Ten years have passed since we first experienced Fable. The story was that of a young boy, forced to watch as bandits over ran his town, before finally growing up to become the Hero of Oakvale. Peter Molyneux said it was ‘going to be the best game ever’ and whilst it came close and garnered a massive fan base, it didn’t quite live up to its original billing. It was however one of the first games to include a complex morality system and place such a large emphasis on being good…..or bad, something which we now see in abundance.
So was it ahead of it’s time? Maybe, but ten years is an awfully long time and a lot has changed in that decade. The original game was out on the very first Xbox and now, as we break into the next generation we finally see the game popping up on the Xbox 360. In that time many a title has come and gone and the whole ‘alignment’ thing has been done over and over again, not least to greater effect in its sequels, Fable 2 and Fable 3. So is the opening game of the series still worth visiting or have things taken a turn for the worse in the once wonderful world of Albion.
Well, the good news is that Fable Anniversary covers everything that was great about the first game but throws a modern twist onto proceedings. The humour is still there and letting off wind mid conversation was always a good thing but maybe I’ve grown up a lot over the last decade, as something that I vividly remember being so much fun back in the day, now feels a bit too silly. The same goes for the chicken kicking. Whilst you don’t ‘have’ to do it, you find yourself participating in a bit of Albions local sport a little until you just can’t be bothered any more. You can of course leave all these mindless little additions behind to just concentrate on the task at hand, becoming the Hero of Oakvale, but how you do that is entirely up to you. Each mission comes with a couple of options, the heroic way or the evil alternative and depending on how you approach each scenario you’ll see your character, and all reactions, change as time goes on.
The Hero of Oakvale is a mute character but that doesn’t stop you from being able to interact with near enough every single NPC in the game, in fact the sheer depth of character interaction puts some newer titles to shame. Some will have back stories and send you on optional quests (of which you can of course choose a good way or bad way of completing), whilst others will need to be showered with gifts, in your sometimes failed attempts at finding a wife. Obviously only the good looking succeed in life and you’ll constantly be watching your character change depending on your actions. Steal too many goods from others homes for instance and you’ll start growing devil horns and taking on a darker look, whereas if you run your life as a good samaritan helping out anyone and everyone, you’ll find yourself growing up to become a rather dashing fella. Of course, all of that good work could well be redundant if you decide to fight with one style for the whole game. There are the three usual fighting styles which in turn can help you change a few attributes. Fight too much with your sword and you’ll see your character noticeably beefing up, whilst using your skilled weapons will see you thin out and get taller. Finally if you decide to focus solely on the many magical spells at your disposal you’ll soon see yourself covered in glowing magical patterns. A combination of all three skills is the way forward if you really want to get the girls….oh and don’t eat too many pies!
All the HD changes make things look much nicer than the original and the revamp has done wonders for the whole world in general (just check out the Smartglass images of the original to compare), but whilst the areas and characters now gleam, there is still an underlying disappointment in any movement the characters take on. What was no doubt cutting edge back in 2004, now feels very dated and really don’t stand up well to the cutting edge motion capture used now. There are also a number of cut scenes throughout the game that zoom in on characters incorrectly, meaning that too many times you are left talking to a pair of legs or a chin, with the rest of the image cut off. The minimap is also far too cluttered for my liking, which in turn makes for navigational problems. Yes you can use the map found in the Smartglass app but that in no way compensates for the in-game version and maybe it would have been an idea to have made that a lot clearer than it is.
The addition of Smartglass is a good one. Second screens are all the rage and Fable Anniversary uses the new tech very well indeed. Not only do you get an up-to-date map to help point you in the right direction, but pay out for the full strategy guide and you’ll get to discover secret locations, compare the images from the original Fable and also read character backstories. It’ll cost you, but if you are serious about finding all the silver keys, chests and Demon Doors, or just want to dig deep into the whole Fable world, then it’s got to be something worth considering.
And if you are one of those hunters, you’ll no doubt be on the lookout for a number of achievements along the way. This is something Fable Anniversary excels in and you can see from the off that cheevos were something that Lionhead really wanted to shine with. There are five different ‘categories’ of achievements and these range from the simple everyday ones that you’ll find popping up whenever you complete an action to those that have a couple of ways of unlocking and others that will only ping once you’ve tried something totally different. I won’t spoil things by going into details but the way the ‘Ass Creed’ points come about is sheer genius.
So has Fable aged well? With my good head on, yes it has. It’s still funny (ish), it’s still engrossing and it’s still good to kick chickens for a little while, but if you throw my bad noggin on then they are plenty of things that have aged badly, most noticeably the horribly small mini map and cumbersome menu controls. You’ll find yourself getting a good 15 hours of play time with the game, although you could probably double that if you wanted to find all the collectables and solve all the Demon Door puzzles and so this still stands up pretty well, especially for a game that comes in cheaper than the norm.
If you were never lucky enough to own the first Xbox then you should really be buying Anniversary, if only to experience the start of a special series. If you’ve been with it from the start however, you won’t notice anything new and may just find going back turns things slightly sour.
Unless you just want to keep kicking chickens that is.