Review by jimfish
"Peter Molyneux is a silver-tongued liar."
"Slander! Lock this lunatic reviewer up!" you might be screaming at the monitor right now, but just hear me out. The Fable before you is not the Fable that old Peter promised us. If you remember back to before the XBox's release, whispers were going around...whispers of the greatest RPG of all time; one where your choices evolved you, and the game world around you. One where you could burn and raid villages, and over time, watch it be re-built. One, where you could just wander the land, sit down by a river with a rod and fish for the rest of your life, without even picking up a sword.
...Hype. Something that all games need, but all games can do without. Without the hype, you've got no interest, and nobody even knows about your game. With it, you're playing a very dangerous game of raising your standards which you'll never reach. Fable, sadly, was drenched in the sticky sweet substance, and again, sadly, it suffered from it. What happened?
Everything that was promised, from vandalising property to non-scripted NPC interactions were ripped out, or at the very least, dumbed-down to the most basic of degree. I'm not arguing that Fable is a bad game, far from it in fact, but just a little non-angry, short rant about hype. Anyway, I'll try not to mention what's *not* in the game, and concentrate on what it is. :)
Okay, to be fair, I'm...on the fence-post so to speak about Fable. I played it a couple of years ago when it was released, cracked it open in about 2 days and felt disappointed. "RPG? What RPG?!" was my thought back then. I had a scrap of paper by my side when the credits finished rolling and so I just began writing. When I finished my angry, carnal scrawls, I saw the paper tattered and destroyed with foul words and...well, let's just say "negative comments" about the game. My room's not the cleanest in the world, and when the giant mound of underpants, paper and soda cans that pile up so far that it literally erupts, spilling its content everywhere, it's time to clean my room. Well, at the bottom of the garbage ocean was my angry rant, and looking at it lead me to playing Fable once more.
I'm going to start with the story - certainly the weakest that Fable has to offer. It's not a bad story (some elements I LOVE ENTIRELY @_@), but what Lionhead Studios fail at, is time-keeping. As such, the plot is rushed, feeling underdeveloped and taking second place to the effort the developers placed into gameplay.
The game begins with you, the nameless Hero who loses everything as a tiny young lad in his home town. His village is seized to the ground by fire, father slaughtered at the hands of blood-lusty bandits, and his mother and sister tortured and taken away. With nothing left for you at the burnt-out remains of your town, you're led by Maze, an experienced wizard to the Hero's Guild. There, he's mentored and trained to become a hardened champion fighter, released into the world to hopefully use your powers for good and earnest deeds...or for evil.
Sadly, the plot is split up into separate parts. The first is becoming a Hero, the second is finding your sister, and the third is some vague plot about saving the world from an evil mastermind. Vague is the word here, since the plot is not told through grand sweeping cinematic cutscenes, or wonderfully written dialogue, but through one or two lines of "It has the power to destroy the world!" kind of thing, and that's it. The dialogue is somewhat..."lacking" in Fable, but I'll cover that in the Gameplay section. Anyway, the story is nice when it's on the small-scale of things. but when it rolls around to the second act of finding your sister, it becomes a bit "wishy-washy", where details are skipped and things sped up just as a way to finish the game in time for release. For example, it doesn't actually explain what the main villain's motive is. Or who he is for that matter. I can't mention directly my others criticisms to the story, since it'll blow the plot and spoil it (the little there is to spoil, that is), but I've said pretty much all I've said. The main plot is few and far between with a bunch of unrelated side-quests to fill the gap. Disappointing.
Story aside, the rest of the reviewing categories (sound, graphics, gameplay, etc.) are going to be blended together here for the sole reason is that you can't seperate them. They're like...lamb and tuna fish. You can't have one without the other, or at least, not in Fable anyway. The entire world of Albion, where the game takes place, has the greatest of atmospheres ever created in a game. It's...well, magically awe-inspiring seeing all of the love and devotion that went into
creating the world. Beautiful - Just one word is needed to described it...beautiful. I'm not exactly open-armed with RPGs, since they're always dark and a bit too "medieval" for my liking, with too many Dag'Olkams and Bridge of Witculluments to grasp (why can't RPGs have nice names for characters and places, like Fred or Bill?) , but with Fable, I'm mesmerised.
