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.
With good graphics, good story, and mediocre combat and controls, Fable: The Lost Chapters really needed something else to make it more than just another amusing RPG. Lionhead’s answer to this was to make each character choice and action have a long-lasting effect on the game. In some ways this idea panned out well, in others it was lacking. The Hero’s physical appearance changes with time. As he gets hit in combat, scars appear on his face and body. As he levels up and spends his experience points on Physical, Magical, or Stealth skills, his appearance changes accordingly. Heroes that focus on building up Strength or Stamina will soon find that they become hulking brutes, while building up the Magical skills greys the hero’s hair and causes his eyes to turn a mystic blue. In addition, with each level-up the Hero ages a bit, continuing to give the feeling that players are truly experiencing the entire Heroic life.
Moral choices also have a very obvious effect on the game. Most actions in Fable are either Good or Evil. Good deeds, such as rescuing the innocent, fighting horrible monsters, and self-sacrifice, will ratchet the Hero toward the Good alignment. Eventually, he’ll find himself surrounded by a shimmering aura, complete with halo, and he’ll be surrounded by a flock of butterflies. Townsfolk will trip over themselves cheering and clapping, and many will fall in love with him. On the flip side, Evil actions like killing innocents, stealing, and overall rowdy behavior, will result in a much darker appearance, including a few demon horns. Townsfolk will cower in terror, children will run screaming, and it becomes much more difficult to get merchants to stand still long enough to actually trade. But for the physical appearance and a slight adjustment in the experience cost to buy certain spells, there isn’t that much of a gameplay difference between Good and Evil. A few of the side-quests are decidedly Good- or Evil-oriented, and the main quest will play out a bit differently, but overall there just isn’t enough variation between the Light and Dark sides of Fable. Playing through a second time on the other end of the alignment spectrum soon became repetitive, and were I not reviewing the game I most likely wouldn’t have made it through the second run.
That’s not to say Fable isn’t entertaining for the first run, though. There is plenty to do, including oodles of side-quests and treasure hunts. Mini-games are also sprinkled throughout the game, running the gamut from card games to fishing games to a chicken-kicking version of shuffleboard. Players can customize their Hero to their heart’s content, toying with haircuts, beards, tattoos, and clothing. Heroes can also undergo a Sims-like minigame of finding themselves a spouse (or spouses). All in all, expect to spend about 12-15 hours for a single run though the game, longer for those trying to do everything on a single go. For those familiar with the original Fable, The Lost Chapters adds a few extra hours’ worth of content after the original Final Battle, in addition to fleshing out various NPCs with more cutscenes. There are also a few new locations and quests mixed into the original storyline.
I enjoyed the time I spent with Fable: The Lost Chapters, but when the final credits ran I found myself asking, “Is that it?” The game was just lacking something. I’m not willing to highly recommend the game to those who have already played the console original, as I just don’t believe there’s enough new content to justify purchasing another full game. Die-hard fans of the original will find something to like, if they’re unable to resist the urge to possess all things Fable. And for those who haven’t had the Xbox experience, Fable: The Lost Chapters is a solid, impressive-looking RPG that’s at least worth one playthrough.
A solid and enjoyable, if short, RPG that doesnâ€™t quite live up to my expectations. While itâ€™s a good bet for those unfamiliar with the original, thereâ€™s just not enough new content for those who already played through the console version.