Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 10/15/2004 for Xbox  
More On: Fable
I don’t know about you, the Xbox hasn’t really appealed to me as an RPG platform. All of the big-name franchises appear on the PlayStation 2 while the GameCube has all of the Nintendo-specific properties. However, Microsoft has been trying to change this image as of late by building upon the success of Knights of the Old Republic. With a full head of steam the company committed itself to the RPG market but it would soon drop the ball. Its Xbox Live online RPG, True Fantasy Live Online, met an abrupt death and Sudeki, its other over-hyped property fell flat on its face. So now it’s up to Big Blue Box’s Fable to carry the weight and bring pride back to the face of Xbox gamers. If you ask us, they’ve done an excellent job, providing Xbox owners with an RPG that they can flaunt in the faces of all the PS2 fanboys in the world.

Fable tells the story of a young boy whose world is tragically upended. The tale begins quite pleasantly in a quaint little town on the countryside. A young boy is counseled by his father for neglecting to buy his sister a birthday present. To help the boy, the father offers up one gold piece for every good deed he commits. Upon finishing the deeds the boy is able to purchase a box of chocolates for his sister, but things go sour quickly afterwards. As he meets up with his sister a group of thugs rushes the town and razes it to ashes. The boy hides in the brush as the entire town is slaughtered and set ablaze. When trying to find his parents a mysterious figure appears and transports him to safety. After that he takes him under his wing and offers him guidance as he travels from adolescence to adulthood. Thus begins our tale as the young boy grows up and sets out to find the culprits behind the disaster and the special powers imbued within him.

All right, so the story is as generic as it gets but the designers were wise enough to add in one special feature that you won’t find in other RPGs; the ability to shape and craft your story as you progress. As you complete more missions and accomplish more tasks, your character will undergo some major changes. How you decide to make your name is entirely up to you as is the fate of your adventure. Will you side with good and protect the land from those who wish to harm it? Or will you fall to the dark side and strike fear into the hearts of all those who oppose you? Each decision you make will go a little way towards deciding what kind of person you ultimately end up to be. In Fable’s mind, what separates it from the rest of the gaming world is that it takes consequence into account for each action. Personally I’ve always found it silly when RPGs allow you to wander into someone’s house and rob them blind when they’re standing right in front of you. If you try to recreate this scenario in Fable you’ll be caught and the guards will be alerted. After that you have the choice of running away, fighting off the guards or paying the fine for your actions. In certain missions you’ll be given the option of siding with the good or the bad. Do you choose to defend a barn from attackers and help the defenseless villages? Or do you side with the bandits and loot the poor souls? Fable lures you in with exciting propositions such as these but it quickly fails to exploit them to the fullest extent. That’s because it rarely offers you the chance to choose which side you’re on. Instead you’ll have to earn good and bad points through non-mission oriented actions. The path to evil is paved with little things like stealing from villagers and breaking windows as opposed to larger scale offenses.

One of the biggest features in Fable is the manner in which you shape your character. As you perform deeds and gain renown your character changes to look the part. Commit enough good deeds and you’ll be seen in a divine light; side with evil and you’ll notice your posture weakening to the point where you’re completely hunched over and horns have grown out of your head. It’s all done fairly well with a lot of subtleties that you really have to see to appreciate. Furthermore you can personally change the hairstyle of your character by finding hairstyle cards scattered throughout the land. Take one to a barber and you’ll have yourself a new hairdo to go with that rippling physique of yours. It’s fun to go over to a friend’s house and be able to see just how drastically different your character looks from his.Unlike other free-roaming RPG titles such as Morrowind, the crux of your existence revolves around a guild. Here you will be able to level up your character, chat with others and complete missions that are pertinent to the resolution of the game. By heading to the map table in the center of the guild you are able to select your next mission. More often then not there is more than one mission available to you which is a nice change of pace. Tougher ones are unlocked until you can make a bigger name for yourself and gain some renown. To make the missions even tougher you can opt to take a “Boast” which is exactly what it sounds like. They are loftier goals placed upon the mission objective which makes it harder to complete. Some will require you to pass the mission with suffering a casualty while others require you to slay all of the foes in the area. The Boasts are a great way of earning renown and cash at an accelerated rate, if anything because they’re so easy to accomplish. You’ll rarely come across a mission that challenges your might and in the off chance you fail you’ll magically be given another go at it. Now this is something that I’d expect out of a lesser game, but Fable preaches the idea of consequences. Wouldn’t failing to protect a village from attack yield some major consequences for our hero? Everyone around the land would know him as the person who failed to stave off an attack which costs the lives of many. It seems like the designers should have capitalized on this instead of neglect it entirely.

