The fate of Fable has been heartbreaking. Last generation Fable was one of Xbox’s top franchises, carrying the console’s first-party output along with Halo, Forza and Gears. Since 2010’s Fable III, the iconic action RPG series hasn’t received a mainline entry. Fable: The Journey, a Kinect game, was a train-wreck and Fable Legends, the 4v1 multiplayer title was cancelled in 2016. The historic developer, Lionhead, also couldn’t survive the cancellation as they were shut down by Microsoft. However, even in those dark times there was hope for the franchise.
Reports began to surface about the cancellation and the termination of Lionhead; reports about multiple publishers bidding for the rights to the IP and the developer. Microsoft had been more than open to selling Lionhead and keeping their developers employed, though Microsoft still didn’t even consider parting ways with the beloved IP. No publishers wanted Lionhead without also receiving Fable. It was sad that a legendary British studio had to be shut down but the message was clear… Microsoft still cared deeply about Fable.
From there the plot thickened. In 2017 fellow British developer, Playground Games, (from the Forza Horizon series) announced that they’d be building a second team to work on an new IP. Late that year, job listings had stopped referring to the title as a new IP and instead openly referred to it as an open-world, action RPG game. Following rumours in early 2018, several major sites reported that Playground were, in fact, working on reviving the seminal British series. At E3 2018 Playground had joined Xbox as a first party developer and head of Xbox, Phil Spencer himself, teased the game on stage. Since then Playground’s Fable has been the worst kept secret in gaming.
Whether Playground brings back Fable or another studio does, instead of just drooling over the idea of Fable, let’s take the time to go mad with speculation and talk about everything we want from the next entry in the franchise.
The Right Setting:
Fable has a surprisingly deep lore pool, so I see no reason to get rid of all that history for no reason. While the next game shouldn’t rely on established plot points from the original trilogy, the new game can definitely be set in the same rich timeline. The first Fable was set in the golden age of the Hero’s Guild, where heroes and villains with extraordinary abilities roamed Albion freely. Fable II, on the other hand, was set 500 years later; the Hero’s Guild was dead, magic had seeped out of the land and the industrial revolution was underway.
If I were writing the next Fable I’d set it in the years leading up to the fall of the Hero’s Guild. The end of the Guild is perhaps the most important part of Albion’s history that we didn’t get to witness in Lionhead’s trilogy and I see no reason why we shouldn’t revisit the era. Players would be able to return to the first Fable’s trademark magical, fairytale world, unbothered by technology. The gameplay and aesthetic opportunities are abundant as players would be able to fully utilise magic and go up against all manner of magical creatures. However, the narrative implications are what get me excited.
The death of an era always brings a sense of melancholy and desperation and we don’t need to look much further than Red Dead Redemption II to see how effective this can be. The definitive end of the Guild doesn’t need to happen at the end of the next game: perhaps it can be the dramatic climax of the second or third game in the rebooted saga. Either way there’s a ton of potential when it comes to when/where to set Fable and Playground can’t really go wrong.
Fable’s satisfying hack and slash combat, while fun at the time, won’t hold up against other contemporary action RPGs now. This doesn’t mean that everything should be thrown out of the window, just that it needs to be modernised to quite a large extent.
The biggest improvement Playground could make would be to significantly increase weapon variety. The Fable trilogy had short swords, hefty axes and clubs that all felt the same. Some were slower, some were quicker, but the animation for all of them was exactly the same and there was no strategic advantage for using one weapon over the other apart from stat differences. Spears, daggers, whips and a shield would go a long way to adding variety to Fable’s melee combat.
Ranged weapons weren’t very viable in most situations, especially if the player was focusing on offensive magic. To alleviate this I’d include airborne enemies that require a bow and bring back stealth so quiet, ranged weapons can be useful when sneaking up on an enemy.
Finally, the third pillar of Fable’s combat, magic, needs the least adjustment. Just go crazy with it. I’d love to see necromancy, time manipulation and blades all come back, but with the Fable universe there’s so much more the game could do. If the ideas in the cancelled Fable Legends are any indication though, spell slinging will look beautiful.
