Review: Fable (XB)

Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Big Blue Box
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: 9/14/04

Yes. It’s Fable. The game that has been massively hyped for well over a year. A game that was mentioned constantly by every gaming website that it would revolutionize not just RPG’s, but gaming as we know it. Peter Molyneux promised scads and scads of things that people thought weren’t possible in games yet. Gamers, even ones that didn’t like RPG’s, were salivating at the thought of finally having FABLE in their hands.

And then came the delays. OH THE DELAYS. But the hype continued. “It’s delayed because it’s going to be THAT MUCH BETTER!!! And then came Peter’s comments that some things would be removed from the game. But they were brushed aside because it was FABLE! And it would be a miracle upon gaming unlike any other.

But I noticed. And raised an eyebrow. And continued to remain skeptical from the day I heard about the game. I knew no game could live up to the hype, but that the money from M$ and the fact gamers had worked themselves into such a fervor, that it would sell like hotcakes and only years down the road would people begin to realize that they were suckered by a PR machine that would make PT Barnum proud.

Or so I thought. I mean I saw this happen with Final Fantasy 7. My god, everyone bought into the hype. Including me. I bought it on launch day. And 15 minutes into the game I was, “Holy crap!” An hour into the game I was like “It’s pretty, but not that interesting. But then, my adrenaline is probably wearing off.” Ten hours into the game I was, When is anything even remotely interesting going to happen?” Twenty hours later I learned I could make a packet of ramen noodles while waiting for a Guardian Force to finish its summoning scene. By the time I was done the game I was convinced Square had suckered everyone into playing something that was beautiful by other than that, lacked any originality or value whatsoever. I beat the end of the game (No spoilers) with my feet and while also playing a game of Sim City 2000 on my Saturn. And the more I talked to gamers, the more I saw all their cared about was the graphics and the potential for homosexual liaisons between the male characters. Square had succeeded in giving gamers around the world a simultaneous lobotomy and from then on, it was all about graphics over gameplay and angst ridden 2-D characters over plot. And I was convinced FABLE was going to do the same thing. Just a mindless brainwashing of gamers who would worship the game, even if it was mediocre, because they were taught to.

And that’s why I was surprised I got called on to review Fable. Especially with the load I’ve been putting in this month reviewing as many games as the rest of the Kliq combined. I considered the potential for Burnout from all the other games causing me to weigh this one down. Or that my previous skepticism would keep me from giving it a good score. But then Silent Hill 4 came along and I usually hate that series, but really enjoyed that game, so I felt I wouldn’t be biased. And thus you know how you came to read the review you are reading now.

I wonder if Paul Harvey has a replacement lined up…

Let’s Review

1. Story

The story of FABLE is the tale of a nameless silent warrior. Yes, it’s a nostalgic trip back to the days of 8 and 16 bit RPG’s in that respect, isn’t it? The young boy, who is obviously deformed as his hands are the size of his torso watches in horror as his family and village is burned to the ground and slaughtered by mysterious bandits. He is saved thanks to a great hero named Maze. Maze teleports the nameless boy to the Hero’s Guild of Albion, where the boy becomes versed in the arts of sword, bow, and magic. Then he grows up and sets off to forge his own legend. Whether that legend becomes one of evil or heroism is up to the gamer.

And that’s really the plot. I wish I could tell you it was more detailed than that. But in fact, the story is one of the most amazingly generic ones I’ve seen in a game. Not only does the main character remind you of a 1980’s RPG main character, but the plot is pretty much the same. Even anything remotely resembling twists or surprises in the plot are foreshadowed well in advance and scream “HEY! We’re pretty bad at being subtle here!”

Sure you can get married, have sex, get a haircut and tattoos, but it’s filler. There’s no substance to it. Like much of what occurs in the game that you can do, there’s no actual affect on the plot.

FABLE promised to be a game where you can do everything. But in fact very little of what you do has much of an effect. I can butcher an entire trader’s outpost and my Good/Evil bar barely moved. I cut down half a dozen innocent traders after escorted them past a ground troll thing. Disappointing.

