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Fable Anniversary Edition – Video Game Review

Fable (cover)In 2004 I was a university student looking for a great new game to play. I bought Fable, and within minutes of playing I had fallen in love with the game. Enchanting, fun, quirky, and unique in its atmosphere and tongue-in-cheek humour, it’s still one of my most fondly remembered games.

So you can imagine, when Lionhead Studios brought out a re-mastered version of the game earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to play it again. Would it be as good as I remembered it? Ten years on, would it still be one of my all time favourite games?

I can give that an enthusiastic yes! In fact, I was surprised at just how happy playing it made me feel – I was instantly drawn back into its wonderful world, and I’ve fallen in love with it all over again. The Anniversary Edition gives those who never got to play it the first time around the perfect opportunity to introduce themselves to this fantasy classic, as well as giving old fans the chance to rediscover its magic. I can’t recommend it enough!

The Wonderful World of Albion

For me, it’s really the world of the game that makes it so special. On the surface, Albion is like any other typical fantasy setting – there are monsters, bandits, magic, forests and waterfalls, dangerous caves, creepy marshes, quaint olde worlde villages and towns. But there’s also something different about Albion. Set in a semi-mythical past that doesn’t fit into any neat time period of our world, and with some quirky, tongue-in-cheek humour, it really feels like a world from a lost time, a fable.

Fable - WorldThere is an atmosphere that isn’t quite the same as any other fantasy setting either, an easy, light-hearted sense of enchantment and delight, with a much darker streak under the surface, a very British feel and sense of humour that is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, alongside an almost haunting quality that is hard to describe. The music captures this perfectly, the soundtrack setting up each area and story development so well. It’s also an extremely pretty world, making it a joy to sometimes ignore the quick travel and just run through (despite the fact that the re-mastered edition doesn’t appear to have shortened the load times between areas).

In this world you will encounter a large variety of different enemies, from oversized wasps to trolls, balverines (a type of very nasty werewolf) and hollow men (very creepy undead). The game often takes a common fantasy creature and gives it its own unique spin, such as the hobbes – goblin-like creatures that dwell in caves; they are said to be lost children whose souls have been stolen by dark nymphs (Just a story to frighten naughty kids? Then why do you sometimes find shrines with teddy bears on them when exploring hobbe caves?).

There is a variety of interesting elements, mini-games and side-quests to encounter throughout Albion. In some areas you will come across demon doors, stone faces that will open for you if you meet their demands. Some of these are easy to fulfil; others are more difficult, or pose riddles that need to be solved. One simply wants you to show him some romance; another asks you to guess his name; another is sick of bony adventures and will only open if you get fat (beer and apple pies come in useful here). Inside is the small realm of the demon door, what appear to be odd little pocket dimensions that contain a chest with a valuable item inside.

There are also houses you can buy and rent out, pub games you can take part in, hero dolls and named weapons to collect, a sword in a stone, temples to strange gods that promise rewards in exchange for money or sacrifices, and hordes of admiring fans to practice your hero posing on in each town. There are also fighting and archery competitions to take part in, and, later, the arena – one of my favourite parts of the game!

Hero, There is a New Quest Card Waiting at the Guild for You

Fable - CharacterI’d prefer to avoid spoilers, even for the very beginning of the game, but it is safe to say that after some dramatic events you will soon find yourself at the Hero’s Guild. This becomes your base throughout the game, where you receive quests, both side quests and storyline. You can sometimes choose one of two sides in a quest – will you save the town from the bandits or join them in their raid? – and the Hero’s Guild makes no moral judgement on your actions.

Quests are often simple, perhaps even a little generic, but the characters and circumstances and that ever-present sense of humour really bring life to anything that might have felt cliché. There are many elements that make quests a joy to carry out, including trophies you can show off for extra renown or hang on the wall in your house, but the best of these is by far the boasting system. When you accept a quest, you are also given the option to boast and put down money on those boasts in the hope of extra reward. Do the entire quest without getting hit once? Sure! Kill at least ten more hobbes than Whisper? Bring it on! This is how you often find yourself fighting completely naked except for a pair of union jack underpants, no weapons, fists out, against an army of bandits.

