If you ever had doubts as to whether Fable Legends was a worthy extension of Lionhead's much-loved RPG series, consider this: in the final, never fully released game, there were at least 10 different ways to fart. There's Sterling, the self-obsessed hero who lets rip into his hand then relishes the ensuing aroma; Flair the acrobat who stands on her hands, parts her legs then politely parps; Inga, the armour-clad bruiser who winds up her arms before unleashing a burst from her bowels. Finally step forth Shroud, the assassin who makes sure he's not being watched before letting out a silent, deadly gust. We truly were robbed of something special.
When it was announced in 2013, Fable Legends was met first with bewilderment which soon gave way to disappointment and finally was washed over by a certain apathy that meant no-one noticed its release slowly slipping, or were particularly surprised by its cancellation last month, even if the fact it took down a studio with it came as a little more of a shock. Fable Legends deserves a little more than an unceremonious farewell and an unfortunate footnote in the closure of another British studio, though - even if the game available to many players in the long-running closed beta was far from perfect, its sense of character marked it out as one of the richer entries in the Fable tome.
It's not just written on the wind of those fanciful emotes, either - although it's safe to say Fable Legends would have easily had the best emote game in the business. Legends' Albion was a beautiful construct in the finest Fable mould; homely, colourful and with a little cider-drunk swagger. (I'll admit to being more absorbed by it than most. Full disclosure time: for a short while last year I helped put together a book on the art of Fable Legends, and prolonged exposure to the homespun fairy-tales that made up this take on the series meant I very quickly became smitten by it all)
If you ever took a walk through Brightlodge, the tumbledown town that acted as Legends' hub-world, I reckon you'd see why. The central square bustled with citizens throwing out seemingly endless lines of bawdy dialogue, while down a set of ivy-shrouded stairs a bucolic view of a forest-lined lake waited to be thirstily drunk by admiring eyes. Move beyond the town's borders and there stood Rosewood, its thick canopies of trees dappled by dusty light, or the shadowed corners of Darkwood. Albion's always been a wonderful place to escape to, and its Fable Legends incarnation was no exception. Unreal Engine 4 could take some of the credit, but it's the artists who deserve the lion's share of the applause for ensuring Fable Legends was absolutely gorgeous.
What characters, too! Brightlodge is busy with incidental dialogue, but the main cast were drunk with detail: the way Evienne, a youthful, wilfully ragged spin on the lady of the lake, was dragged around by her sword, Leech the surgeon's macabre gait or the cocksure swing of Sterling in his gloriously pompous brand of combat. To see one of them emoting in the town square of Brightlodge and drawing in a small crowd of admirers, all that beautiful art coming together in one staggering whole, was to see the next-gen Fable so many of us thirsted for.
It didn't play that way, of course. Fable Legends' premise was always a hard-sell, its four-versus-one gameplay a world away from what fans really wanted from the series. Lionhead talked a good game - inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, Legends was intended to bring some of the best elements of tabletop gaming to vibrant digital life - but it felt like the game was built on shifting stands, first as part of the more connected Xbox One envisioned at launch, then to a cross-platform darling as Windows 10 entered into the fray and finally into a free-to-play title.
The move to free-to-play relatively late in Legends' development might have seemed like a death knell, but really it made little difference (if anything, the character rotation and cosmetic enhancements ushered in seemed like a perfectly snug fit for Lionhead's game). A bigger problem was that Fable Legends' foundations always seemed a bit shaky, its feather-light combat an ill-fitting match for the broader, deeper systems the numerous play-styles of each character brought to the game, while the dungeon master mode seemed undercooked. Was it a complete disaster? Not really, and Fable Legends did all it could with its premise. The bigger problem, perhaps, was that the premise wasn't really up to scratch.
Was Fable Legends another victim of the Xbox One's wayward direction in its early days? Maybe so, Lionhead's illustrious career coming to a miserable conclusion with two titles were hamstrung by the wider ideals imposed upon them, The Journey by its marriage to Kinect and Legends by its association with online that was always an awkward fit for the world of Fable. For all its troubles - and, more specifically, the failings of motion control - The Journey contained enough craft and heart to warrant its existence. Legends looked like it had enough to deserve a shot at a wider audience, even if it was never going to be a huge success. It was destined never to be. Fable Legends' closed beta was switched off last week, and its chances of being resurrected look slim. Albion might live on through another studio's work, but Lionhead's own take on its own fabled land is no more.
With the minutes ticking down on it, I decided to head in one final time to say farewell, asking myself where exactly do I want to be when this world comes to an end? In the town square, amongst the bunting and the bustling crowds, or atop one of Brightlodge's twisted spires? In the end I opted for a small watering hole where players could while away a few hours fishing, and took in the peaceful lapping on the shores. And as the final hour beckoned, I let out one long, loud fart, a scented lament for this once glorious series. What other way could you bid Fable farewell?