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Genre: Action


Xbox Review - 'Fable'

by Eric on Sept. 24, 2004 @ 1:27 a.m. PDT

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Big Blue Box
Release Date: September 14, 2004

Buy 'FABLE': Xbox

First announced to the world under the working title "Project Ego" in 2001, Fable was billed as being the greatest RPG of all time. With its groundbreaking ideas and slick graphics which were being powered by Microsoft's newly announced Xbox gaming system, people everywhere started to take notice and feel the hype. Developed by Big Blue Box and produced by the famous Peter Molyneux from Lionhead Studios, it really did seem that Fable was indeed destined to become the greatest RPG ever made. Molyneux has been the brainchild behind some of today's most groundbreaking games, but he also has been known for over-hyping games early on with features that sounded too good to be true and often ended up as just that. There is no doubting his brilliance, as he knows how to make some amazing games, but the only question was whether Fable would be one of the greats.

To fully understand this review and Fable as it is now, you have to understand it as it once was. When Fable was first announced, it was supposed to be this open-ended action RPG set in an extremely detailed, totally dynamic world that would grow and change as you did. Your actions would have a direct impact on everything from the people to the environments. Some of its more impressive features were this very interaction with the world, like walking into a town and killing a kid's parents only to have that kid grow up and come after you later to seek revenge, or dropping an apple seed on the ground as a young boy and coming back to that same spot years later when you are older to see a tree there. As you became a famous hero, kids in the towns will idolize you, dress like you, and even get similar haircuts. The world itself was supposed to be this nearly boundless environment where you could walk anywhere, go anywhere and be totally free of linear paths and corridors. This is how Fable once was, and how it was supposed to be. Sadly though, this is not how the game turned out, and in fact, most of the features which I have mentioned have been totally removed from the game. Perhaps Molyneux's amazing ideas are just a little too ground breaking for even the mighty Xbox to handle.

Unfortunately, this meant that the whole idea and design of Fable had to be changed. The game in its current state still has many of the original ideas at its core in some form, but most have been greatly scaled back from their original presentations. Probably the biggest overall change made to the game -- and the one I am most disappointed about -- is to the environments. Fable takes place in the fictional world of Albion, a massive, lush world full of thick forests and grassy plains. Early on in development, the world of Albion was quite large, and you were free to roam around as you pleased, unhindered by invisible walls or preordained paths. The mere idea of being able to explore this massive, detailed world that was full of life and affected by your actions was enough to get me extremely excited and was one of Fable's biggest selling points. Unfortunately, the world of Albion is now just a bunch of small, closed-off paths that cut through this world. Making things worse is the insane amount of load times in-between these small sections. Every time you move from one small area to another, you have the game play broken up by a loading screen as the next section loads. The loading time only takes four or five seconds to complete, but when you have one of these every minute or two, it gets quite annoying. There is really no excuse for this because the sections that you are in are often extremely small and should be able to be streamed from the Xbox HDD. The worst part about all of this is the fact that the environments are just teasing you to hop over the fences and stone walls and come out and explore them. While you are stuck to a very confined path, you can look out into the environments and see for what appears to be miles in places. Basically, what appears to have happened is that developer Big Blue Box took their seamless world of Fable and literally cut paths through different sections of it and blocked them off so it is very likely that the backgrounds you are seeing are actually other parts of Fable that were fully explorable at one time. This is really hard to digest as you are constantly being reminded of how grand the world of Fable once was.

As much of a disappointment as the environments are in some ways, they are also one of Fable's best features. Despite being scaled back, they are still a beautiful sight to look at and behold. The whole world of Fable feels and looks alive, trees and grass blow realistically in the wind, ripples form as you walk through puddles of water, and clouds race across the sky as day changes into night. The overall art style of Fable is what really makes the difference, though. Everything has its own unique style and look to it that separates Fable from other games. I absolutely love the art direction, and lots of kudos go out to the artists at Big Blue Box on making a visually stunning game. As nice as the environments are, the models themselves look great as well. From the townsfolk to the mighty Rock Trolls, all of the character models are really well done. The only downside to the graphics are some low resolution textures here and there, most noticeably on some of the character models. This is a price well worth paying when you see how many character models the engine can handle on screen at once. As you get deeper into Fable, you will oftentimes find your self battle 10 to 16+ enemies at once, which makes for an impressive sight as well as some entertaining game play.

Speaking of game play, this is where Fable really shines! Despite some of the really cool features being cut, the game play is still extremely fun and quite ground breaking. When you start out the game, you are a young boy who is taken in by a magical wizard at the local Heroes Guild after your family is destroyed by bandits. Instead of growing older in real time up to the age of adulthood like it was originally planned, you now get to select the time at which you turn into an adult. The child phase of the game is basically a tutorial that shows you the controls and the basics of how the world of Fable works. Once done, you have the option of "growing up" and becoming an adult or staying as a child and completing some more quests from the guild. The Heroes Guild itself acts as the central hub for the game. Inside, you will find a world map that lists all of the available quests, as well as a place to spend your experience points on new abilities. The quest system itself is based on your characters "renown," which is how well the people of Albion know you and your deeds. Certain quests require a higher "renown" level than others before you are able to start them. You have the option of completing any of the quests in any order that you would prefer (assuming you have the required renown), but there are key quests that are marked for you that must be completed to advance the story and move on through Fable. There are many nonessential side quests for your choosing though, which are a great way to get more experience points and other goodies.

