It is well known among the gaming public that Peter Molyneux loves his hype. Take Black & White for example. I have long maintained that it was the worst £30 I ever spent, and by many accounts its new sequel is at least equally annoying. Fable suffered this fate too to some extent, but as it was an Xbox game all the fuss passed me by.
But now Lionhead Studios have deigned to bless us PC gamers with Fable: The Lost Chapters, and the beautiful land of Albion which lies therein. The Lost Chapters refers to content added since Fable’s Xbox release last year - a few more quests, some extra equipment, and the elongation of the main plot with new areas to explore. Of course, none of this really matters unless you played the previous version, but it’s here for the sake of technicality.
What does matter is the content of the game as a whole. Fable is an action-RPG, similar in some ways to Bioware’s excellent Jade Empire. By “some ways” I mean it has combat, magic, a stats system and a third-person viewpoint. It also has a plot in which your character becomes a Hero (oh, bow down and worship the capital letter) and starts taking quests to aid the people of Albion. Of course, you can be evil instead of good, and there are quests for either alignment.
None of this is what sets Fable apart from the rest however. Unlike Jade Empire, or pretty much any game in the RPG genre, Fable is a game which can laugh it itself. For a start, Albion’s population is voiced in comically regional English accents. Quests are found in the form of Quest Cards from the Guild of Heroes, just in case you wanted to start taking yourself seriously. At the start of the game your character will most probably be known as “Chicken Chaser”, which, while not ideal is a lot better than “Arseface” - one of the alternatives. One way to stop a bully picking on a tramp is to stand next to him and fart. These and a hundred other touches make Fable what it is - a game that can reduce the player to fits of childish giggles.
Fun is undoubtedly Fable’s main aim. Explore the lush Albion countryside, chat to your fellow travellers, have a haircut, grow a beard, get tattoos, steal everyone’s worldly possessions, marry a girl, marry two girls, marry five girls and a man - you can do all of this and more, if you wish. And underlying all of this is a well-crafted RPG. The stats system is easy to use, with experience coming in general, strength, skill and will forms which can be used to improve stats and skills, or obtain new spells. Travel, should you not wish to walk from place to place, can be achieved quickly via teleportation to a number of key sites. Combat is simplistic but enjoyable, allowing the combination of spells and weapons with joyful ease.
I do have some reservations however - three to be precise. The camera, ever the bane of 3rd person games, is not quite right in Fable. After the smoothness of Splinter Cell, Jade Empire and other such games, having a slightly weaving motion when rotating the viewpoint is very noticeable. Second, in a game where there are no dialogue options it seems a strange choice to never hear our Hero speak. And finally, the whole game is just too easy. I died a total of four times, and as you can carry up to nine Resurrection Vials (it does exactly what it says on the tin) at once, none of these deaths caused me any kind of problem.
However it is impossible to really hold these against Fable, particularly the last, as this is a game about having fun much more than it is one trying to challenge your combat ability. So hats off to Peter Molyneux and the Lionhead team. This time you have done a fantastic job.
9 / 10