Malik (9/23/04)

Fable (XBox)

Lionhead Studios/Big Blue Box

So this game has been out for a bit over a week as I begin this thing. It was in the works for something like 4 years, so a couple of weeks for me to get around to it is definitely not too much to ask for. For those who didn't follow the creation and development of this game, one of Peter Molyneaux's best ideas (and that's saying a lot for the man who brought us Black and White and Populous), it was a long and interesting ride. The game received a huge amount of hype about a year ago, when developmental screen shots and concept art first began to hit the major outlets. The basic idea was to create the most involved, interactive, and enjoyable game experiences of all time. So, did Mr. Molyneaux succeed? Read on... 


When you first start playing, you are a mere child of a peasant in a small village. It is your sister's birthday, and you have, once again, forgotten to get her a gift. So, your father makes a deal with you; if you perform good deeds, he will give you 1 GP per good deed. So, you set out to find some money for the gift and to find a suitable gift to give. There are a few different people who need some assistance, in the form of anything from a poor child being bullied, to his sister that lost her teddy-bear, to a woman wanting proof that her husband is cheating on her. However, you don't have to go with just the obvious solutions, like telling the woman about how her husband is currently with his could cover up for the husband and accept his nice bribe of a GP (which makes it all balanced in the end, in terms of earning some cash). 

Once you finally give your sister her gift, you village is suddenly assaulted by a band of bandits. As you hide, your home is completely destroyed and countless villagers are slain...seemingly in search of you. When the smoke clears, and you emerge from hiding, then you encounter Maze, the head of the heroes guild. He, without much explanation, teleports you to the guild and leaves you in the care of the guild master. From this point on, you are a student in the art of being a hero (or villain...your call on that one, hehe). 

With time, you are taught the arts of melee combat, archery, and spell casting (complete with starting with a nice lightning spell straight out of the Emperor's arsenal in Star Wars). Then you are tested, constantly, on your various talents and given the details of what the hero guild exists for...solving missions presented by those who are willing to cough up the gold. At the same time, you will be earning prestige or fame for your deeds, and this will allow you to accomplish even more missions and gain the respect of the world...or the fear of the world, hehe.

Game Play 

The basics of this game can be found in the mechanisms of several important gaming milestones. The most obvious, and the one that bears the most direct influence on this title is that of the 3D era Zelda games. That is where the basic control scheme comes from. The camera, the action mechanics, and movement of the character, and the feel of the towns and the main world all come from a Zelda game. 

Primarily, the controls are quite Zelda-esque. You are given the control options of talking (both in and out of towns), swinging a sword (or other melee weapon...frying pan anyone? Yup, there's one of those), target lock (hold the R button and you will continue to target a specific individual, be if friendly or enemy), the use of a bow (which can be done in either first person aiming, in target-lock mode, or free-form), the ability to block attacks with the holding of a button, the ability to dodge and roll (using the same block button with the left analogue stick), the use of special items (controlled from the direction pad), and the use of magic (by holding L and using one of the four face buttons). Also, like with Zelda, you will face large monsters as bosses and common enemies that range from insects to bandits to hobbes (think goblins) like Link would face. Plus, like a Zelda title; as you travel around, each area is separated from the next by a border area that, when you cross, will load a new area and remove the old area from interaction (like going from one area of Zelda:OoT to the next area). However, missing from Zelda are the puzzle filled and gigantic dungeons...instead of dungeons, you have a few small caves, an arena, and a large world that allows many of the quests to take place in normal towns and forests, etc. 

As for another influence, there is the mechanism of interacting with people (and even falling in love) that is quite similar to The Sims. This makes up a large part of the towns and villages. For example, when you enter a town, or any area with friendly individuals, you are given the option to talk with them, or to use one of the many gestures and actions you learn as you progress in popularity (once you have a little fame, you can use it to flirt with people, or boast about your abilities, or laugh) or in alignment (when you are evil enough, you will learn how to properly use your middle finger, if you catch my meaning...or if you go good, you can learn to say thank you or to apologize). You can also use gifts to make up for any social short-comings you may have from a lack of popularity. 

