours. However, its high level of replayability help to levy this somewhat. The game is also exceedingly easy to beat - even if you do die, which is unlikely so long as you keep a healthy supply of potions on you, the Resurrection Phial item ensures that you can be brought back to life in an instant, much like the Red Fairy items in the Legend of Zelda. Since you can hold nine of these at any time, and they can be purchased in shops (though granted they aren't cheap), your victory is almost assured. In any case, Fable is an excellent, if short, game, and well worth the time to play through - twice if you feel like trying both the good and evil side of life!

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