Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: September 20, 2005
Buy 'FABLE: The Lost Chapters': PC
Last year, Microsoft stunned the console world with Fable for the Xbox, a tale of a hero who worked his way through life according to his own code of ethics. Released exclusively for the software giant's home console, PC gaming enthusiasts were left somewhat out to pasture when it came to the delights offered by Peter Molyneaux's sprawling epic. As of this September 20th, that's all due to change with the release of Fable: The Lost Chapters. Xbox fans, pay attention: this is not the story you know and love.
The Lost Chapters, like its predecessor, is a tale of a boy who becomes a man in the crucible of prophecy and conflict. Forced to witness unspeakable horrors at an early age, our protagonist is orphaned and taken to a monastic fortress known simply as The Guild. There he experiences the finest in combat, archery, and magic training in preparation for his eventual occupation as a Hero of the lands called Albion. After many years, his transformation is complete, and he goes off to seek his fortune, fame, and destiny. As you may have surmised by now, the hero is you, the player. Once you leave The Guild, you are free to quest as you see fit, accumulating power and all it entails.
How you will go about this goal is in a fully 3D-realized environment, in the third-person perspective. The Xbox controller has been elegantly shifted to a more capable keyboard/mouse structure that is instantly comfortable and intuitive. The transition between using your melee weapon, spells, or recurve/crossbows is liquid, making it all that much easier to make full use of all abilities open to the hero. Inventory control is covered by hotkeys, and the screenshot gallery allows you to not only keep a visual journal of your story, but to view it in-game as well. This last feature deserves one of those "I [Heart]" style t-shirts, and I wish more developers would include such luxuries.
Unlike other fantasy RPGs, The Lost Chapters doesn't adhere to any strict sense of class. You don't formulate your character from the outset as a "warrior" or "magic user." For that matter, there is no character setup at all; Lionhead obviously eschews creationism for evolution. Of the three hero disciplines (previously mentioned: melee, archery, magic), none will be ignored completely. All heroes use everything they can to get the job done. What you choose to be your primary focus is a matter of taste, but regardless of what your preference is, there are some instances where you will interchangeably use a sword, an arrow, or a spell. In fact, you will eventually take it for granted that you have as wide an array of abilities as you do. The power is somewhat liberating.
Key to the concept of Fable is the idea that you may choose what path the hero will take: the way of light and liberation, or the path of darkness and dissent. The tagline reads, "For every choice a consequence," and it holds absolutely true. This game is one of the clearest morality plays I've yet seen in a secular title, and for that reason alone, I applaud Molyneaux and Lionhead. From the first act onwards, you are given full berth to be as fair and just or as malicious as you feel. Fight the bully to save the little boy, or help the bully steal from the child? Tell the wife of her adulterous husband behind the cottage, or keep your lips sealed with bribe money from the philanderer? These are but the first in a staggering array of options open to you throughout the course of The Lost Chapters.
These decisions aren't merely tacked on to provide a false sense of depth; they affect everything from people's reactions to you through to how you look. Display enough propensities for good, and you'll begin to develop a halo and your hair will turn white; become a font of diabolic spite, and your eyes will turn black and horns will sprout from your forehead. You will eventually wear your alignment on your sleeve for all to see. Visual identifiers play a large part in regards to how individuals react to you. The more frightening you look, the less people will want to speak to you and may even eventually flee in terror as soon as you get near. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you're draped in clothing and armor that has a high attractiveness rating, you may find that you can't walk 15 feet without the women of Albion falling at your feet begging for some "special alone time." With this in mind, you must choose your haircuts, tattoos, and tailoring with care.
Aside from the usual fare of slaying the beasties that menace the innocent, The Lost Chapters also carries some interesting mini-games that weave together a tapestry of back story and lore. A fishing rod will become all-important, as you'll need to fish all manner of potions and keys from the waters of Albion. The keys need to be collected to open rare chests that guard everything from weapons to suits of armor. A spade will also become valuable for similar reasons; digging up the dead yields similar items as fishing, with perhaps less fresh trout. Finally, there are "Demon Doors," massive stone faces that animatedly tell you the riddles required to unlock their protection. I've been a sucker for talking doors ever since Labyrinth, so I love the inclusion of these monolithic tricksters. These are especially worth figuring out, as the hidden areas they block frequently hide legendary weapons; unique items of great power that will make The Lost Chapters significantly easier to navigate.
