When the screen shots first appeared for games guru Peter Molyneux’s new project, later entitled Fable, there was a massive buzz not only about the quality of the graphics but what they represented. Originally called Project Ego, the game supposedly offered a true 3-D environment where your character would react and be affected by what he did. Walk around during the day too much and your skin would become deeply sun-tanned. Go out only at night and gain the appearance of an albino. Scars from battle, a body open to the ravages of time, hairstyle, tattoos, a reputation dependant on how you behaved and a different game each time, Project Ego was the wet dream of wet dreams for RPG players eager for the next step.
So when Fable suddenly appeared under a new moniker toward the later end of 2004 questions were being asked, mainly could it produce all it set out to do?
First off lets put things in perspective – Fable is a good game. Its intelligent, enjoyable with a lot to do and a clever touch of British humour. However, placed against the lofty objectives set, Fable falls down.
Lets start with the front end. The graphics are average and cartoony. Certainly not matching expectations. Fable is colourful, even when you choose the dark path, and characters, scenery and objects all have a cartoon touch to them which makes the game look somewhat childish. The obvious reason is that the size of the game is too big to allow for sharp, deeply-detailed animations that would have given the game the dark, edgy visual element that such a game craves. Another reason must surely have been the appeal factor, the graphic style does obviously appeal to a wider range of ages, offering a more ‘adventure’ based idea.
Controls are easy to use, the various menus both on screen and brought up by pressing the start button can be quickly searched through to achieve your goal. This is all very well because the main gameplay is a mix of wander/combat that is, as all RPG’s seem to be, a little repetitive and at times annoying. Variety is very much a factor in Fable though, tasks available to you through the guild house vary between fighting and searching or a combination of both. Within the two labels of ‘fighting’ and ‘searching’ there is a lot of choice; from defending a village against attack to finding an old lady’s lost grandson.
The key selling point though is the choice to be good or evil, hero or villain. Slaughtering villagers, peasants and anyone who comes across your path sees your character slowly develop a pale skin followed by horns and even red eyes. Other characters in the game will be deeply afraid of you, shown in their timid, British-accented responses when you come into proximity with them. Heroes on the other hand are welcomed everywhere. With good looks and gold, flowing locks villagers willingly converse with you and occasionally offer hints or pieces of information.
There is also plenty to do besides the missions and the main story arc. Hidden silver keys give access to locked chests with special items inside. The more powerful the item inside the greater the number of keys needed to open it. You can get married, multiple times, get drunk and take part in all kinds of gambling games. With so much to collect as well, from tattoos to weapons, and return trips to the guild needed to level up the various attributes of your character, there is no shortage of customisation. Game length isn’t great, there is a lot to do but not all of it has to be done, if you just follow the main story arc you can complete the game in ten or so hours of solid gaming. Not that you should, because you’d miss out on a lot of the extra features that make the game enjoyable.
Overall Fable is a good, enjoyable game that offers some new ideas which should appeal to many different types of gamer. There is though that thought of what might have been.
Reviewed by Owen Jones © 2005