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Fable Review for Xbox
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 @ 05:12:11 pm E.S.T

Decisions. We make them everyday: good or bad, Bush or Kerry, pork or fish, everything that happens is based on a decision someone made somewhere along the line (barring Acts of Nature, of course). There have been few games to ever exploit this, the most basic fact of our existence, with the exception of games produced by the legendary designer, Peter Molyneux. Molyneux is the inventor of the "God-Game", where you control every aspect of the game except for the characters in it, the most famous of these being the "Sim" series by Sid Meier. This game is very much reminiscent of Molyneux's most recent attempt before Fable, Black and White, where the boundaries of good and evil are clear and for every action you take , there was an equal and opposite reaction somewhere in the game world. To an extent the same can be said about Fable.

Fable is such a game that you can not so much as fart without consequences. Fable is a game that allows you to refer to your character as “I” and not “He”, like “I bet I could bag that snooty town mayor.” As you relate to the character you begin to feel a profound sense of accomplishment for finishing the various objectives and scattered side-quests the game presents to you, and likewise feel disappointed when you run into incredible Deus-Ex-Machinae which seem to crop up in the least welcome of places. For example, when you are arrested you must steal the keys to your cell by slipping past the prison warden while he is reading you poetry (which he is only doing in the first place because you won a race that you had to run for his amusement) that is conveniently located on a wall which he must stare at for the duration of the recital.

The combat is awesome. This is a good thing, seeing as you will spend more than half the game slicing away at wave upon wave of foes. Essentially, melee combat consists of two options: press X multiple times for a combo or Y for a power attack that you can use after landing a series of regular attacks. Your melee skills are improved by using them more often (duh) as every time you hit someone, yes anyone, with a melee attack you get five “Physical” experience points, time the “Combat Multiplier.” The “Combat Multiplier” multiplies any amount of experience received from any given source by some amount based on how much damage you have inflicted. After a certain period of time the multiplier begins to fall; it also falls if you are hit or if you leave the area you are currently in. The game offers more than just melee to vanquish foes, although none really match up, in my opinion to the sheer coolness of standing over a dazed foe and pressing X to raise your weapon slowly and thrust it deep into the torso of your enemy. For the thieves among us, you may like the “Skill” experience set. The “Skill” abilities include archery, which is much the same as melee except more stealthy, “Guile” which entails lock-picking, pick-pocketing and sneaking, and “Speed” that is simply how fast you move/reload/swing your weapon. As with melee, you gain “Skill” experience by using “Skill” abilities, like your bow or stealing. Be forewarned, stealing and picking locks will get you arrested almost immediately, the game makes it mighty hard to be a bad guy. The deepest component of combat is possibly “Will”, Fable’s magic. The game has 30+ spells that can all be upgraded up to 4 levels. You access your magic powers by holding the right shoulder button and using A, B or X to select a spell, Y is to switch “pages” if you have more than 3 spells. Most magic is either locking or has an area effect, so it comes in very handy in combat and is not at all hard to use. Another way to collect experience is to pick up the big green “General” experience orbs, that enemies drop, and which can be used for anything; they are the base of the experience system. One more way is finding and drinking special potions which allow you to increase your experience in a given category.

Getting from one objective to another is not at all tedious, as your hero comes equipped with a very intuitive “Guild Seal,” which allows you to teleport to key areas of the game world that you have already visited.

If there is one thing Fable does fantastically, it is giving the player a sense of time. Days will pass in a realistic manner, where shops close at night and werewolves hide in the daylight. Likewise, as the days pass your character becomes older and visibly so. His face will have wrinkles form on it and his hair will become gray and thin. The same way time affects your appearance, the more good or evil decisions you make will cause your character to either form a halo and become surrounded by butterflies, a fantastic effect, or grow horns and attract flies, an effect that looks stupid honestly. The influence your "Alignment" has on your character does not end there; as certain spells become more or less powerful dependant on whether you are a good guy or a hell spawn. An evil character, for example, has the ability to take control of his enemies’ minds', but cannot heal himself with magic.

One of the most enjoyable experiences you will have playing this game is going through your "Personality" stats. These include: Farthest Chicken Kick, Number of People that have Fallen in Love With You, Number of Times had Sex, and Number of Times Vomited. Along with these are about thirty or so other statistics that serve as a numerical log of the game's sandbox features. Just about anything you can imagine doing in real life you can do in Fable, getting married, joining a gang, fishing, digging, it's all there. This does bring about a big problem from a design standpoint, though, one that Lionhead decided to skip over: "How do you make all of these things affect the story, what will the ending look like if you get married? and if you don’t get married?

The combat is also quite fun. The controls work as if they are an extension of your character's body, and switching in between the three battle types (magic, melee and ranged) is painless. The gameplay would have fared better had it rewarded you more for specialization. If you are like me, you will hate nothing more than failing a mission multiple times because some dweeb you are escorting could not handle stubbing his toe and, because you decided to not spend your precious experience on any healing spells to save him, dies in about five seconds. If you spend your experience on melee skills, you should be able to kill all of the weak little monsters with one slash of your mighty sword. You don’t want to worry about whether or not some goon will sneak around a corner and slice up my escorted.

All of Fable’s many quirks and toys are wrapped up in a beautiful package of sound and visuals that are more than a testament to the power of the Xbox. The graphics, while cartoony, are not overly done and the environments look fantastic. Fable also boasts the best spell effects this side of Final Fantasy. More subtle animations, like swaying trees and clothing, are well-done and not at all glitchy. The one problem in the visual department is the camera; that gives you a great view of scenery, but tends to drift away from the action during battle, unless you go through the process of locking on to each and every monster you are fighting, which can get clumsy when fighting nearly thirty super-midgets at one time.

The sounds in this game, whether you listen to them in 6.1 surround or standard mono, convey a mystical world of magic and mayhem in a time forgotten. In other words, they are phenomenal. The ambient sounds of movement, like rustling leaves, birds, and really nature as a whole, are quite outstanding and are purposefully not overpowered by the light, medieval-toned, background music. The greatest standouts in this category are the various reactions of townsfolk to your arrival in town (even though the !@#$neyed accents do get on your nerves after a while) either running over, clapping and cheering “He is so wonderful” or running away, screaming “Please don’t hurt us!” in pure terror. I assure you that the first time you hear the townspeople speak your name and tell of the things you have done, you will be taken aback.

However, we all know that all that glitters is not gold and this title barely misses the mark. Just as you begin to become comfortable with your character and all of the gears start moving, BOOM, it’s over. That’s right; you can go 12 hours and out. Roughly 130,000 man hours went into the production of this game (365 days x 4 years x 6 hours/day x 15 team members) to produce less than one-ten thousandth that amount of play time, one would think the good people at Lionhead Studios could have scrapped together a little more than that or at least found a way for your actions to not only affect the game world, but the game story itself.

All in all though, one must respect the game for its technical merit and its ambition. I personally have extended the game’s life to about 40 hours by playing through multiple times and seeing just how different outcomes of different quests affect my renown and appearance. I believe that we will see a Fable 2, probably under a different name and most likely marketed as a different franchise, but nonetheless a “Choose-your-own-adventure” type game with a refined level-gaining system and more than one plot line. This game is worth your fifty dollars if you are a lover of RPG’s or action games, but not if you are the kind of person who blazes through a game once and expects it to last more than 2 days. Fable is a bold step in the right direction for Action-RPG’s, though it really should have been more of a leap.

Review By: David Onstott - 2319 Reads

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