Also, while in town, you can express your alignment in various ways. If you want to, you can go ahead and steal, fight, massacre, play pub games for money (like blackjack or a concentration/memory card game), buy new gear, wear some new clothes (which can be either awe-inspiring, like the robes of a good will-user...which is like a mage...or fear invoking, like a suit of black plate armor) or just frightening), get a hair cut, grow a beard/mustache/side burns, get a tattoo or two (or five), or take on an odd job or two to earn some respect and money. If you want, you can also hire a mercenary (which will drain your cash supply), or even attract a group of followers (free) and lead them around to help in your battles. You just have to remember that everything you do will affect not only your alignment, but also how people react to you. You could even inspire the populous, while gaining fame, by showing off your war trophies (like the head of a giant wasp you slayed while protecting some innocent villagers)...and if people don't show you respect, you can show them you sword or your middle finger. 

So, if you see a beautiful woman, and you feel like putting on some moves, then you can talk, flirt, give gifts (like roses, chocolates, gems, perfume, etc), or even get them drunk with some good old beer. Also, by using a larger gesture, like laughing, you can influence more than one person at a time as they all hear or see you. By flirting and giving enough gifts, you might be able to convince a woman (or man, if that's your cup of tea) to fall in love...then all you need is to give her a ring, find a house to live in, and then you can be married. From there, you can expect gifts from your spouse, and even an occasional romp in bed (the game is rated M)...which consists of some amusing sounds and no visuals, but will increase the affection of your spouse. However, if you treat your spouse poorly, you can expect a divorce...which the single most evil thing you can do in the game, and will drastically shift your alignment towards evil (far more than stealing or killing of innocents ever could). 

Plus, while you're in town, like I mentioned, you can go into real estate. Each major town has one house you could purchase from the start. This can either be your residence, or you could rent it out to other villagers for a profit...of course, if you want to get married, you will need a home for you and the spouse. You could even display some of your trophies on the walls to show off to your friends. Also, you could fix up a house and then sell it for a profit. Lastly, you could decide that one house is too little...or maybe you want a shop. In which case, the simple (and evil solution) will be to kill the current owners and then buy it. 

Beyond town related stuff, you have your basics of adventuring...which all begin with how you build your character. All Fable heroes start the same...but few end up similar after the first couple of hours.

When the introduction is over and the game really begins, you start with minor physical ability (you can't even wield a larger weapon than a katana), poor agility related skills (you speed, accuracy with a bow, and your stealth are all crap), and the bare minimum of will (what they call magic) abilities (including a small amount of will points, and access to only a spell of lightning). However, as you gain experience, you can upgrade any chosen area, including learning and upgrading and of a couple dozen spells, you HP or WP, your physical abilities, your name it, and you can boost it to make the fighter, mage (they say "Will User"), or thief/archer, or a mix however you want. The only downside is that with each boosted stat or learned ability, you will age a little under a year (there is an age cap of 65, and age doesn't hurt you, but it will make you look a little less than heroic). 

As for experience, you are given 4 different types depending on your actions. If you do something physical, you will get red physical experience. If you do something involving stealth or archery, you will earn yellow agility experience. Last of all, if you use a lot of will, you will get blue will experience. Also, there are rare potions that can boost one of these three specific pools. On top of these three pools that can only be used to upgrade the skills involved in the specific pool, you can get general experience, which can be used towards any skill. This generic green experience comes from the actual slaying of enemies. To help you gain experience, there is the "combat multiplier" (CM). What this is, is a small meter that will begin to fill as you attack enemies. Each time it fills, your experience is multiplied some as you gain new experience. However, if you fail to hit an enemy for a few seconds, the bar will go down. Also, if you take HP damage, you will lose some from your CM. So, the basic plan is to dodge attacks or defend against them (or, there is the shield spell that will allow your WP to take the damage instead of your HP, and thus you will keep your CM until your shield is canceled or you run out of WP and take HP damage). So, as you learn to dodge, or void damage with a shield spell, and continue to beat down enemies, your CM will only grow (however, if you leave a current area, it will drop about 5-10 multipliers) and your experience gain will shoot through the roof. On top of that, if you use a potion to boost your experience when your CM is high, you will get even more of a reward from it. 

