Reviewed: November 16, 2005
Released: October 20, 2005
Peter Molyneux made waves in the gaming industry when he promised that his opus title Project Ego was going to be the ultimate RPG of all time. Project Ego was in development for four year before it was finally released with a new title – Fable. When this Fable did not quite live up to the expectations that had been built, gamers turned on their beloved Mr. Molyneux – even inciting a formal apology from the iconic developer.
Fable tried to ride the fine line between hardcore action game and hardcore RPG, and had a hardcore time convincing the hardcore gamers from either faction to stop nitpicking each of the other’s influences on the game, and come to an agreement over Fable. As a result, the game has gone down in infamy as one of the biggest letdowns in gaming history. That’s all too bad, because it is really a great title.
What cannot be argued is that Fable was a bit rushed towards the end, and the developers were not able to fully utilize the world that they designed – some doors were left shut, some quests were omitted, and some portions of the story were scrapped altogether.
In an attempt to pick up the pieces, the developers at Molyneux’s Lionhead Studios have revived the epic tale of the hero of Albion with Fable: The Lost Chapters, and tried to give gamers a little more of what they promised. Does it work? Oh yes it does.
Fable follows the story of a young child who loses his family to a group of roving bandits, but is narrowly saved by the leader of the Heroes Guild. This child, called Hero, grows up in the Guild learning the finer points of melee battle, archery and will powers – more commonly called magic. Once the Hero reaches manhood, he sets out to do the work of the Guild – maybe good, maybe bad – but always carries the memory of his family and a feeling of revenge. When he learns that his sister may have also been spared from death, he sets off on a great journey to find her. What follows is one of the most intriguing, most exciting, and most surprising stories to ever meet the console world.
The Hero’s job is to return periodically to the Heroes Guild and to accept Quest Cards – which are a bit like a medieval version of 911. A quest card might range from simple jobs like ridding an area of pests, to more difficult tasks like escorting traders through dangerous forests, even onto the highly complex quests requiring stealth and disguise to quietly gain access to protected areas to liberate certain objects and or people. Once the Hero receives a card, he can either teleport directly to a quest or travel by foot if desired and the game is on.
The attacks take one of three forms – melee, ranged and will (i.e. magic). If you so choose, the Hero can melee attack with his fists, although I would suggest using the various swords, pick axes and other weapons to be found, bought or awarded throughout the game. Ranged attacks come in the form of archery using various long bows and cross bow that can likewise be obtained. And finally, the will powers are awarded or learned and once mastered; strike a devastating blow on enemies.
The control scheme is fairly intuitive and extremely responsive, and the battles all take place in real-time. Enemies can be locked using the left trigger, allowing the Hero to circle-strafe, dodge, and block at his (your) leisure. The target locking can get a bit sketchy with multiple enemies within range, often requiring some clumsy cycling from peon to peon until finally targeting the real threat in the group (i.e. the fellas with ranged weapons) – but all in all it does the job.
One thing to note is that the lock-on trigger also can be used to perform hostile attacks on innocent bystanders (who are normally unaffected by your swords), so if you are escorting a character down a path and get swarmed by bandits, make sure you are actually targeting a bandit and not your escort, or you just might whack your customer.
Melee attacks are performed using the X button, and once the Hero reaches a certain number of unanswered hits, the sword will glow bright waiting for the B button to call out an unblockable flourish move. While not quite as graphic as in Ninja Gaiden, the flourishes will often separate head from body, leaving a nice bloody football to kick around. Yes, nice detail.
Ranged attacks are similarly controlled with the X button, but they have the ability to pull up a multi-level zoom of the target area. Holding longer on the X button result in a faster, stronger and straighter arrow, but will also cause the bow to waver about reducing accuracy. Crossbows work similarly, and with added kick, but they tend to take far too long to reload.