Leveling up in Fable was once suppose to happen naturally as you played through the game, but now has taken on a more traditional form. As you play through the quests, you gain more experience points in three key areas: Strength, Accuracy and Will. The areas in which you gain experience points depend on how you play the game. If you use more melee-based weapons, then you will get more experience points in strength, but if you use a lot of magic, you will get more experience points in will, and so on. When you have enough experience, an icon at the bottom of the screen will flash, letting you know that you can go back to the Heroes Guild and level up different areas of your character's abilities. Leveling up itself consists of picking from several subcategories, like physique or magic spells. One of the cool features of Fable is how the leveling system is actually applied to your character. You will visually be able to see the changes taking place as your character gains more experience in different areas. If he uses a lot of heavy weapons and does a lot of hand-to-hand combat, he will grow bigger muscles. If he is outside in the daylight a lot, he will start to tan. If your character uses mostly magic, his skin will turn white and he will become thinner.

One of the other key features to make it into Fable is the level of interaction you have with the other people in the game. You have a whole list of emotions and expressions that you gain as you progress that you can use to interact with the NPCs. These range from telling some one "Thank You" to my personal favorite, flipping the bird. While you have many different options on how you interact with the NPCs, they too have a very wide and complex range of emotions and responses that they use to interact with you too. The AI in this game is extremely well done and is actually some of the best I have seen in a game. As you talk and spend more time around the NPCs, you really start to look at them as real people instead of virtual characters. For a video game to invoke this sense of life out of nothing more than polygons and textures is really quite an amazing feat.

However, the NPCs are not the only thing you can interact with in Fable. You can do all sorts of things in the environments themselves, from fishing to taking a cat nap in a bed - the possibilities are almost limitless. You can buy a house, rent it out, marry, take up boxing, or participate in the quintessential pastime, getting drunk at the bar! All of these options not only make for some great entertainment but compelling gameplay as well, which is what Fable has and always will be about. Naturally, the way you interact with the NPCs and environment determines what kind of person your character becomes. Will you be good or evil? The choice is yours!

Helping you to make that choice is the game's fantastic combat system. The controls in Fable have been very well thought out, making the combat and interaction with the world a breeze. During combat, you use the left trigger to lock onto an enemy and the X button as your primary attack button for melee combat. Hitting the X button repeatedly will result in different combos, and after you land a few hits on an enemy, you can access your strong attack by hitting the B button. If you get hit or if you miss an enemy with the strong attack, you will lose it until you start another combo with your standard attack. Rounding out the controls, the Y button is used for blocking and dodging, and the right trigger brings up your different magic powers, which are mapped to the face buttons of your choice. I find that to be one of the best features of this system: you can literally go in and map different items and abilities to whichever button you like. The combat itself is fast-paced and very fun. As mentioned before, some of the battles you get into will have 16+ people in them and can be quite epic! When dealing with large numbers of people, the auto-targeting system does not work all that well. You can switch between targets, but the switching is oftentimes slow and will switch to the wrong enemy. This would be a big problem if it weren't for the fact that you do not even have to use the auto-targeting system. You can simply point your character at the enemies and swing away, and this works particularly well when you are taking on larger groups of enemies. Using the D-pad, you can access the expressions menu in-game without having to pause, and quickly find the one you want. The same thing can also be done with the items menu, and you can even remap items and expressions to different buttons without ever having to halt the game.

Overall, Fable is one hell of a game. Even though the technology was not quite there for Big Blue Box to make the game they really wanted to make, what they did put out is still a great peace of work. Fable is a very addicting, extremely fun and even thought-provoking game that will suck you into its world and keep you entertained till the very end … which just happens to be another one of its shortcomings. Right as you feel that you are starting to get into Fable, the game ends; the main quest and game can be completed from start to finish in as little as eight hours. For a game that was in development for over four years, it really should last longer than that. That being said, if you do all of the side quests and explore and unlock everything, you can easily turn this into a 20-25 hour game. It would have still been nice to see a bit more length to the main story and quests. Once you beat the game, you have the option to return to the world of Albion and continue playing. The only downside to this is any of the quests you did not complete from the Heroes Guild before beating the game are no longer availed. I really do not understand why they did it this way, as it would have been really cool to go back and do some quests after you had beaten the game. Despite that, there are still many secrets to unlock and things to explore in Ablion that should keep you busy for some time.

The question that everyone has been asking though is: does Fable live up to all of the hype? Fable has undergone a massive change from what it was originally supposed to be, and it was this original idea that generated a lot of the hype. Too many of the groundbreaking features were either taken out or changed for Fable to live up to all of that hype. However, the game does come across as one of the best Xbox games out there to date. Every Xbox owner should give Fable a look, even if they are not RPG fans, as it is a darn good game! Big Blue Box has proven that it has what it takes to make an outstanding game, and with the power of Xbox 2, they could easily make a sequel that even exceeds the original ideas and expectations of the first installment. Fable has sucked me into its world, and I don't want it to stop here! Please give us more!

Score 9.0/10

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