So, with that said, there's also your armor and weapons to think of. You can handle all small weapons, initially, with ease. This includes your bow, crossbow, sword, katana (two types of swords are in Fable), cleaver, mace, axe, etc. However, if you want the large weapons (like a great sword...that would be a third types of sword) you will need to gain some levels in your physique (which is equal to your strength). On top of these many weapon styles, there are your armor choices. You can go around wearing big armor (like plate) that will boost your defense and how much you scare people, light armor (lower defense and lower scary level), clothes (almost no defense, but people will be more receptive to you), or you could go for something stealthy and remain out of vision (like an assassin suit). All of these will effect not only your combat abilities, but also how you interact with people an there are even story related costumes (how to sneak into a bandit camp? Maybe by wearing a bandit costume). 

On top of those features, your good or evil alignment will affect how people react. If you're evil enough, you will grow horns and start to look demonic (don't expect people to be brave around you, even if you're wearing the nicest looking clothes known to Albion). However, if you're good enough, you will gain some butterfly friends (they hover around you), a halo, and more...including the love and adoration of the peasants. To determine which way you go in this department, you simply have to act out accordingly. If you want to be evil, slay townspeople, steal, commit vandalism, trespass, and treat your spouse like shit. To become good...well, just do the opposite. Of course, if you want a really big boost, you can hit the two churches. The good aligned Church of Avo will give you some good points in return for some gold points. On the other hand, if you bring people with you to the Temple of Skorm (evil church) and sacrifice them, you can expect some nice evil points in return. On top of the alignment shift, you might unlock some nifty bonuses with the two may get some special holy/unholy weapons, lose some of your age (get youthed), or even pick up a new title (you can have titles in Fable and this is what people will shout at you...the default one if "Chicken Chaser"...which grows old quick). 

So, in a nutshell, you can do whatever you want in Fable. On top of that, you can become whatever you want...if you want to become a trader and just earn money, you can create your own trading business of running products from one merchant to another. There is even a drinking rating in the game with stats of how often you've thrown up from too much beer and a rank of your drinking status. Plus, with smooth and simple controls, it all quite simple and easy to get into. Also, for those who've heard of how short this game is...I'm still trying to finish it after 25 hours because there is so much more to do than just the shorter main much more... 


Some people have complained about the frame-rate, or the visual quality, or the lack of character models...these people are the same ones who want Morrowind to forever be considered king of action-RPGs on the XBox and need to shut the hell up. The frame rate may drop to 30 FPS, but I'll let you all in on a is nearly impossible for a human eye to detect this "flaw"...I mean if we could make out the true quality of 60 FPS, then we would be able to see our lights or TVs flicker on and off 60 times a second (to be scientific...hell, it is my day job...electricity cycles about 60 times a second in the US and thus our lights flicker at a comparable rate to seeing the frames of a 60 FPS game). So, as I was saying, these trolls who bitch and moan about something as ground breaking as this game need to just shut the hell up and move on to whatever is their cup of tea. 

Ok, that went a bit off topic, but I'm back. The visuals are simply amazing. You can see every detail of your character, from wrinkles with age, to the nubs of horns just beginning to grow as you turn evil, to differences in one type of great axe from another. The worlds are finely detailed, your spells look amazing in action, the trees have individual leaves...let's just say this is about the most gorgeous game I've seen on the XBox...about?, it is the best looking XBox game out there (for now, at least...Halo 2 is breathing down out necks). There is so much detail that you could just stare at the game in awe, yet without the horrible realistic visual issues of a Square RPG (Square usually leaves out vibrant colors and opts for so much realism that the visuals tend to inspire less and make you simple thing that you could see all of the same things if you look out your window). The colors are bright and the character models are clearly detailed to some rather fine details. Best of all, unlike some games that try to make too much detail into the visuals, and thus make it hard to actually distinguish one object from another (Star Ocean 3 comes to mind), Fable uses a healthy touch of fantasy in the graphics to make it all clear and beautiful. 

