And so, dear readers, we return to Albion. Or is that re-return? How do we phrase starting from the beginning all over again with a new coat of paint? Hmm…perhaps “Once Upon a Time” will do? Either way, let’s find out if the HD release of Fable is a shining prince, a damsel in distress, or the big bad wolf.
It’s hard for South Africans to be nostalgic about a console we never really got. The original Xbox never appeared here, and therefore, our first foray into Albion and the adventures contained therein only came to us in the guise of Fable II, or for the later-comers, Fable III (reviewed by us over here). For those of us who suffer FOMO, the wonderful people at Lionhead Studios have repainted Fable for its Xbox 360 debut and 10-year anniversary. Actually, it’s less a repaint and more a minor overhaul. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Ahem. Let’s open the pages and begin.
Once upon a time, in the land of Albion lived a boy and his family. And then things got worse.
This inevitably meant that the boy had to become a hero (or villain, if that’s what you choose) and save all of Albion in the process. The tale is timeless, really, but is the gameplay itself? It’s…well, adequate. The camera, for example, is still very clearly unchanged from the original game, and doesn’t have that smoothness that we’re accustomed to. The targeting system, too, is quite clunky, and there’s no better way to explain it than with an example. You wander bravely into an area (more about which later, because I have many a gripe with “areas”) and lo! Many enemies litter thy path. ‘Tis naught but a quick slip of the trigger to target an enemy and launch thy attack. Die, foul foe! The foe is dead and you swing again to fell the following foul foe, but wait! What tomfoolery is this? The target has changed not to an enemy, but to a comrade along the way, and of course you’ve launched a flurry of blows before realizing your mistake. And this, dear readers, is how you inadvertently become the most hated man in all Albion. You’d have thought that this would have been a simple matter to fix, but clearly telling friend from foe is insurmountable.
For an “open world” game, there certainly are a lot of loading screens. And I’m not talking a travail of a thousand leagues from map edge to map edge. We’re talking around … 50 steps. Maybe. 75 steps, tops. With about 15 or 20 enemies max on each map. And then, again, to bide ones’ time against the Load Screen of …Loading. I can understand that the game is 10 years old, however, and this is one of the grey hairs poking out from under the helmet. One of the rust marks on the sword. I also imagine that it would have been one immense undertaking to make the areas larger and the transitions fewer, so there’s no blame assigned here.
That all being said, however, there are certainly many things about the game that are still timeless, and were a pioneering step for RPGs back in its heyday. For example, the expressions that your character can make have an impact on the world, as do your actions and deeds. They don’t only impact the world around you, but also your physical form. Perform more good deeds and the laddie onscreen will start to develop a halo. Succumb to evil, and he grows pointy horns. There’s also the concept of marriage in an RPG, something heretofore unheard of outside of The Sims.
Perhaps the biggest change to the game outside of the new coat of graphical paint is the inclusion of SmartGlass capability to the game, and I tested it quite thoroughly during my time in Albion. Well, tested what I had, anyhow—I understand that there was a power version of the integration for a fee (for instance, the version that comes with the Prima guidebook). What SmartGlass does for you while in Albion is give a nice enlarged version of your map on your phone or tablet. This is great for several reasons, but the most compelling is that the map in the game itself is really frikkin’ tiny. I had trouble figuring out which indistinct pixel was meant to represent me, and which ones were…well…everything else. Exacerbating this problem is that there’s no way to enlarge the map—not that I could easily find, anyhow. So the SmartGlass app was a definite godsend. What became evident, however, is that the app was doing things the long way around: the data from your Xbox360 is being sent to Xbox Live Servers, and then to your device. There’s no direct communication between the two, and given the Southern African Internet climate, you can guess what this means: it’s slow. Which is sad, because it’s a brilliant addition to the game, given that it also shows you the location of chests, doors, and so forth, making your life in Albion far far easier.
What makes something like Fable Anniversary such a treat is the sheer British-ness of the humour, which comes through quite strongly. One funny touch, for example, shows a mostly buck-naked player complete with Union Jack underpants in the inventory screen if you’ve chosen for him to wear no clothes. Or then there are the bits and bobs of conversation you’ll hear on your travels around the countryside where inhabitants will drop many a British slang or compliment or barb your way, and it adds so much to the flavour of the game. You’ll come away charmed, believe me.
And this is where we get to hold the review up to the light and wonder if we can say “…and they lived happily ever after”. For all the years in between—a full span of ten, no less—, Fable is still a brilliant game, probably more so than the two that came after. Despite the wonky camera and wonkier aiming, the small areas, and all the other niggle-naggles that plagues it, it still comes away with a heroic swagger and a glinty dagger. The real criterion here is “is it fun?” Well, yes. It can be a bit frustrating at times, but the fun is still there to be found. No big bad wolf for us today. The skies are bright, the graphics are new and colourful, the SmartGlass is smart, and well…adventure is waiting. Be on your way, hm? And don’t forget to bring us back a nice Jammy Dodger for tea.
Final score: 8 Cockney-rhyming prawns out of 10
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Age Rating: 18