As I mentioned earlier, The Lost Chapters follows the events of your hero from boyhood to manhood to legend. This is done by aging your hero a half-year for every level gained in your skill sets. By the time I had gone through the game the first time, my hero was a grizzled warrior of 52 seasons. It is easy to believe that the life of an adventurer is isolated; however, you can accumulate companionship with relative ease. Flirt, pose heroically, and offer gifts of chocolate, roses, precious stones, and eventually wedding rings; these are the keys to winning the heart of any woman you choose. If you remain faithful, buy her a house, and "tend to her needs," you will be rewarded with gifts occasionally. The other option is to collect a woman in every town, an option rarely (if ever) open to the average man. Thank you, Peter Molyneaux, for allowing us to see the kind of headaches polygamy has to offer without any of the real-life legal ramifications.
Up to this point, I have been giving you an idea of the ingredients that make up the overall stew that is Fable: The Lost Chapters. However, there is a very good chance that if you're reading this, you've already played the Xbox version, and I've just been re-hashing things you already know. There is more content to The Lost Chapters, but it doesn't come in the form of gameplay alterations. The game doesn't end at the same place as the first iteration; the story continues and takes you into the frozen Northern Wastes. I cannot say much more without spoilers, but I can tell you that you'll encounter some powerful new adversaries such as frost trolls and Summoners (undead with a mastery of lightning magic), as well as new armor and weapons. You will revisit some favored locations like the Arena, as well as venture across vast oceans of ice in a shuddering ghost ship, cross frost-scarred mountain passes, and battle through long-lost cities of the dead.
Aside from the new content is the graphics. Simply put, the Xbox GPU just cannot compare to current PC offerings by ATI and Nvidia, the end result being Fable unlike you've ever seen it before. Always a title bolstered by fantastic visual fidelity, The Lost Chapters pushes that even further with equal parts technical muscle and artistic design prowess. Albion is a living, breathing world, rich and expansive. Character animations are fluid and natural, models are detailed and fully fleshed out, and the lighting is subtle and realistic. Special effects retain their vibrancy, spells and other combat particle effects are spectacular without being heavy-handed.
No longer restricted to 640x480, you can see far more of the world at any given moment, and there's no loss of framerates or even a reduced clip plane. The increased resolution also pushes the interface further to the edges of the screen, obstructing less of the action than ever before. Above all else is how much sharper and crisper the overall world appears. The detail limit has been ratcheted upwards until you can almost see pores on the skin.
This is not to say that The Lost Chapters is without a few visual flaws. Shadows have a blocky, "giant pixel" look to them that doesn't go away with the heavy application of anti-aliasing, and textures tend to bleed through each other a great deal. This isn't particularly noticeable until you watch the cut scenes that pepper the story. One cannot help but notice when your hero is waving to the crowd in the Arena and his arm is passing right through the immobile horned plating on his shoulders. There is also far less paper-doll clothing/armor choices available than I had hoped for, and there is really no reason why anyone would want to wear anything less than full plate anyways, so in the end, all the heroes begin to look the same. I consider these relatively minor flaws compared to how good the game looks overall.
The changes made to The Lost Chapters center on graphics and content. As I've already stated, I don't want to provide spoilers, so there's really not much more to comment on other than what I've already said. I was blown away by the music, which was composed by Danny Elfman and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Lionhead didn't pull any punches on that score (pun intended). Equally as impressive is the voice acting. A British accent is enough to make anyone sound classy, but this is truly above and beyond the call of duty. Every NPC in Albion has a voice, and the personality injected into the game world cannot be underestimated. Lionhead have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt how important actors are to the makeup of a fully realized virtual world, and I would hope any developers in the process of creating their own fantasy RPG pay attention to what has been set down in Fable.
I would like to take this opportunity to detail the biggest flaw in this game, namely, its length. Fable: The Lost Chapters, even with its additional content, is too short. I completed it in just over 16 hours, and I thought I had been taking my time. I have been playing it again, making sure to grind away at every possible little side detail, but I don't believe that it's to the credit of the development team that any significant play time is the result of obsessive compulsive backtracking and nitpicking. However, it also speaks volumes that I am impressed enough with Fable to actually play it through again to see every tiny nook and cranny Albion has to offer.
When all is said and done, I cannot help but gush about Fable: The Lost Chapters. Its setbacks are negligible in the face of everything the game does right. It has everything I look for in an RPG - a quality story, superb visuals, excellent music, a hint of humor that doesn't overstay its welcome, and above all else, a sense of immersion that sweeps me away to another world. It is single-player experiences such as this one that drive my passion for massively multiplayer games, simply because of the cravings I get to occupy my time in a virtual reality as engaging as Albion. To anyone who has played the Xbox version but has a powerful PC rig as well, I say grab this game and relive everything you loved and more. To anyone who doesn't own an Xbox but loves a well-wrought story, I say buy this as soon as you possibly can. Fable: The Lost Chapters is a shining example of why Peter Molyneaux and Lionhead studios are so legendary in the industry.
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