What makes Fable nice is the quaint little towns you visit and their inhabitants. Get their early in the morning, and watch the work-men of the town unload supplies and carry them off to the local shops. Or arrive late in the evening, and follow the plebs home as they blindly stumble about drunk from the pub. None of the characters are there to advance the plot in anyway, nor are they there to give you jobs or quests, or for that matter to talk to you, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun with them. There's no dialogue in the game, so you can't ask them questions or say anything, but actions speak louder than words in Fable, and how true that is. As your character advances in the game, he can perform a multitude of actions: pelvic thrusts, flirting, swearing, manly poses, farting and more. How do the NPCs respond? They run, they scream, they swoon, they fall in love with you, they lock their doors or get the local law enforcement on you. And that is what makes Fable different from any other RPG I know. There's no divide between the characters, like in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, where there's only a few important characters who you can interact with, and the rest are unimportant clones who say the same thing, but in Fable, they're all unimportant. They don't have names. They don't have lines of generic dialogue. They're there because they're people inhabiting a town, nothing more. Have I confused you? Reading that last part back, I'm slightly confused myself, but hear me out. Since they're all unimportant, you can shrug them off without feeling forced into talking to them, giving the game just a bit more freedom to the player. BUT if they're all unimportant and generic, doesn't that zap away the realism the game tries to create? I don't know. It's a toss-up between the two - you either want to get lost in a world of NPCs for hours, just talking to them and hearing what they say, or, you don't. Simple enough.
Oh yes, nearly forgot that's not all. Dialogue aside, you can still interact with the NPCs in an amazing level never explored in a game before. The saying "Never judge a book by its cover" obviously never made its way into Albion's lore, since that's just what the people you meet do. A full-head of flowing hair will cause the babes of the world to fall under your charm, but having a vulgar, war-like tattoo scrawled across your face will make anybody turn and flee in terror. These things are open to you. Scattered across the lands are "Hair style cards" and "Tattoo" cards. Some you can buy, others you find. Taking these cards to the appropriate place (barber's or tattoo parlour) and you can style yourself to your heart's content - from the drop-dead attractive styles, to a ridiculous handle-bar moustache. Sadly, however, your hair only changes when you go to change it. It doesn't grow naturally (I could be wrong, but even if it did grow, it would have been barely noticeable), and that kind of gypped me off. But hey, does it really matter if your hair doesn't grow in the game? If anything, it might annoy me if I had to keep going to the barber's to cut it. Who wants that burden? "Sorry Mister Evil Bad Guy. I can't fight you and save the world. My hair's long-over due for a haircut. Is next Thursday a good time to fight for the fate of the world?"
Not only does your physical appearance play a part in how the NPCs of Albion perceive you, but the colour of your heart. Are you an evil son of a gun? Do you steal things from shops? Do you go on murderous rampages? Well, you're going to watch as your character changes...your eyes will glow red...demonic horns sprout out the top of your head, slowly getting larger and pointier with very foul deed you commit. Not to mention, if you slaughter an entire village and come back to it, the people will stop in their tracks and remember what you did, literally sounding as though they're pissing their pants in fear. Sadly, that's all the consequence there is to the game. "For every choice, a consequence" is the proud tagline for the game, but really, it's for that ten minute period where you do this - steal something and they'll say you stole, not for spitting on the sidewalk. You wave a trophy of your latest heroic victory around, they'll clap you and praise you. They forget things easily, and really, the only consequence in the end is whether you pay some money to the local guards (2000 gold is the price of murder, the highest of crimes.), or you just leave town and come back in 10 minutes when the heat dies down. Not very realistic. I once slaughtered an entire village, raking up a giant fine of 120,000 gold, but left town, came back about 8 minutes later and it was like the crime never happened. The only real "choice" is the ending, but sadly, that choice is linked to the vague "save the world" plot, remember? And that choice is literally a "Press A for Yes and B for No" kind of thing.
