Fable Anniversary - Review
If video games are complicated to a non-gamer, then RPGs are downright impenetrable. Elemental weaknesses, damage multipliers, about thirteen statistics to be monitoring, it's easy for people familiar with the language of video games to underestimate the complexity of an already complex genre. Enter Lionhead's Fable, a game that, when it was first released in 2004, more than anything else, attempted to streamline and simplify the console RPG.
Now to some RPG fans, this is outright blasphemy. Talking of dumbing down a role-playing game potentially robs the genre of one of its core attributes: their incredible depth. Fable was, and still is, a weird mix of ideas, some of which work and many that don't. Game designer and Lionhead chief Peter Molyneux is known for hyping up his games, only to fail to deliver on a lot of his promises, and Fable was a prime example of this.
Fast forward to 2014 and we've now had access two Fable sequels as well as a dodgy Kinect spin-off. However, for many long-time fans of the series it's this latest anniversary edition of the original Fable that has them the most excited.
It's unfortunate then, that the experience is such a disappointing one. On the back of the case there's the usual marketing spiel about this being the definitive Fable experience. Rarely however, has this seemed so misplaced.
For starters, this anniversary edition comes with some appalling glitches and bugs. On several occasions, the game crashed simply for attempting to interact with a character. The only solution in most cases was to restart the Xbox and hope that the problem didn't occur again. Then there were the performance issues, towns and other populated areas would stutter and freeze as the frame rate jumped about. Worse, the camera would sometimes become stuck to my character's back, ensuring that I'd be unable to see what the hell was going on as he proceeded to be mobbed by bandits or werewolves.
Similarly, many of the game's claims are somewhat false, or at least incredibly misleading. Loading times were meant to be shortened; the original, especially the Xbox version, had some hefty load times between areas and cutting them down would certainly make the adventure feel more seamless. In reality, they seem no shorter in the Anniversary edition that they did in the original game. In fact, many loading screens were actually longer than the PC version that was released way back in 2005.
The combat has also undergone something of a change. Again, the marketing tag-lines state that this a great thing, as the interface has been "acclimated to fans that loved the play styles of Fable II and Fable III". What this means is that you have the option of forcing Fable 2's control scheme onto the original game. Why you'd want to is anyone's guess, especially since doing so means that certain combat elements, such as casting multiple different spells in the heat of combat, becomes downright impossible. Again, this is something that could have worked but the fact that what you're left with is almost useless control scheme will have you dashing into the options menu in order to switch to the original layout.
This leaves the graphics to be the only actual improvement over the original. It's a nice touch, and it's not just a simple graphical improvement but one that brings the game's aesthetics more in line with the series' sequels, making the entire trilogy feel more cohesive. Not that it manages to completely succeed in this aspect thanks to the many annoying visual hiccups; the most prominent being textures not loading properly.
It goes without saying that all of these problems manage to ruin what could make the game potentially fun to play. Fable never had the most deep combat, with many skills ranging from being useless to game-breakingly overpowered. However, when you can't even enjoy the basic pleasure of casting a fire spell because the game's frame rate will collapse, there's something seriously wrong.
Setting the technical issues aside, how has Fable aged? Overall... not very well. Its story of a boy who grows up to either become a evil-doer or a hero still thinks it's far funnier than it actually is. There's numerous comparisons to Monty Python and Terry Pratchet's Discworld and claims that the game has a truly "British" sense of humour. If by British it means an abundance of fart jokes, annoying accents, and every NPC calling the protagonist Chicken-Chaser then that doesn't bode well for British comedy.
Likewise, the good/evil morality was all the rage back in the early 2000s, but now Fable's choice to be either good or evil doesn't carry much weight. Again, this is where the writing injures the gameplay. While the game makes a stab at comedy, it also backtracks occasionally and asks us to take a moral decision; requiring is to take the story somewhat seriously. Do we kill someone, or spare them? It's rather awkward to attempt that kind of thing when you've already established that your world is rather silly, you can't have it both ways. In many cases, your choices never seem to have all that much of an impact, either on the story, or on the way you play the game. Sure, some spells are easier for a good character to cast and vice versa, but in many cases the morality system and the actual gameplay fail to connect.
By far the biggest issue that should have been rectified in this overhaul was the menu system. In the original it was a nightmare. Trying to find the sword you wanted to equip amidst the abundance of mushrooms, apples, pork pies, and stolen trousers you'd accrued became a major pain. It's been simplified slightly, with each item being given it's out menu list: spells, weapons, items and so on, but it still results in a ridiculous amount of menu navigation just to do the most basic of things.
The most disappointing thing about Fable Anniversary though is that it's the really devoted fans that'll be the ones to suffer, since they'll want to rush out and buy it. The myriad of technical issues ruin a lot of the enjoyment that you could get from the game, and will likely having you hankering for a standard definition version to play. Lionhead are supposedly working on fixes to a lot of the glitches but the fact that the game was released in the state it is, does leave something of a sour taste in the mouth.
Fable may have not quite been the fantasy RPG that some made it out to be, and since its release it's definitely been eclipsed by more well-rounded role-playing games that make better use of their different features. As a gateway into the genre however, Fable is up there with the best of them, simplifying the genre for the lay-person. It's a shame then, that this anniversary edition fails to do it justice.
Fable Anniversary was released, in the UK, on February 7th for the Xbox 360.
© 2014 LudoLogic