Between missions you’re free to roam around the land and take in the goods that await you. I’d like to say that there’s plenty to do in each town but there’s generally very little that awaits you. There are a couple of side quests here and there but none that really amount to much in the scheme of things. When you’re bored you can usually find a man who invites you to partake in some mini-games. These range from blackjack to memory games, all of which can be wagered upon. They’re fun diversions that are a great way to boost your cash reserves. But you’re here for the main quest and if you’re not patient, you just might bore yourself out of the title. It all unfurls very slowly until about the five hour mark in which the characters develop a personality and a life of their own. Even then, all of the moral decisions you had made preceding the turning point won’t make a difference. The game pans out the same way no matter what path you take with the only difference coming at the end. Depending on your moral alignment you’ll see a different ending. It’s not like a Knights of the Republic situation though, you can easily change your alignment by visiting the temples in the game and donating money to the good or evil god. It kind of ruins the game and negates the pressures brought forth by the moral dilemmas that the game presents in the early going.

Combat takes place in real time, moving the game into action-RPG territory. Hitting the white button will unsheathe your melee weapon while the black button brings out your ranged weapon. Players can lock onto their enemies by holding down the L button and perform blocks and evasive maneuvers with the Y button. The X button serves as your primary attack button which is used to have at your foes. After scoring consecutive attacks a stronger attack becomes available to you. By hitting B you can cause larger damage to your foes by dealing out a larger attack, one that’s capable of breaking through a guard. Magic is always readily available to you by holding down the R button. After holding down the R button you can perform one of four spells depending on what you have mapped out for your character. As the game places magic at your fingertips you’ll be able to readily access it in battle and chain it together with your melee attacks, causing even more harm to your opponents. If melee and magic attacks aren’t your bag you’ll have a third combat mechanism in the form of projectiles. Through the use of a bow you can attack enemies from a distance which allows you to deal out damage from afar. To register a decent hit players will have to hold down the X button in order to pull back the bow. In addition to the auto-target players can manually aim the bow to aim for specific body parts. However, the auto-target generally does a great job of nailing foes so it renders the manual targeting useless. Actually it seems like the whole concept of ranged weaponry is flawed. Most of the game’s combat in a mano-a-mano fashion, making it impractical to pull out a bow and try to nail a foe when he’s five feet in front of you.
While I like the combat system I feel that it’s flawed in numerous respects. My biggest gripe is that it’s difficult to target specific enemies. The developers should have made it so that the camera locks onto the nearest enemy. Instead it kind of turns it into a crap shoot with the game arbitrarily locking on to the worst possible target. As you may guess it makes it pretty difficult to deal with multiple foes at a time. Perhaps the designers realized this because combat is painfully simple. Nearly all attacks can be blocked and most enemies can be beaten simply by alternating between rolling and attacking. At times the game will toss an unreasonable amount of foes at you, but you won’t have many problems because they’re severely overmatched. In fact, the game almost expects this out of you because one of the primary gameplay mechanisms banks on your ability to avoid getting hit. In order to gain more experience points you’ll need to chain together consecutive attacks without taking damage. As you score more attacks your combat multiplier will increase and in turn, you’ll gain more points for defeating your foes.

