Y’know, one of the reasons I was so warm towards getting an Xbox 360 was the fact that I’d be able to play all the original Xbox games that I was too proud and poor to play when they originally came out. Fable was on my shortlist for games to go back and revisit once I got my Elite, and of course I put it on my birthday list. Even though it was only $10 brand new for The Lost Chapters, I’m still a cheapskate when it comes to games.Fable is an action-RPG by famed developer Peter Molyneux, also known to PC gamers as the Prince of Broken Dreams. This man loves to have forever-long development cycles, all the while hyping up his game to insane, industry-destroying proportions. If Molyneux came out with a press release saying “My next game is so good it will make the entire video game industry collapse because no one will be able to compete with it” it would actually be one of the smaller claims he’s made about one of his games. You might remember Black & White, the game he made prior to Fable, which was supposed to be the greatest PC sim game ever EVER. But it wasn’t. It never is with Peter.
Fable was the same way. Years and years of hype. Fable would have this, Fable would have that, Fable will cure cancer and cook you breakfast. I told my friend James that Fable would either get canceled or be released a horrible disappointment. It just seemed too good to be true. And guess what? It was!
Well, that might be hyperbole. But hyperbole’s fun. Fable’s not horrible, to be sure. But I haven’t even mentioned the story yet!… Because the story here is so hackneyed, cliche-ridden and nearly non-existent. Seriously. You start off as a child, an unnamed hero, who lives the peaceful life with your mom, dad and sister. On your sister’s birthday, bandits come to the village and kill everyone and burn it to the ground. You’re saved by a famous hero, Maze (yeah, the names are retarded), who takes you to the Heroes Guild to train you in the ways of hero-ing. From there on, you can choose to be either virtuous or despicable (or somewhere in-between if you’re a waffler) in your quest to avenge your family’s death.
Really, the story is skinnier than a skeleton. I suppose it has to be to allow maximum freedom for you to play it, but still, it’s a drastic departure from Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy where everything is often on rails and you feel like you’re an actor in a play most of the time. Fable could not be more different. The bulk of the story is given to you in a diary that you don’t even have to read. I didn’t. The story is so simple and generic that I didn’t see why I should bother. It’s basically “This bad man is responsible for everything! Defeat him!” Honestly, the story I crafted by playing an evil character was far more compelling. I was betraying and killing allies all the time and building a corrupt, malevolent persona where I ruled by FEAR!!! …Yeah, the story enjoyment you get from Fable is largely derived from however you choose to play your character.
The gameplay can be a little awkward. Basically you can choose to either attack with melee, ranged or magic. The ranged attacks were so difficult to make precise and the enemies often so aggressive that I don’t understand why anyone would play in this style. It would be a huge challenge, to be sure. Magic, on the other hand, can be way too powerful. James beat almost the entire game using only one spell. I didn’t want either of those things, so I went the melee path, which was fairly easy, but became moderately challenging by the end.
The character development is pretty unique and worth mentioning. In fact, it might be my favorite part of the game. It gives you experience points based not only on completing quests, but by hitting enemies with an arrow or striking with a sword or using magic. These are all kept separate, forming different pools of experience to develop and draw from. General experience is the one you’ll have the most of most of the time and can be used in any category. The stuff you get from attacking with melee weapons can be used to upgrade the physique, strength and endurance of your character. From ranged weapons, you can increase your persuasion, your stealth, your accuracy or your speed. Magic can of course increase your magic meter or let you learn or upgrade spells. Coupled with all this is the combo multiplier that lets you multiply your experience gained by comboing hits on enemies without getting hit yourself. Of course, the meter drains each moment you aren’t attacking enemies, so it can lead to fevered searches for enemies to pummel in order to increase your multiplier score. It was a surprisingly effective way to encourage combat and to hurry along leveling up.
Another big part of the game is your reputation. As you complete quests, your reputation shoots up, either for being heroic or for being nasty. Usually the game offers you two choices when it comes to story missions: be on the good side or bad side. I chose the bad side. Your reputation affects how NPCs react to you, and you can actually buy titles that they can call you. You also earn various gestures that you can use to interact with them, like a Kossack dance, air guitar and middle finger. You can even give gifts and marry them (NPCs of either gender, I might add, BIOWARE) and then move into a house and consummate the marriage. If it seems like a lot of freedom, really, it’s not.
The whole idea behind Fable was supposedly to let you craft your own epic fantasy saga through your actions, but it becomes clear early on in the game that your freedom is within very visible boundaries. The story is the most obvious one. Even if you play your character like a dastardly bastard, you’ll still be forced at several points to be a hero and fight against the main villain. Why not join up with the villain? Just because he killed my parents? I didn’t like my parents anyways! I actually ended up fighting with a comrade I’d killed earlier in the game. Where the FUCK were the developers on that one? Sloppy asses. And courting someone is usually just a matter of giving him or her enough presents. There’s no rapport that needs to develop between you two besides a material one. Some dialogue trees that affect the person’s affection for you would’ve been neat. And really, even though how you play your character can also manifest physically, it really doesn’t affect your character much, besides the standard switching of armor, hairstyles and tattoos. Supposedly swinging around heavy weapons will increase the bulk of your character, but I never noticed it. Same for porking out on food. Your character also ages, but reallllllllly artificially. You see, your entire childhood and adolescence are basically the training modes of the game. You can’t start the main quest as a child or teenager. “Realistic”? Yeah, I guess, but artificial at the same time since you’re prompted with “DO YOU WANT TO END YOUR CHILDHOOD?” No, no one ever does. :( On top of that, your character can become an old man, but none of the NPCs ever age a bit. What’s the point of you aging if no one else does?
Another supposed freedom you have is how you play the game. Mage? Archer? Fighter? Take your pick! Or not, since as I described earlier, it’s clear what works and what doesn’t. And it’s silly that they give you all these paths to play the game and then during the final battle, FORCE you to have either ranged magic or a bow and arrow. I had NEITHER when I entered the final segment (there’s no going back and getting them at that point, either) so I could only run around and wait for the boss to kill me. That’s the only reason I haven’t been able to beat the game yet. It’s just too frustrating to do so, and because of a stupid game design flaw, at that.
Graphically, the game can be awkward but fair. It’s a bit hard to judge graphics that are years old. Aurally, though, the game’s great, with an opening theme by Danny Elfman that’s actually GOOD and a score by some other schmuck that is actually pleasant to listen to. I’m thinking of getting the soundtrack.
Peter Molyneux, knowing that Fable left gamers wanting more (and better), is now taunting us with Fable 2. It’s supposed to come with the option to play as a woman, which was also supposed to be in Fable fucking 1. The big boast this time is a dog companion that he promises will make you cry. And also a combat system capable of being controlled with only one button. Swell! And so on and so forth. It’s okay, Peter. Lie to us. Break our hearts again. :'(