The main storyline itself is also simple, sometimes a bit predictable, but a classic, very enjoyable fantasy story, told well and enormous fun to play through. Not a save-the-world plot, this is more personal, putting a lot of feeling behind the fights and the developments. This main plotline is perhaps a little short, but there is enough extra material and side quests to make up for it. My advice? Don’t power ahead with the story – take your time and enjoy this fabulous world.

Chicken Chaser

After training at the Hero’s Guild, an institution that provides Albion with mercenaries, liberators, fighters, bandits, assassins and bodyguards, you will set out to explore the world and to make your name as a hero. This is a world that already has plenty of heroes – you are not special in that sense, and you have a long way to go if you want to rival some of the greats. You may encounter the occasional hero as you wander, as well as plenty of ordinary folk who will react to you with anything from faint bemusement to adulation, depending on your renown level. The people themselves are one of the delights of the game, particularly the children and the traders, and despite having a limited range of character designs between them, they are some of the most alive and personality-filled NPCs I’ve encountered in any game.

There is a lot of scope for making your hero unique – and this will affect how people react to you. A noble looking hero will command respect; a hero sporting the pudding basin haircut will be followed by laughter wherever he goes. Other choices in the game also affect your character. Gain points in Skill (speed, ranged combat, guile) and you will grow taller, gain Might points (toughness, strength, health) and you will grow thicker and more muscled, choose magic and your skin will begin to glow with arcane runes. Things are not always entirely in your control. You may want to be a beautiful hero with flawless skin, but if you don’t learn to dodge then you’re going to end up with scars. If you want to become powerful, you have to take time to train – levelling up also ages your hero.

Fable - ChickenThis way, the choices you make and even your gameplay style actually changes your character, something fairly unique and very interesting in this game. It has its good and its bad – I feel that my hero ages too fast when levelling up, in comparison to the main plot and the skills he receives. It’s also extremely hard to avoid having a halo and butterflies floating permanently above your head – if you want to be evil (or even simply not purely good) in this game, then you really have to work at it, as every enemy you kill will give you ‘good’ points (and it’s not like you can avoid killing them when they attack you first!). This means that evil characters may find they have to use the fast travel options as much as possible to avoid encountering monsters, which is really a shame.

Your character also noticeably has no name. This is because your given name is insignificant – your hero title is how people will know you. You will begin with the poetic title ‘Chicken Chaser’ and once you have enough gold you can choose from a variety of colourful names (Sabre, Hood, Druid, etc) from a title vendor. However, there is a certain appeal in dispatching a gang of bandits on the road, while a crowd of adoring traders claps and cheers ‘Chicken Chaser!’ around you.

Try to Get Your Combat Multiplier Even Higher

Fable - CombatAh, combat. This is something that can make or break a game for me. I like games to have good stories, but if they’re not fun to play then they fail in their most fundamental task – a game is a game, after all, and not a movie.

I love playing Fable and I really enjoy the combat in it. At its heart it’s really a simple button basher – very easy to learn and get the hang of, and easy to do well with some practice. However, once again it is the little touches that make it so great for me. In this game you can combine magic, strength and skill in a way that I haven’t seen much in other games. You don’t pick a class – you can be an archer, a sword-fighter, a magic-user, all at the same time, in the same fight if you want to. Loose an arrow at that bandit running at you, swing your sword at another while he’s staggered; when they get too close, throw a force push spell at them and knock them back, then why not switch back to the bow for a bit, and so on. Use different weapons and tactics on different enemies. Or focus on one weapon but combine the speed from the Skill menu, strength from the Might menu, and blinking abilities in the Will (magic) menu to become the ultimate sword fighter? It’s really up to you how you play, and this is incredibly fun.

Fighting itself is also more than just combat. It’s another challenge in itself, almost like a mini-game in which you can try to get your combat multiplier as high as possible. This consists of doing as much damage as you can without getting hit, something that requires careful tactics or quick dodging and rolling in big fights. A larger combat multiplier means more experience points, and will please the Guildmaster immensely.

Conclusion

Fable is an amazing fantasy game, not quite like any other I’ve played, with a unique atmosphere, a great sense of humour and fun, and an unforgettable world. There are some elements that really show the game is ten years old now, but on the whole it holds up as well today as it did in 2004. This is a game to fall in love with, and if you haven’t played it yet, I hope you’ll give it a try!

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