Summary: Fable is finally on the PC. The hyped action-RPG-living-world epic from Big Blue Box and Lionhead is in stores today and Jakub's got a review for you.
The single biggest concrete charge laid at Fable’s feet is that the game is too short. For a title that promised the ability to play through the life of a Hero, it was quite brief, even when counting the various side quests and optional missions. Reports circulated of people finishing the actual core game in less than 10 hours on the second time through. A long game may not necessarily be good (see: Daikatana), and good games can be short (see: Half-Life 2), but there are certain expectations built around RPGs. Outdated though the concept may be, one of the most common questions asked of RPG developers is how long their next game is going to be. When a game is actually good, well, of course players want even more of it.
Which brings us to the recently-released Fable: The Lost Chapters. It contains everything from the Xbox version, with additional storyline and side-quests, as well as new toys and goodies. It is a fairly simple action-RPG not unlike Diablo in some respects. Though it lacks the endless search for better loot and random dungeons, the style of action and simple stats of the character are very similar to the design that went into Diablo.
Where Fable steps away completely from Diablo is in story and presentation. Though the story isn’t dominant in any sense of the word, the setting is richly developed and the plotline is worth following through on despite being more or less optional. We’d consider it completely optional, but there is still a certain lack of content in the game and the main quests provide the bulk of the player’s entertainment.
The game features an art style somewhat reminiscent of Blizzard’s efforts in World of WarCraft and WarCraft III, combined with a similar penchant for mixing dark story themes with light colors. In fact, that was one of the great surprises about Fable – for such a tooty-fruity looking game, it’s full of dark themes and even disturbing scenes.
After reaching adulthood, the player has complete freedom of action. The Heroes’ Guild offers story quests, side quests and missions of the standard flavors – kill, find, protect, rescue, etc. Fittingly enough for a game which permits the player to choose good or evil paths, many of the missions are mirrored, meaning that instead of trying to escort a merchant through a hostile land, the player will be ambushing him. The pay and reward are usually the same, as is the challenge. A player simply has the choice of being good or evil. Once a mission is taken, the player has the option of making boasts – wagering money on not just completing the task but doing it in style. Think you can clear a cave of monsters without armor? Or without taking a hit? Make a boast and wager on it.
There are other ways to rack up the good and bad points as well. Various kinds of clothing and armor your character is equipped with will have effects on his reputation. Choose dark items to be menacing or light items for improved popularity with the masses; one can even mix and match to customize the appearance. Seeing as the character ages, his appearance will change rather quickly and will reflect his stats to a limited degree. More obvious effects are tattoos and hair styles, which have social bonuses and penalties not unlike armor pieces. Through the years… err… hours, the avatar will also collect battle scars and various stances and social actions. Initially he can laugh, burp and fart to affect the dispositions of those around him, but he can also learn to flirt, dance and other social tricks.
Among other collectibles are titles, ranging from “Chicken Chaser” or “Assassin” to “Liberator” and “Avatar”. Buy a title and listen as the peasants or city folk call it out as you pass by. Fable is full of small touches like this, for the purposes of atmosphere.
Not all quests are taken up at the Heroes’ Guild. Many can be found in the villages, wilds and roads of the world. Each zone is fairly small but they tend to be densely packed with monsters or NPCs. Sometimes you can run into a special challenge, like a demon door (which will open if you can solve a puzzle or fit its criteria – like being fat or married), or find the sword in the stone. To facilitate quick travel, there are teleporting stations all around the world. They need to be unlocked first, of course.
Combat is as simple as 1-2-3. Almost everything is done with the standard WASD setup and the mouse; the character’s style of attack depends on the direction he’s going and the mouse click. Even spellcasters have an easy time of it, but despite this it is generally challenging enough to be satisfying. Fable has just enough movement and attack options in combat to make things interesting, without making a hassle of it. It is definitely better, though easier, than what Jade Empire had to offer. Fable’s action flows well and suits the action-RPG genre perfectly, being more involved than Diablo or Jade Empire, yet not being confusing in the least.
Further adding spice to the combat is the experience multiplier. The more damage the player delivers, the higher the multiplier goes up. When he goes around to collect the green experience stars that enemies drop, he gets their experience times whatever the multiplier was – so he might get twice as much or twenty times as much. For every hit the player takes though, the game drops the experience multiplier, making for a real incentive to play smart.
That’s Fable’s biggest failing – it promises a lot, it delivers a lot, but it does so in the most simplistic fashion possible. In many ways, it’s like a more streamlined version of The Elder Scrolls – with global state triggers that are set off (“Hero is now known as Liberator”, “Hero has killed children in a town”), but, like in Elder Scrolls games, these settings are too obvious. While Fable is more streamlined and a more organic experience than Morrowind or Daggerfall, it also lacks their depth or huge size, thus falling into an uncomfortable middle ground. It’s not quite as story-driven as Jade Empire, it isn’t as open as Fallout or Morrowind, and the game doesn’t offer the “more, bigger, better” pursuits of Diablo.
Fable is still a good experience, but by lending itself to comparisons with other, more specific titles, it can be criticized for many faults. The sum total is worth exploring but it’s too easy to wish that more effort was spent on this or that.
One area where the game has clear and unambiguous shortcomings is in the writing. For a title with generally high quality production values, the plot is full of holes and the characters in the game are fairly flat, yet manage to behave in nonsensical ways. It’s one thing to criticize the denizens of a town for letting you back in after you just finished butchering them and paid a fine, since this is necessitated by gameplay and a typical compromise in many games. Where Fable starts falling flat is when characters are scripted by the storyline to make completely illogical decisions in the cause of perpetuating conflict and making things more mysterious.
The graphics, while impressive for the Xbox, fall well short of modern PC capabilities and even standards. Most notable are the low-resolution textures, a consequence of the small amount of memory available to the Xbox. Animations are crisp and natural but the models are lacking a few hundred triangles that they might have earned if this was a dedicated PC game. However, the art style of the game masks these shortcomings very well. In any event, the graphics aren’t as likely to break immersion as the writing.
|<% print_image("23"); %>||<% print_image("24"); %>|
|Gallery||Page:: ( 6 / 6 )|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|