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Fable Legends

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2015


XOne/PC Preview - 'Fable Legends'

by Adam Pavlacka on March 30, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Fable Legends unites the classic gameplay that players have come to love from the series but for the first time, grab your friends and go on adventures - up to four heroes can cooperatively discover the quests and stories of Albion.

Fable Legends is a bit different than previous titles in the franchise. Yes, it keeps the Fable "look," but the focus is on action, it's a free-to-play game, and it boasts 4-v-1 asymmetric multiplayer. It's also cross-platform, supporting both Windows 10 PC players and Xbox One players in the same game and on the same servers.

Microsoft had a playable version of Fable Legends on display at GDC 2015, so I gave the multiplayer experience a try. The setup at the show featured two Xbox One consoles and three Windows 10 machines. The two consoles and two of the PCs were used for the four heroes. The remaining PC was used for the villain. The PCs were set up with both keyboard and mouse as well as Xbox One controllers, so players could use whatever they were comfortable using.

It is worth noting that the cross-platform gameplay was absolutely seamless. Unless you walked right up to someone to see what hardware they were using, it was impossible to tell who was using what. Gameplay screens were identical, and game actions were in sync. Players on a PC with an Xbox One controller might as well have been playing on an Xbox One. The only real drawback I could see was the fact that the Xbox One doesn't give you the keyboard and mouse option, while the PC does.

The four hero players worked as a team, and the goal was to clear a level of enemies. Each level was split into sections, with the next section opening up once the first was cleared. This appears to have been done for pacing reasons, as well as gameplay balance, to ensure that the heroes were not completely overwhelmed by enemies. The villain has an enemy "budget" that was defined by section, which naturally limited what enemies could be used.

Watching the heroes play looked a lot like traditional Fable combat, just a bit faster. Anyone trying to solo was at a disadvantage; however, when the group split into teams of two, they still held their own. There seemed to be strategic reasons to split up, as the levels were maze-like, and splitting the group meant forcing the enemy forces to also split up.

Once it was my turn to take the reins, I opted for the villain role. Enemy choices were split across three general types for the game I played, with grunts, archers and a long-range artillery unit. Playing as the villain felt a lot like playing a real-time strategy game, as my goal was to keep the heroes from progressing. If I knocked one out, they could be revived by a teammate or would automatically respawn after a certain amount of time. The developer who explained the gameplay to me noted that the hero respawn was increased for the show build to ensure players got a good amount of time with Fable Legends.

Controlling my monsters felt natural, with both the Xbox One controller and keyboard and mouse supported. Given the strength of the heroes, my goal was to split them up and take them out one by one. Since the artillery had a long reload time, I used it to disorient the group while picking at them with archers. As soon as the first one crossed a gate, I clicked on it to raise it and separate the hapless hero from the group.

While my grunts rushed the now-solo hero, the others had a choice. They could either run to the other side of the gate by backtracking or attempt to destroy it and push through. They opted for the latter, and the gate held just long enough for me to take out the first hero. Once the other three joined the battle, it was over for my grunts. With them out of the way, both the archers and the artillery quickly fell as the heroes progressed.

As the next section of the level loaded, I had a short amount of time to juggle my fighters. I was allowed to pre-place them on the map, swap out one type for another, and check on traps. Once the timer counted down, the heroes were let in and the process repeated, though this time, I was able to better coordinate my attacks and caused noticeably more damage to the heroes.

In the final round, things went even better for my villain. In part, this was because there was an upgraded brawler on the field, but it was also because I started to understand the strengths of the individual units and how they worked on the battlefield. Combined with the interactive elements of the maze, it made the whole thing feel like Dungeon Keeper Lite, at least from the villain's point of view. With a little luck, I was able to knock out all four heroes and win the match before they were able to knock out my last fighter.

The map we played on could have been more complex, but it was a single map on demo at a trade show. It makes sense that the developers would choose to use a smaller map for demo purposes, with more detailed maps making their appearance within the full game.

What wasn't on demo were any of the microtransaction mechanics. Because Fable Legends is free to play, there will be a number of items available for sale to subsidize the final game. The developers told me that they were still working on fleshing out the transaction system, but they're very focused on keeping it clear of "pay to win." Riot's League of Legends was mentioned as an inspiration, so here's to hoping that Fable Legends doesn't end up overwhelming players with offers to spend money.

If Fable Legends can consistently evoke the Dungeon Keeper feeling that I mentioned earlier, then playing the game as the villain will be a serious draw. Though the heroes also look like fun, after going hands-on, it seems like the villain role will keep players coming back for more. It will be interesting to see how the game evolves until its eventual release.

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