Fable (Xbox) Review

The Short

Pros

– Excellent RPG taking you from boy to man in the shoes of a Hero

– Spec out three separate spheres – magic, ranged, and melee – based on how you use them

– Moral choices and freedom let you shape your character and the world

– Tons of options available, from tattoos to hairstyles to clothing and armor

– Action-RPG combat system that has a surprisingly decent melee and a fun ranged system

– Game looks great, sounds great, and really sucks you in

Cons

– Doesn’t fulfill even a sliver of the promises made by Peter Molyneux, aka the biggest gaming liar ever

– Despite having tons of depth, all of your character interactions are stale and shallow

– Story is stupid nonsense with a bland payoff

– Load times are so, so so so long.

– Lots of little dumb problems that probably sounded like good ideas on paper get annoying quick

– Really easy

– Magic sucks except Time Slow, which is overpowered insanity

– Can’t play as a girl

– Where my acorn, Molyneux? WHERE’S MY ACORN?

Off on an adventure (all screenshots from the PC version)

The Long

Believe it or not, there was once a time I didn’t waste my days submerged in video game news and information, and because of this I missed all the hype spouted by Peter Molyneux about this game until after the fact. I remember my roommate and neighbors at the time were super excited about this game coming out on Xbox my freshman year of college, and I have no idea what they were talking about. When the game finally did show up, some were disappointed, some were elated, and some didn’t care. I gave the game a run-through on my roommate’s Xbox and guess what? Having literally no idea what this game was and with no expectations, I loved the crap out of it. Fable is a game series that has always done well in immersing you into a massive, sprawling world that you feel you are really a part of. But while the sequels kept trying to capture the magic of the original while piling on more and more of Molyneux’s broken promises, I still feel the very first Fable is the best game in the series, and a must for any action RPG fan to play. And here is why.

First, you can look like this!

Fable‘s story is nothing to write home about. Essentially “Hogwarts, but replace ‘wizards and witches’ with ‘heroes,'” Fable stars YOU! Yes, YOU! A young hero boy, who only wanted to buy his sister a nice present before douchebag bandits showed up and murdered everybody! Luckily some hero wizard guy shows up and, rather than showing up ten seconds earlier and saving everybody, he shows up later and says “tough deal about your family. But YOU’RE A WIZARD, HARRY!” and off you go to Albion’s School of Heroism and Really Big Swords. Where you know it’s racially diverse because there are two black people in the whole world. But that isn’t the point.

Anyway, there’s some story arc revolving around your mom and sister still being alive, and Jack of Blades being a big bad…person for some reason and you have to kill him before he ruins Hogwarts, and…ok, the story is stupid. Luckily for you, the little side stories (and all the voice work) is excellently done so you’ll have a much funner time just running around messing with people than doing the actual story. It’s weak, unmemorable, but also isn’t particularly important for games like these (where you are supposed to be telling your own story), so I’ll give it a C- but let it pass the class. This time. 

And here is the headmaster, Dumb…er, Bumblebore!

The story is just a setting to say: “You have to help people, or you can be a massive jerk to them, or both. Also: magic.” The actual game in Fable is pretty simple. You have three schools of combat to work with: physical (being melee), agility (being shooting stuff with bows), and magic (being…magic). What is cool about how this system works is that every time you kill an enemy you get both general XP as well as a bonus XP based on how you killed them. If you bashed them a lot with a sword you get red Physical XP, shot them a lot you get yellow Agility XP, etc. General XP can be spent anywhere, while the specialized have to be used in their specific tree. Meaning the more you use one type of sphere, the better you get at it, though it’s still easy to multi-class as you just have to start using a sword more to get XP for that specific area. It’s something Oblivion did like crap and Skyrim did really well, so it’s good to see Fable streamlining it to a point that it works almost perfectly (even if it is a bit too easy).

