Lionhead Studios continues their pattern of “almost, but not quite” games with their latest Xbox-to-PC conversion of Fable: The Lost Chapters. I could tell exactly what the developers wanted—an RPG where each and every character action had an impact on the world, where the effects of every good and bad deed would ripple throughout the character’s life. What I actually found in Fable was a decent, if bit too easy, RPG with a veneer of “morality matters.” While the game looks great, plays well, and is a very pleasant way to spend a few hours, it just misses the oh-so-high expectations it was aiming to achieve.
The game opens with a tutorial/prologue, chronicling the early life of the Hero. As a young child, the Hero loses his family and home town in a sudden attack by a band of ruthless thieves. He is rescued by a mysterious stranger, who brings the Hero to the Hero’s Guild, a sort of training grounds and headquarters for all the Heroes of the world. Here, players become acquainted with the basics of the game, from fighting to spell-slinging to interacting with the populace of Albion. Here also, players can begin directing their Hero down a path toward Goodness or Evil. Once the tutorial is over, the now young man is given full Hero status, and allowed out into the world.
What follows is a well-done fantasy storyline, chronicling the Hero’s rise from orphaned child to Legend. Owners of the original will find a bit more story in The Lost Chapters, not only for the Hero himself but also for the various NPCs. The entire plot is revealed in missions, assigned from the Hero’s Guild. Gold Missions move the main plot forward, while Silver Missions detail the side-quests available. Other side-missions, Bronze missions, are acquired outside the Guild. The Guild, in addition to housing the job-posting site and skill-improvement chamber, is also a teleportation hub. Teleporters are sprinkled liberally throughout the world, allowing quick access to the various town and wilderness locations around the lands of Albion. Once the Hero finds a location containing a teleporter, he can return there quickly at any point in his travels.
And the Hero’s travels will take him through some impressive scenery. From cities to dark woods to a Frozen North, Albion is a very good-looking place. The graphics have been polished up for the PC, and it shows. NPCs and monsters are well animated, in an almost-cartoon-y fashion. Each location is detailed and distinct, often cleverly designed to hide some secret treasure or location. The sounds of Fable are also quite good, be they ambient sounds or the characters themselves. The voice-acting is top-notch and the dialogue is refreshingly good. Once the talking stops and fighting begins, the combat sounds and animations are equally impressive. Spell effects, the screams of the wounded and dying, and the fluid movements of both the Hero and his enemies are very well done. If only the combat was as fulfilling to play as it was to observe.
As Fable: The Lost Chapters is a console conversion, it still very much feels like a console game when it comes to controls and fighting. Unfortunately, the controls were just a little too sluggish and I often felt a bit clumsy. The Hero didn’t respond as quickly as I would like to many of my commands, especially when blocking enemy attacks. I felt I should be able to deftly outmaneuver my opponents, since I was playing a Hero of unmatched caliber. Instead, the Hero would often be unresponsive when I pushed the “block” or “roll” commands, resulting in me taking far more damage than I should. I found button mashing to be far more effective than careful timing. Spells were a little better, but even with the hotkeys in place it was a bit tricky flinging magicks comfortably. Still, the enemies never posed too great a challenge, so the slight clumsiness of the controls didn’t detract too much from the game.
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