On the 14th of September 2004, Fable was released to critical and commercial success by Lionhead Studios, a newly acquired Microsoft Studio. This spawned a series of similarly successful games, and a recent reboot announced in the recent Xbox Games Showcase, developed by Playground Games.
Infamously headed by developer Peter Molyneux, the Fable games presented a fantasy playground with seemingly limitless possibilities. An endless stream of action and reaction, Fable promised a truly living world – from starting a family with any NPC in the world, to planting a seed and watching it grow into a tree during the course of the game. Only a handful of these promises were true, but Lionhead’s ambition has made the Fable games incredibly interesting to look back on.
So, in that spirit, here are five things I’ve forgotten about the Fable series in light of the reveal of a new entry.
All of the Fable games feature quite unconventional character creation and customization, even for modern standards. While Fable II and III allow players to choose either male or female, all games change the ‘Hero’ largely through gameplay, rather than sliders and numbers.
Making certain decisions throughout the game – choosing who and how to help people, sleeping with others, and treating others with kindness or hate – will physically change the Hero’s appearance, becoming more angelic or demonic depending on these choices. These changes also extend to the Hero’s weapons and dog, becoming similarly angelic or demonic. The player will also become scarred when fatally damaged in combat, and this can cause changes in the way others act towards the Hero.
Eating and drinking can affect the player’s weight, and this changes their attractiveness to others, and can be lost by normal means of weight loss like eating healthily, running, or fighting. If only it was that easy!
The Hero can also influence an area’s economic status by buying and improving the quality of houses and shops in the area, and this will have a visible effect on both the physical space and people living there.
At times, the story progresses by years at a time, and these changes are seen in the world as well. Children (including your own, if you have any) will grow up, the Hero will visibly age, and areas around the player will change based on this time.
Little things like these create a sense of place like many other games fail to achieve, even today.
Fable Sold More than Halo?
Yep, Fable was a bigger success than Halo – at first. With 600,000 US sales in the first month, Fable became the fastest selling Xbox game at the time, and this was in a post-Halo world. Obviously, as the popularity of Halo skyrocketed, Fable has sold roughly half the amount of copies as Halo: CE at an estimated 3 million – but impressive nonetheless.
Fable II topped this, at 790,000 launch month sales, and was last recorded to have 3 million sales like Fable 1, but this was a decade ago in 2010. Fable III continued the trend and is last recorded with 5.1 million sales.
While clearly Halo has overtaken Fable in popularity and notoriety, could the Playground Games reboot bring Fable to the forefront?
A Star-Studded Cast
Revisiting the games again, I found myself recognizing some surprising voices that sometimes wouldn’t have bat an eye from anyone during their time of release.
People like Jennifer Saunders and John Cleese who played Shrek’s Fairy Godmother (and sang Holding Out For a Hero in the best Shrek scene of all time, no debate) and King Harold respectively, or Keith Wickham, who in addition to playing the antagonist of the original game played Gordon in Thomas the Tank Engine. .
James Cordon, years before his fame, randomly plays the most minor of minor characters named Monty in the prologue of Fable II, in which the Hero as a child can either help or hinder his attempts to get together with his lover in spite of her mother in a Shakespeare-esque parody.
British comedian Stephen Fry plays one of the few franchise regulars in Reaver, an amoral businessman with ultra-selfish tendencies. While not appearing in Fable 1, Reaver is an important part of both 2 and 3, and continues to be so in the Fable novels, Blood Ties and Edge of the World.
Finally, we can’t bring up the voice acting of Fable without mentioning the fantastic performances of Zoe Wanamaker as Theresa – the only character to appear in every Fable game so far.
10 Fable Games?
More than you’d think. While the series seemingly ended at Fable III, there were many more following, and even more than two games preceding it.
Starting in 2004, Fable was released, followed the next year by Fable: The Lost Chapters, which was a re-release of the first featuring a huge amount of new content which was intended for launch.
Four years after the original, Fable II was released alongside an Xbox Live Arcade accompaniment game titled Fable II Pub Games, which featured several casino-style minigames that can award the player with gold for their actual Fable II characters, as well as several exclusive items and a potential debt in the main game if they perform badly.
Shortly after Fable III in 2010, a mobile game similar in concept to Pub Games was released called Fable: Coin Golf, in which the player could gain – again – items and gold for the main game.
Then, in 2012 both Fable Heroes and Fable: The Journey were released as somewhat linked pieces like the others. Fable Heroes is a family friendly co-op beat-em-up featuring characters and events from Fable III, while Fable: The Journey is a “standalone” Kinect adventure, and playing either would accrue rewards for the other.
In 2014, Fable Anniversary brought the original game to Xbox 360 with updated visuals and technology to help modernize the game, and then Xbox One with backwards compatibility.
As the last released game in the series (not including the cancelled Fable Legends), Fable Fortune was a free-to-play collectible card game, and had its servers shut down earlier this year in March.
Originally, I played these games at a time when I was young (and dumb) enough to miss most of Fable’s iconic humour, and it was a joy to fully uncover Fable’s contrasting identity. While it is an undeniably serious series, I underestimated Lionhead’s ability to make me laugh at every turn.
A significant percentage of lines, names and locations are (usually obscure) references to seemingly anything pop-culture related despite Fable’s distance from our own world. References from Anchorman, to Transformers and The Simpsons or obscure country singers are commonplace.
It’s reflecting of Fable’s unexpected love for comedy and silliness in a genre that is so often anything but. It just goes to show how fantastically Fable has historically blended its world and contrasting tones to create one of the most compelling fantasy worlds in recent memory.
Fable represents a fleeting corner of the video game industry that isn’t afraid to take itself too seriously in an arguably inherently silly medium. Remembering its past has made me realise how ‘next-gen’ this series always has been (often to a fault) and how fantastic a modern entry really could prove to be.
Great article! And we’ll written. I know I forgot that there were so many additions to the series. The only thing I’d correct about the article is that Microsoft didn’t own Lionhead Studios until 2006.