Nobody enjoys being called names, unless of course it’s “Chicken Chaser”. Playing this title brings an overflow of memories from one of the most innovative and compelling games of its time. Fable was originally released on the Xbox in 2004, and at the time, offered something new and enticing to gamers: choices with real consequences. For the first time, players were faced not with the “illusion of choice”, but instead, a constant stream of decisions and repercussions that would ultimately shape the hero, and the world of Albion. No pressure, huh? Arguably, most of us are good, and enjoy playing the role of the hero that everyone loves and cheers for. However, Fable gave us the chance to explore the “what if” of the darker side, but in such a way that you could simply dabble and steal from the locals, or you could become a terrifying figure that shapes the course of the land for the worse.
Lionhead’s Fable was unique in its generation, and quickly became a bestseller and longtime favorite for many players around the world. The first time I played Fable, I was so enthralled by the fact that I found myself second guessing decisions, and wondering why I made certain choices. It actually forced me to wonder if I was actually that altruistic, or just wanting the locals to revere me. These lingering questions led me to do something I almost never did with games of that generation: I played through it again, several times. So, with the highly anticipated anniversary release, I was eager to look back and find out if this remaster could live up to my memory of the title.
As is often the case with a remaster, the first thing people want to know about is the graphical presentation. In Fable Anniversary, everything has received a complete facelift, including the lighting, which, unfortunately, was so good that all the characters then needed an actual face lift themselves. I gave up trying to convince myself that I left my hero’s helmet on for safety, when really heroism had not been kind to the poor bugger. I can recall playing it for the first time, and struggling to see clearly during an ambush in the dark woods because they were, well, dark. At the time, I thought it was incredible, but the definition between the scenery and the movement actually left me avoiding certain areas due to the difficulty navigating them without the map. Fable Anniversary offers many environments that beg for exploration and increases the overall ambience by offering a great diversity in the world’s design, including smaller details that were easily missed the first time. The experience was only improved with the improved graphics and sound, even the pushy guild master sounded better this time round.
With that being said, many other aspect of Fable have also received an upgrade, including the combat and live battles. I found them to be faster paced, with my flourishes and combos copping a hit to my pride every time someone was quicker than me. The spell selector was a more logical setup, and unlike the original title, I wasn’t accidentally flinging spells all over the poor NPCs; in live combat, however, the selection method was a slight distraction. So long as you make your choices and prepare before being ambushed it’s a comfortable way to play. The only thing I found actually frustrating was the d-pad. While timing XP potions for maximum leveling, I’d get stuck in the expression and item list. It was easy enough to get out of it again, but I often took excessive damage while looking for that position I didn’t preset, or while trying to use the background d-pad settings, and instead accidentally changing my live combat target. I did like the way all of the options were in logical groupings, just not so much when a bandit ruined my combo counter because I tried to flirt with him, instead of using a potion.
While gaining points is never on the top of my list, it’s often a rewarding feeling to earn them, and it gives you something else to aim for when you want to stay in a game past the main plot. Fable Anniversary has taken the ho-hum list of achievements to another level with smart quips and nods to pop culture, and other games throughout the list. Harry Potter, Fight Club, Assassin’s Creed, The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Game of Thrones, and even The Matrix all get a cheeky nod from Lionhead, among many others. All of the basics were there, from money collection to weapon hoarding, and even achievements such as “complete a quest naked” where the player has to wonder, “would I really do that for the points?” Yes, yes you would! The new save system is also excellent, in fact, I wish it was how the original Fable had worked too. There were enough slots for me to save at several decision points, so I could see it go either way if I really couldn’t decide. However, the crowning glory of the save system was when you could use it, namely anytime. Many times I had to stop playing because real life has no sense of consideration, and each time I’d save mid-quest, and it would return me to that exact same point!
Fable Anniversary also utilizes a companion app via Smart Glass; which sounds great on paper, offering real time maps and locations with secret reveals. It looked promising, with clear identification of the buildings, thus rendering constant screen zooms a thing of the past, as well as finding a barber for mutton-chop emergencies quicker! It also showed chest locations, which was helpful for someone like me that gets quest ADD- until further into the game when I realised that even after a chest was opened, it remained unchanged on the map which became confusing as the game requires so many revisits. Smart Glass did offer free roaming of Albion, which included an interactive map legend to toggle certain icons to keep track of quests and demon doors. However, quest logos would appear on the legend, but when I toggled them, they either didn’t load onto the map, or slowed it down so much that it was saying loading more often than it was helping. It was clunky, and while the live map views (including screenshots) were useful at times, it didn’t really offer more information than I already had.
Fable was one of the first games that had the “what now?” effect on me. This is when you complete the main story, and have to face facts that none of it actually happened, and it’s time to return to the real world. Even after all this time, and all the improvements, I still find Fable to be one of those stories where I wish it didn’t have to end. Anniversary includes The Lost Chapters, which was something I missed out on, so I’m glad I waited for the remastered edition to enjoy it as it added precisely what this masterpiece needed for closure. While Fable is not the challenge it once was, it still has the ability to push real life to the background and sweep me off to Albion to fight for the good (usually…) of the people. I can once again sleep well knowing that Albion is safe from the terror of Jack of Blades and that my hero conducted a himself in such a way that the young children could look up to him with admiration, and try to overlook the small details of the cruelty to fowl, and highly inappropriate donation of “The Sock Method”. Thank you Lionhead for re-releasing this part of gaming history. Here’s to another 10 years!
Note: This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, and provided to us by Microsoft Games Australia.