But aside from that, the real fun in Fable comes from the simple idea of just messing around and making your person exactly the way you want to. Fable was one of the first games of recent generations to really push the whole “Morality System” thing that now stinks up every game that seems to come out, though it did so in such a comical and over-blown way that I’m willing to forgive Fable for starting this trend. Basically you have a bunch of options in Fable. Want to give money to people and be their friends? You can do that. Want to murder everybody in town and steal all their stuff? You can do that too. Want to sacrifice people to some demi-god of darkness and get the best bow way early in the game? Do it. Want to be a pansy nice guy and donate all your hard-earned money to charity? You can do that too. The point is that everything you do adds either good or evil points to a slider, and where that slider stands can influence many aspects of the game.

Oh crap, I forgot to talk about combat. We’ll get to it.

Be really good and people will love you, you’ll glow with inward goodness, have a halo, and butterflies will flutter around your pristine hairline. If you are evil you’ll bald, giant horns will pop out of your head, your eyes will burn red, flies will buzz around you, and the ground beneath your feet will burn. So yeah, pretty stark contrast. It honestly doesn’t do much aside from make you look weird (and have people run away from you); the overarching “story” doesn’t have any influence and nobody seems to care if you are evil or not except nondescript NPCs, but it’s a nice artistic touch.

Anyway, let’s go back to the combat, which is actually pretty simple. Melee is usually just button mashing, though if enemies block you can instigate a guard-block break move when you combo enough (also a knockdown move) to keep it busy. Archery requires you to pull the bow back (the time of which can be decreased with level-ups) and then fire for maximum damage. And magic…well, it sucks, to be honest. It’s never particularly powerful and most spells are useless, except Time Slow, which is the biggest hack in the world. So just learn that one.

Combat is extremely easy, especially if you play an archer and know where to get the best bow in the game on like the third mission. There’s also no penalty to wearing heavy armor vs light robes, meaning you should always wear heavy armor all the time. There’s also no real stealth in this game, which is too bad, since I wanted to make a ninja. Basically the combat is fun but not particularly challenging, and if you stock up enough on potions you’ll make it through the whole game without dying.

You can augment weapons with certain runes, ala Diablo II

Back to the random crap: there’s lots to do. Getting married, buying shops, cutting your hair, getting tattoos, getting scars if you suck at fighting and take a lot of hits, doing random quests; the list goes on. What actually matters is this: I felt immersed in the world. Yes, it’s really just a string of different areas linked together with awful load times, and yes it is actually a very limiting world once you dig deep (again, no stealth system, etc.) but I didn’t care. I got connected to my character in ways few games do. Being able to provide so many levels of customization made me attached, and the fact that the camera stays close behind helped me always keep an eye on him. I wanted him to be the most evil bastard Albion had ever seen, and I dressed him accordingly and slaughtered everybody with awesomeness. I really felt like I made the guy I wanted to make for the first time in any video game, and it was an experience.

And you stab lots of guys

I could go on, but I think I covered it enough for now. The point is thus: Fable is a fine game if you go in with moderate expectations. Is it flawed? Yes. Did it totally fail to live up to the expectations? Yes. But as a game it’s fun, quick, and sucks you into its world. Which is more than enough for me.

Graphically this game looks really good on both original Xbox and especially good on PC, even now. The game is colorful and flashy, with character models that have a cartoony British flare that has since become a theme of the series. Sounds are also fantastic, with excellent voice acting all around, though I wish your character spoke some time.

Now go forth and fish!

I can’t say much for where this series went – Fable II was ok and Fable III was an abomination – but I still have a good deal of fondness for Fable. Something about it really resonates with me (and most of my friends, based on their opinions) so much so that I’ll go back and replay it every couple of years. If you enjoy action RPGs where you “forge your own destiny,” than you really owe it to yourself to check out Fable. Though if you do be sure and grab Fable: The Lost Chapters; it has an expanded ending as well as some more weapons.

And while I still say it’s flawed, I really think everybody should play Fable. There’s something in it for everyone.

Four out of five stars. 

Yay for Fable!

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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