Most quests will find the Hero traveling through multiple sections of map – each maybe 100yrds long with a significant loading time in-between – fighting minion after minion until reaching an always-impressive boss character. Boss characters are very difficult, but thankfully the game tends to restart you at the beginning of the fight, should you ever lose your health…which you shouldn’t, because you can easily – and I mean easily – purchase dozens of health packs right off the bat for instantaneous access with a flick of the D-pad. You will quickly get the fight-fight-fight, flick-the-D-pad-and-fight… system down, and barring a surprise super boss attack you should be able to keep a fairly full health bar. If not, one of your many resurrection phials is sure to revive you.
The story is good and the game very satisfying, and although The Lost Chapters packs in a lot of new content, most of the touted changes will go relatively unnoticed by gamers. A few added weapons here or there, a gesture or two and some minor added side quests, really are not that pertinent to the overall play of the game. But with a game this good, this involving – what does it matter.
What will be noticed is the entirely new addition of quests at the end of the game that take you to a new world within Albion. And by the end, I mean after the credits rolled on the first Fable. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that this added content is fairly substantial, and helps tie everything together a bit more. But on a bittersweet note, players of the original will have to start back at the very beginning, as the game saves do not carry over.
Fable stumbles a bit in the graphics department. While it is definitely a pretty game, it lacks some of the finer detail that we have come to expect from our Xbox exclusive titles.
Always a problem with games of this magnitude is that the NPC characters tend to be recycled a few too many times over. Then again, considering the total number of characters this game holds – it is to be expected.
Character animations can tend to be a bit stiff at times, and some strange lag-like anomalies will sometimes result in an enemy inexplicably warping from animation to animation, but this only seems to happen when an abnormally large amount of characters are onscreen.
The camera controls are a bit different in TLC, with the right stick controlling the horizontal pan right to left, but moving the stick up or down simply zooms the camera in or out on the character. What this means is that it is often a bit difficult to look up, which is not a huge deal – but every now and then there is something that requires your attention and you can’t get the camera to line up. One instance that comes to mind is early on in the Bandit Camp, when there were frequent elevation changes and turret nests – sure, it was easy enough to just bum rush the hills and lay waste to the bandits, but it would have been nice to prepare for what was up above.
But where this game shines is in the progression of the Hero’s visual appearance – from a child, quickly to man and onto the legend. There is a veritable plethora of clothing and haircuts and tattoos that the Hero can take on to align himself with certain races throughout the game. As a result, his physical appearance will also change begin to evolve to reflect years of hardened battle on the side of good – or evil.
Lost Chapters features all of the top-notch voice acting that made the original title so wonderful. Every now and then the accents and dialects seem a bit contrived, and many of the townsfolk say the same things over and over, but generally the dialog and acting is superb. But if I get called a “chicken chaser” one more time…
Just as amazing are the wonderful sound effects – everything from the wildlife to the wind has a unique and organic sound, and when engaged in battle, the clanking of swords and the sounds accompanying spells are deep and rich and real. Fable really is a treat for the ears
The orchestral background music is absolutely beautiful, and evolves perfectly to fit the mood each and every scene. Roaming the landscape might call for a nice harp-plucking melody, while boss characters suddenly will elicit deep pounding floor drums full orchestra accompaniment.
Gamers who have already played through Fable’s original release will probably find themselves a bit let down by Lost Chapters’ extra content, so I would not feel right recommending a second purchase. But for first-time visitors to Albion, the new Platinum Hits price tag makes the Lost Chapters an absolute must-buy.
Mr. Molyneux may have ticked a lot of gamers off when his epic prophecy of Fable didn’t quite meet their expectations, but personally, I don’t care. Sure, Fable might not be the best RPG for the genre’s hardcore fans, but for gamers like me – who simply like to have a deep, challenging and fun romp through a mystical and medieval world – Fable fits the bill perfectly.
Considering all of the wonderful games I have had the pleasure to review and play during this generation of consoles, to have Lost Chapters rank next to epic games like Beyond Good and Evil, Ninja Gaiden, and the Splinter Cell series – well, you know it is a pretty special game.