And that’s where Fable’s largest problem lies, it’s simply too easy. Once you discover the combat system’s weakness you’ll exploit it over and over again until the end. And even if you can’t figure out that the enemies can’t defend against the almighty evasive roll, you won’t have problems because health potions and resurrection phials are available in such high quantities. In my experience with the game I only died once and that was because I left the game to pick up my girlfriend from class, not because I was defeated by a foe.

The game is easy but the combat system still has its merits. It’s rudimentary to the core but the combat system here is the best I’ve seen in awhile. There’s just something ridiculously addictive about it; much in the same way the combat in a dungeon crawler like Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance remains compelling. It never gets old and fighting enemies is always fun and refreshing, even with all of the system’s faults.

But combat is only half the story in Fable, when you’re not engaged in combat the interface resorts to a highlighted-based system. It’s a throwback to the adventure games of the late 90s where the character would turn his head towards an object that could be activated. Except here the game highlights the object with a blue hue which signifies that it can be manipulated. I found it to be a clean system as it shows you what you can and cannot interact with. It’s always been annoying to play those RPGs where you’re forced to run up to each and every object while wailing on the A button. Here the game takes some of the guesswork out of it which streamlines the experience.

All of those screenshots that you’ve been drooling over for the past couple of months haven’t been lying to you; Fable is indeed one of the best looking video games ever made. Nothing in the game really wows you but all of the components come together superbly to form one of the most powerful visual packages of all-time. My favorite visual touch is the way that the whites in the game blind you. One of the running themes in the game is the struggle between good and evil and the visuals help convey this as well. Actually lighting is used especially well in this game; the way it filters down and casts a surrealistic glow upon the world is breathtaking. Everything in the game benefits from the use of Nvidia’s bump mapping technology as well. It’s especially impressive to zoom in on your character and notice that depth and refinement in the soil that stands beneath him. In all the game is stunning to look at and with the exception of a few frame rate issues, it’s everything we could have possibly hoped for.

Since the game was developed in Britain the voice actors are all British as well. For the most part the accents and voices fit in well with the subject matter of the game. When I think about classic fables and heroic tales I often place them in a British setting, kind of like the Lord of the Rings movies. The only blemish in the game comes from the female NPCs which have the most annoying voices I’ve ever heard. Not only do they have very little to say, but their voices are high and shrill to the point where they grate on the nerves. Otherwise, the primary characters deliver their dialogue in rather convincing fashion. All of the music is well done and it helps set the mood for most of the game’s situations. It’s not something that I’d pay to listen to but it definitely does a great job of accompanying the action on-screen. Same goes for the sound effects, all of which benefit greatly from the inclusion of Dolby Digital technology. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t hear it for myself, but 5-channel separation plays a key role in this experience. In the midst of battle you can hear foes scrunching all about as they stalk you from all angles. When wandering through towns you can hear the hustle and bustle of daily life engulf you from all sides. Even when you’re traversing the meadows you’ll hear atmospheric noises which really put you into the game. As a package the sound design is a remarkable achievement in the field of audio engineering.

Fable isn’t the greatest RPG ever made, in fact it’s not even the best RPG on its system, but that doesn’t make it a failure. What you take out of Fable is derived from how much you’re willing to put into it. If you let yourself become engulfed in the world and take your imagination for the ride, you’ll dive into one of the deepest and richest experiences ever. If you ask too much from the game you’ll find yourself sorely disappointed. How you choose to play the game is truly how you choose to enjoy it.
Have you ever sat and reflected back upon a pivotal moment in your life? You know, the kind where you were forced to make a difficult decision where the two choices led to radically differing outcomes? This is what Fable proposes to inject in the RPG genre; consequence for each and every action that you commit. And while Fable doesn’t live up to the hype that itself and the rest of the media built for it, it’s still an excellent RPG that belongs atop any Xbox gamer’s Holiday Wish List.

Rating: 9 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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