I really feel Fable comes off as a second rate open ended story RPG. Compare it to either Morrowwind or Arcanum. Both of those have a lot more options that you can do. As well, your choices in those games have more of an effect on what happens later in the game. It just leaves me shaking my head when FABLE had all this hype, and really it’s doing things that were do-able in 2002, and even worse, to a lesser effect.

Usually with an open ended RPG, I can be a little lenient to a lack luster plot, because there are supposed to be tons of mini sideplots that you can engage in. Not here though. It’s all one big ball of vanilla.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Okay. Not impressed at all. Really. Not only have I mentioned that the hero as a boy has massive hands compared to the rest of his body that made me laugh until he grew up, but all of the characters looked… wrong. The facial expressions most of all. None of it looked even remotely plausible by what we know the Xbox is capable of. It’s just not a very pretty game when the close ups happen.

The monsters are amazing though. I loved whenever I would encounter a new creature. They were stunning behold and a lot of fun to fight.

The cut scenes were again just not that good. When a game looks better when you’re actually playing it than it does in cut scenes, that’s not a good sign.

There were also some glitches I found. In over half the towns, I found a building I could walk into. And not through the door, through the wall. I’d be in the wall, unable to go to the other side, but I could in fact do a really good Kitty Pryde impression.

My biggest complaint about Fable as you will find reading this, is that everything is just too generic. No real style or creativity. Just run of the mill RPG stereotypes mixed with other RPG stereotypes.

I guess I was looking for something that would have pushed the Xbox’s limits from what they hyped the game up to be. Instead I got a game that could pretty much run on the PS2 or Dreamcast.

I do like the graphical changes such as scars and hair actually moving in the wind or in combat, something we never got a generation ago. So don’t get me wrong. The game has above average graphics, but it offers nothing visually stunning compared to a lot of what else is currently out there in this generation of games.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

TOO. MUCH. COCKNEY. Oh lord, I thought I was free of that accent forever when I moved from England. Cockney makes the Deliverance version of the American southern accent sound heavenly. Why on earth anyone thought it would be great to use the same few voices ad nauseam is beyond me.

And that’s a big complaint in and of itself. It’s the same few voice actors jibber jabbering with the same few lines of speech constantly. And considering they chose some bad actors with even worse accents, it just encouraged me to kill them all. Seriously. After I beat the game, I ran around killing every character who spoke with a cockney accent. And why not? They deserved it! I was evil and they were limey scum.

The voice work was generic bordering on annoying. There was some good voice acting, such as the narrator. But even he had the perfect GENERIC narrator voice. Everything felt whitebread in Fable, and the words were no different.

The intro theme was done by Danny Elfman, whose name should be instantly recognizable to you. The rest of the music was done by Russell Shaw. And oddly enough, I wasn’t impressed by Elfman’s tune, but rather liked the music in the rest of the game. Weird, no? But I found the music in Fable pleasantly soothing. Nothing gripping or that I would be able to remember a day after playing, but it was good for what it was.

So some good music, and some voice acting that was either terrible or decent, but nothing memorable. That’s Fable all right.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Gameplay and Control

I hate when I want to use the bow in third person mode and the same stick for moving/aiming turns me into first person mode. I wish to god that wasn’t the automatic setting for first person mode. And that the bow wasn’t like airplane controls. I want up to be up and down to be down!

But other than the few minutes it took to stop pouting and adapt like a big boy, the controls are pretty good. Sure I occasionally messed up in the beginning, like not realizing the investigate button caused to STEAL in front of the guards which is usually allowed in RPG’s, or when I was using lighting and killed a few innocent bystanders in addition to bandits because I was too far away to tell, but that’s life, right? I mean, everyone makes mistakes.

Everything is laid out pretty well on the Xbox controller and it’s easy to memorize what does what. So aside from the aforementioned annoyance of how you go into first person mode, my only other real issue is with the camera.

Ugh. Sometimes that camera is pretty damn crappy. Especially in boss fights. Wow did I get annoyed. It’s not as bad as the camera in say, Ninja Gaiden, but it’s still not something that makes you feel serene and happy.