Also, the camera in the game is rather brilliant. There are some minor flaws at times, but this is the best 3rd person camera I've seen in a console title. The camera responds quickly, is always at a nice level above your head so you can see in front of you at all times, and can be manipulated to whatever desire you have. Plus, when you want a little more challenge, you can even do archery third person with some breath-taking results. 


To start with, the sound effects are great. I can't go into sound effects with much detail since they are something to be experienced and not just, I'll just say that everything sounds as it should in full, sharp, clear Dolby 5.1. 

Also, at the same time, the music is well crafted. The music always, and I mean always, fits the mood of the current situation. If you are about to face some danger, some quiet battle music will initiate...if that danger then moves to you and you are in a battle type situation, then the music will grow louder and more intense. When you're in a friendly area, one of many different fantasy inspired orchestral songs will begin to play gently in the background. The music, luckily, is never loud enough to drown any other sounds out, but is not so quiet that you wouldn't hear it. Brilliant work was put into this department. 

Last of all is the voice it always comes down to in modern console titles. Every character has voice acting to represent it. There are also dozens of lines said by each character; I mean any non-story townsperson needs lines that show that they fear you, love you, don't care about you, calling you by any of the 20 or so titles you can get, cheering for you, booing when you back down from a challenge, flirting with you, failing to flirt with you, insulted by you, marrying you, having sex with you, love from a spouse, jealousy from a spouse, adoration from other people who wish to be your goes on and on. Plus, each person has at least a few lines to fit each of those situations ("Look, it's the Chicken Chaser!", "Why do they call him Chicken Chaser?", "Hey, Chicken Chaser!", etc). So, there are enough lines to break up any monotony of walking though town, and if there isn't enough for you, you can get a new title and bring about some new lines. 

So, with so much voice acting, is it good? It's actually not too bad. Unlike some very confused games (like Sudeki), all of the voices have the same accent (British) and thus they fit in the world of Albion. The voice acting usually ranges from decent to great (I personally like the narrator's voice's really well acted) and is always clear and understandable (with the exception of one or two words from the guild master and a line or two from the women peasants). So, in the end, for once, I would actually have to say that I like the voice acting of a game...I should mention, however, that your character never speaks (beyond a growl, a laugh, a cheer, etc), so you don't have to worry about your voice not fitting how you designed your character. 


While some people have bitched and moaned about the shortness of this game, or the imagined visual shortcomings, I will simply say how it is. Fable is great. The plot is deep enough to always want you to learn more (even though it looks devoid of plot for the first hour or picks up at a rate that makes you understand why it started slow...very methodical), the visuals are stunning and some of the best visual work I've seen in a game, ever. The audio is not only great, but the voice acting is actually quite good and fitting. Most important, however, is the wonderful game play mechanics. The controls are quick, responsive (the target lock will give you one or two problems through the game...but not often enough to disappoint), easy to learn, and give you far more control than you'd think would be possible from a game pad. While I didn't mention it earlier, there is an exploit or two that can ruin the game if they are abused, but it's an M rated game so we should all have some self control by now (shouldn't we?). There is also a bug or two (nothing major, but my game did crash, save every once in a while...maybe once every 30-45 minutes...and you'll be fine), but nothing bad enough to ruin the game. So, with the exploits and the bugs in mind, I still can't do any worse than to give Fable a 9.75/10 (DAMNED GOOD GAME!!!). However, it seems to be a game that really turns off certain people, so if you're looking for a long game without deviating from the main plot, or if you looked forward to all of the possibilities that Mr. Molyneaux stated years ago, then you should rent it first. It you like 3D Zelda games, simulators dealing with people (The Sims, etc), or a chance to exercise your evil thoughts (like one could do in GTA), then look no further than Fable.