Tech News on G4
Fable best left as a memory
Mar 6, 2014
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
With a name like "Fable," it makes sense that a decade after the release of this 2004 Xbox RPG, the game is best talked about and reminisced over, and not played. That's because the newly-released "Fable Anniversary" edition for Xbox 360 only shows how badly the game has aged, and a fresh coat of high-definition paint simply can't hide that fact.
Microsoft isn't one to shy away from revisiting its past Xbox glories, as it proved in 2011 with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. And while that game brought to light certain weaknesses from the original Halo that was released in 2001, it had some nifty features, such as an updated multiplayer suite and the ability to switch between the game's original and updated graphics at the push of a button.
Fable Anniversary does feature updated graphics and sound, as well as SmartGlass functionality, but it's not enough to hide what is in 2014 a clunky, awkward game. And that's not to mention a campaign that's rife with glitches.
The story and the world in which you play are still as intriguing and charming, respectively, as they were a decade ago. In Fable, you play as "The Hero," a boy who is torn from his family at a very young age after bandits raze the village in which he lives.
The Hero manages to get away, and is discovered and taken in by members of the Hero's Guild, a society of legendary men and women who raise the boy as a warrior. Fast forward several years past an initial tutorial section, and the Hero is out to seek revenge, searching the fictional land of Albion for those responsible for what happened years before.
The main hook in Fable is that everything about your character changes depending on how you play the game. You can dedicate experience points to three main areas of combat - strength, skill, and will. If, for instance, you focus on strength, your character will become a muscular giant. Continually adding to will and using magic, meanwhile, will cause your hair to turn white (a la Gandalf or Dumbledore), and your body to glow.
Battle scars will stay with you throughout the game, and you'll become slow and rotund if you're spending the majority of your time chugging beers and scarfing down meat and apple pies.
It's as interesting a mechanic in 2014 as it was in 2004, but the main campaign is relatively short for an RPG (though the original "Lost Chapters" DLC being included helps pad things out), and while there are numerous side quests, few of them are particularly compelling. What this means is you'll get out of the game what you put into it, but Fable Anniversary seems to go out of its way to take players out of the world of Albion.
You'll be doing a lot of moving between different areas of Albion, both by simply walking, and by using a convenient fast-travel mechanic that requires nothing more than holding down on the d-pad. The problem is, the load times when moving from one area to another are just long enough to become annoying. It's not that they last for a minute at a time, but 10 seconds here and 10 seconds there adds up when you're constantly travelling between places.
Audio and visual glitches abound, too. I saw NPCs in Fable Anniversary do some downright wacky things that would easily put them in any YouTube "best of" video featuring video game bugs and bloopers. Some spoken lines are annoyingly cut off mid-sentence, and certain sound effects occasionally manage to completely overwhelm both speech and music. My play through was not without its share of system lock-ups either, unfortunately. There were three by the time I beat the main quest, and that's three too many.
The biggest annoyance by far, though, is the aforementioned overwhelming clunkiness of the game. Lionhead Studios was smart to simplify controls by mapping the three different combat skills to three different buttons, but after two play throughs on the original Fable as both a melee and magic specialist, I attempted to be an archer extraordinaire in Fable Anniversary. Big mistake.
The lock-on mechanic - for every combat type, but archers especially - is just awful in Fable Anniversary. I lost track how many times I hit the L-trigger to lock onto an enemy, only to have the game point at some phantom object located in the exact opposite direction of where I wanted to look. Crossbows, meanwhile, need to be reloaded after each and every shot, and despite leveling up my skill (archery) tree almost exclusively for well over half the game, my character never seemed to improve how quickly he could reload. It got bad enough that I simply abandoned long-range weapons for melee and will, for the sake of my sanity.
While the user interface has been improved for the anniversary edition, it's still far from smooth or user-friendly. You can map numerous expressions and items to the d-pad - you can hold down the trigger buttons to add an extra layer of the basic four directions - but God forbid you need to change something quickly on the fly. Sifting through numerous menus using the d-pad to get to the item or expression you're looking for is cumbersome and annoying at best.
These combat issues are annoying, but on the flip side, they make time spent in Albion's many towns and villages all the more appealing. The game has a wicked sense of humour, and it's always a pleasure listening to the A.I. characters talk, with their U.K. accents delivering endless one-liners. Some of the humour is obvious, while some of it is more subtle, but it's all hilarious.
It's also fun seeing how people react to you depending on how good or evil your character is. I decided to play the bad guy in my Fable Anniversary run-through, and it was easy to clear a tavern just by walking into it; the screaming villagers couldn't run out fast enough.
The game may not be a technical masterpiece, but it certainly has its visual charms, and the graphical upgrade over its predecessor is obvious.
If you've never played a Fable game in the past - that includes the two successive sequels - and are itching for a non-turn-based role-playing game on Xbox 360, Fable Anniversary may have enough to be more than a curiosity to some players.
Those who have experienced it before, though, should tread lightly. As interesting a place as Albion is, even its many charms may not be enough for you to ignore all its shortcomings.
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G4 Canada (formerly TechTV Canada) launched in September 2001. G4 is the one and only television station that is plugged into every dimension of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Owned Rogers Media Inc., the channel airs more than 24 original series. G4 is available on digital cable and satellite. For more information, see www.g4tv.ca.