But there are some pretty bad points worth mentioning here. Why don’t I just number them?

1. Please do NOT announce your game as one that lets you, “Evolve in real time” when your character ages 10 years in 3 game days. How does that even remotely make sense. Okay, so you age from spending experience. I can ALMOST see that. But for me it ruined my enjoyment of what was supposed to be the key selling point of the game. At 80 years old I’m supposed to have maxed out physical stats? Am I the only one that sees this as messed up?

2. The marriage aspect should be more than buying gifts and using a scant few emotions. Even old SSI D&D games did marriage and dating better. For all Fable promised to be, how hard would it have been to add Dating Sim aspects to it? Thousand Arms and Sakura Taisen did it and THEY weren’t hyped to be the most revolutionary game of all time.

3. No one cares you can have sex in the game except for sad little perverts that will never see boobies outside of pornography. The fact the game keeps tracks of this is just bizarre and I can’t imagine what meeting occurred where someone thought this would be a good idea. A joke or sarcastic comment gone wrong perhaps?

4. If you’ve been super good or super bad throughout the entire game, why would it offer you a choice of endings? I appreciate that there are four endings, but nonetheless, why would you have horns and a cloud of flies and then do a swerve circa WCW the Vince Russo years when you are given a certain choice. Nutty.

5. It annoys me that it’s a lot easier to earn physical and skill experience than it is to earn magical exp. Combine that with the fact spells also cost more experience than the average physical or skill increase, and it’s a lot harder to become and expert mage. Pity, as the magic is far more fun than the bow or the blade.

But yes, overall the gameplay and controls are decent. Nothing great, but not bad enough that it frustrates you. It is obvious however that things were slapped together and rushed because the original vision of the game couldn’t be achieved.

Gameplay and Control Rating: 6/10

5. Replayability

There’re 4 endings, and the game is one of the shortest RPG’s EVER. This means you can play through it two-three times in the amount of time it would take you to beat another RPG. Along with all the side quests and demon doors and villagers to murder or marry and houses to buy and skills to learn, Fable is a game with a lot of replay value. However, once you have played the game once, you may not want to play it again.

It’s fun, but the longer you play it, the more you realize how disappointing it is. Not because the game is bad, but because the expectations and hype were so high. After a while everything feels exactly the same. Very few characters have personalities and you find yourself just doing the same thing over and over again.

As I mentioned earlier there is a veritable HORDE of games that do the same things Fable does, but they do them better and also did them long before the game came out. Games like Arcanum, Fallout, The Bard’s Tale, Morrowwind. And it’s sad to see very few reviewers bringing up the biggest fault of the game: It failed to deliver in the way it promised to most. And that right there makes it hard to want to play it more than once. However if you can get over that, or haven’t played any of the aforementioned games, you just might keep Fable around for a while.

Replayability Rating: 6/10

6. Balance

Although I already touched on the fact the experience/aging/dating systems are out of whack, there are a few other problems. Most of which is the game is too easy. I used 1 resurrection vial the entire time, and that was only because of bad camera angles and I couldn’t get it switched around in time. Other than that the game was just too easy to plow through.

Another important note, the lighting spell you start with and the fireball spell are amazingly broken and overly powerful. If you put a lot of points into magic power (mana), you can kill pretty much anything without going near it, especially from the rapid fireball glitch.

There’s no real AI either. Everything seems to use the same exact patterns and once you figure them out, the game becomes even easier. Again we see this game is a throwback to older style action RPG’s like Magic Knight Rayearth for the Sega Saturn or Legend of Oasis and the like. However unlike those games, Fable is really missing the heart and creativity of old RPG’s. It tries to capture the nostalgia while combining options not possible back then, but it comes up short on both accounts.

The other thing worth touching on is how long the game takes. 10-12 hours. That’s it. Even with doing pretty much everything. Considering this is the age of epic 40-80 hour RPG’s, this is a bit of a letdown.