An Open-world and Freedom:
Fable II did offer players some more open environments; now it’s time for the series to level up with a full open world. I’m talking about minimal loading screens; rideable mounts; secret caves, towns and temples etc.
It’s been almost 3 years since The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released, and it’s time some open-world games took notes. It would be impossible to give players the same amount of autonomy in a story focused series such as Fable, but there are lessons to be had.
Many open world games fall into the trap of removing any urgency. There’s a world ending threat but somehow our heroes have time to meander for hours? Breath of the Wild dodged this in a very clever way: every minute of that game felt like you were preparing for the final encounter, not delaying it. You could confront the final boss from the very beginning of the game, but you’d simply be crushed.
The next Fable could adopt this philosophy if you start the game as a child like the first two. Of course a child wouldn’t be able to defeat the ultimate big bad of the game… this way players don’t feel a lack of urgency in the story since every side-quest, detour or collectible is just preparation while they grow up and grow strong.
Fable’s always had a lot of choice; it’s just never had a ton of consequences. Yes, there were some story decisions players could make that would sometimes affect the game world (particularly in Fable III) but it was mostly artificial decisions. Killing people for no reason, farting in people’s faces and becoming an exploitative landlord just gave your character cool looking horns and gruesome red skin.
Since the original trilogy, other RPGs have made significant strides. The Witcher 3 had an absurd amount of endings based on Geralt’s actions and no developer has attempted to have player choices progress through the series in the same way that the Mass Effect trilogy did.
How about having a village fall into poverty if you charge extortionate rent prices? Or how about some big decisions actually splitting the story in two, similarly to The Witcher 2? Fable did always give players the option of being either good or evil, so why not have two stories depending on your morality?
The cosmetic changes in the original games were definitely endearing, there’s no question about it. However, if Fable wants to compete with other contemporary role-playing-games it needs to let players do just that, actually role-play.
Fable is somewhat wrongly remembered as a series that focused too heavily on slapstick humour. However, in reality, it always walked the line between dry, British wit and heart wrenching, fantasy drama perfectly.
Sure, the game did have a lot of silly toilet humour. But burping, farts and chicken dances all endeared me to the ridiculous and one-of-a-kind world of Albion even further… “you are now evil enough to use the middle finger expression”. Plus, Fable had its fair share of genuinely hilarious moments where it didn’t rely on cheap gags.
There’s also a lot of dramatic sophistication that Fable doesn’t get credited for. Across all three games there were moments of severe heartbreak and tragedy, along with some serious, timely subject matter. Poverty, hope, heroism and greed were always prevalent ideas across the Fable trilogy and whatever’s next for the series can’t forget that.
-Start the game as a child. This is essential to Fable’s DNA for reasons I can’t fully explain. Maybe it’s because it helps players feel like they’ve been on a journey with their character. Maybe it’s because of Fable’s emphasis on the whimsical and fun. Or maybe it makes the character’s fate and loss of innocence that much more profound.
-Deeper character customisation. Fable always allowed you to change clothes, dye hair and get tattoos but it was always missing a genuine character creation screen. I want to pick my character’s height and race, while things like my weight and appearance change depending on my diet and morality.
-Demon doors need to return. I mentioned Breath of the Wild earlier and I will again. The 600 shrines (mini-dungeons) in that game added to the sustained sense of progression and demon doors have the potential to out-do Zelda. In past games these giant stone doors had massive faces etched in them that would give you riddles. Sometimes they were sarcastic and rude; sometimes they were depressed and spoke slugglishly. If you completed their riddle or puzzle, they’d open up and take you to a different realm where you’d receive a reward.
-Russell Shaw’s classic music needs to return. On one hand it was epic and sweeping, on the other, his soundtrack was whimsical and soothing. Whoever composes the next game should be inspired heavily by what came before.
-Obviously a dog… or another animal. But definitely at least a dog. And definitely don’t kill it this time!
-The ability to buy, sell and rent property was so integral to the series’ economy that it needs to come back.
-Let me romance anyone from a peasant man to a noble woman: playing out my family fantasy was always a ton of fun. Though, this could be expanded upon.
So there we have it, some thoughts on how the Fable series needs to progress and what is needed in the next Fable. What do you think though? What do you want to see in the next game? Do you even want to see another Fable experience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.