Okay. Enough of the amazing NPCs. How does the rest of the game stand up? Well, in the sound department, you'll be blown away. The scores for the game are just amazing. Whilst they're not exactly whistling-material, or that memorable to hum to, they still capture the atmosphere of the game. Tranquil, soft music flows as you walk through a giant meadow, and dark, brooding scores blast as you hack through murderous bandits in the middle of a deadly forest. Add this with the ambient sounds of nature...birds singing...rivers trickling...Pure bliss.
I don't think I've written a review for an RPG before, so I've never talked about the combat element. Combat in Fable is real-time, not turn-based like in Final Fantasy games, and makes up the heart of the game. As to how you fight is up to you, since there are three different styles; melee, ranged or Will (Will is basically the equivalent of magic, or The Force) and you can pick anyone you like, or two, or combine all three for maximum damage. Sneaking along, you spy a group of bandits attacking a poor caravan of travelling traders. What do you do? Pull out your bow and send an arrow between their eyes? Engage them head on? Or strike them with balls of fire conjured up by your own hands? How about all three?
By killing enemies, you gain general experience. The more people you kill, the more experience you gain. This general experience can be spent on leveling-up any area, be it Melee, Ranged or Will. Then, there's the specialist experience, which is gained by using the skills in combat. My qualm here is that, I'm not a magic kind of guy, I don't use magic that often in games since you have to switch between spells and buy potions and stuff (what's the point? Hokey religions and ancient spells are no match for a good sword at your side), so if I don't use magic, I don't gain magic experience. If I don't gain magic experience, I can't spend that experience on improving my magic. If I can't improve my magic, I won't use my magic. But, that's just me, though. Some people won't even pick up a sword in their game, so it all depends on the player, I suppose.
Anyway, with that experience you've just gained, you can level-up your character, improving his abilities in those three areas mentioned. If you focus on strength, you'll see your character get big and beefy muscles. Spend your experience on magic, and you'll see your character's hair turn white and look a bit like Gandalf. Neat, huh?
This is without a doubt the longest review I've written and I'm far from over yet, but I fill I might break my keyboard if I keep pounding on it like I am, so I'll shorten my points from this point on. This last category will be labelled "Bad Points", since there are quite a few in Fable.
The back of the game-case reveals three things: you can "evolve in real-time", that it's "never the same game", and the NPCs have "real reactions." Two out of the three are lies. You don't evolve in real-time, and nor do you age. To age, you have to spend experience points. The more you spend, the more you age. That's not real-time...hell, it's not even plausible, since you can age to 90 years old and the characters around you don't grow a day, not even your own mother.
The second lie is "never the same game", which is so false it's unbelievable that Lionhead got away with it. Every game is the same. You do the same quests, you fight the same boss, you go to the same places each time, you make the same choices each time. It's as linear as a ruler. What makes it even more linear is the lack of...movement. The maps's are small and are nothing more than paths leading from one place to the next. You can't speed your journey up by jumping over fences, or swimming across a river, since you can't do either. You're trapped in the confides of narrow pathways, whilst the character in Morrowind bounds all over the place going wherever he pleases.
Okay. I'm spent. I have a couple more cents left to give, but I'll spare you with this summary:
Fable is an RPG for beginners, like me. It's linear and very friendly, meaning you won't get lost in the plains of Morrowind (like I've done a billion times. ;_; It's so big!), and actually complete the game without too much trouble. However, the game can be a bit too easy on your second play-through, since you know what enemies you'll face, what skills are useless etc. Hell, you can even go through the game killing every enemy you face with a wooden stick once you know the game.
Over all, I'd give the game a nice 7 out of 10. It's not the RPG it promised it would be, but it's still a very cute game. If you're interested, I suggest picking up Lionhead's re-release of the game, known as Fable: The Lost Chapters, which adds back some of the lost features.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/04/06
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