Now don’t get me wrong. I will not give Fable a low score because it is short. But let’s look at Nippon Ichi’s games. Both Rhapsody and Phantom Brave can be beaten in under 15 hours. And those games are amazing. They are original, fun tactical style RPG’s full of plot and character development. Fable lacks all of these. It’s generic, the plot is bland and it falls short of everything it promised. But a game that is short and easy and lacks any real substance? That’s not very balanced, is it?

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

I’ve already touched on the fact that nearly everything in this game that was supposed to be amazing, new, and groundbreaking has already been done in other games, and better to boot. The new things they do try like aging, and scarring, and changing of the character’s appearance through moral actions are all nice, but they’re shallow and only visual things that haven’t been tried before. Still, it’s the age we live in where games are primarily about graphics now.

Oh yes, we have the sex in an RPG now. That’s… oh wait. No it’s not. Phantasy Star 3 had mating. And Leisure Suit Larry games! Although those aren’t RPG’s.

I honestly can’t think of anything in Fable that isn’t either cliche or at the very least been done before by a lot of other games that just didn’t have the hype and PR machine Fable had.

If only Peter Molyneux had been able to deliver what he promised, this game would have been amazing. Instead, being an average game just doesn’t cut it considering the hype around it.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

It’s a game you can beat in a weekend, and yet, I never really got into it. At least not when I played it seriously. The only times I ever truly found myself enjoying the game was kicking chickens, luring cockney accented villagers out of town and murdering them, or other things not at all connected to the real plot. Stupid zany little acts that without being put in the game, would have made Fable feel less than mediocre.

As for the main plot, because the story was so generic and typical of RPG’s in general, it was hard to stay motivated. And the longer I played, the more disappointed I got. I kept waiting for something big and dramatic to separate it from the pack like it was promised to do. And well… nope. Didn’t happen,

Again, not a game that really draws you in. It’s not Shenmue. It’s not Arcanum. It’s not Morrowind. It’s not able to stand up to any of the other games that offer the same things. Years from now, Fable will be considered one of the most overhyped games ever and people will sit around going “How did we fall for that?” I’ll tell you how. Really good advertising and shills at web sites and in magazines promising this game would be better than sex. But it ain’t.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

It’s Fable. It broke sales records and everyone will play it. And no one will hate it. I don’t hate it. I think it is an above average game. But nothing more than that. And after the hype dies down, most people will end up agreeing with me on that.

I can’t say much more but that it gets a perfect score here for being an RPG that literally because the game every gamer should have, making Pokemon and Final Fantasy games look sad in the process.

Appeal Factor: 10/10

10. Miscellaneous

There’s a lot packed into Fable. Tons of mini quests, demon doors, things to wed, have sex with, kill, steal, etc. Nothing of them are amazing though. They’re merely time wasters. Yes, the fact your body can change with actions and stats, but the aging process is bizarre to say the least and the looks can change from one side of the spectrum to another in half an hour. It’s got a lot of great idea, but nothing is balanced. Nothing feels polished.

It’s ashame because even though there was no way Fable could live up to the hype thanks to all the stuff that was cut before release, so much more could have been added to make the game rewarding and worth the money spent. But nope, the game and Microsoft relied on hype alone. And hype won. It sold the game and they’re making a mint. But years from now Fable will be scrutinized not hailed as a game of its age. And if they’re content with a cheap and quick buck over a game with a longstanding legacy that gamers will love even 2-3 console generations later, then that’s their call. I can’t fault them for it. I can feel bad for those people that paid full price for this though.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Fable is NOT a bad game. Not by a long shot. It’s just not a great game. It’s not even a good game. It’s a decent above average game that is worth a rental or waiting until it’s a Greatest Hits title. But no way can I endorse buying this game for a full fifty bucks. It’s not worth it. You should play it though to see how hype and PR for a game can truly over exaggerate not only its worth, but how good of a game it is. I’m still mystified by these people giving it 9’s and 10’s. It does nothing better than slightly over average. And in the end, I have to ignore the rose tinted glasses and give them game what is deserves, not what we’ve all been programmed to give it.



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