Fable - Heroes?
Monday, March 5, 2012 11:35:24 AM
This was a fresh take on the action RPG, full of powerful spells that weren't all about causing damage and rewarded experimentation (kill a villager in front of a guard then cast Turncoat on the guard and watch him go on a murderous rampage), and styled after fairy tales rather than true fantasy trappings. The monsters were all recognisable but changed a little to make them fit in with classic fairy tales more and the entire setting was based around the legends of King Arthur, in the Albion that a once great leader left behind. Chunky stylised graphics gave a colourful cartoon feel to proceedings, but it was the villagers that truly made the game stand apart. These were pawns for the players enjoyment. You could romance a villager (even having same sex relationships if you wished) then either marry them or give them a fake wedding ring to call off the romance in the cruelest manner. Wear scary clothes and start acting aggressively and the villagers would cower and even run screaming from you. Dress in friendly outfits and act nicely and they would crowd around you giving compliments. Go on a killing spree and the villagers would die permanently, opening up their businesses and houses for the player to buy and rent out, before the village started to restock with people only three days later. All of this was made all the more enjoyable due to the fact that the team had planned for every outcome of you playing with the villagers (even to bad things like beating your spouse) and come up with reactive lines that were perfectly voice acted in Cornish accents. The villagers had the same appeal that characters in The Sims have; you wanted to care and look after them but occasionally they must feel your wrath and vengeance.
I was hooked and joined the community surrounding the game, making a few little posts to give my opinion on where the focus should lie in the next game. To my surprise, almost everything I suggested made it into the game. This spurred me on to make deeper posts on the community site about features I'd like to see, becoming renowned for going into the right amount of detail so that everyone could tell how a feature would work yet not redesigning to the point that these things would require a total redesign of the game systems. Most of the things I suggested seemed to catch the imagination of the fans and developers alike and many could see that while I had ideas about adding depth to the game, I was adamant about keeping it as simple and playable as possible. My Fable kept to the idea of a dark fairy tale and added tactical thought about positioning to the combat, more reactive environments and many more ways to play with the villagers. One of the main things I did was to come up with new ways to get players involved in objectives and make the most of the existing ones, and this in part inspired my in-depth look at sandbox gaming in general.
I lost interest in Fable earlier last year when it became clear to me that the project leaders had little interest in evolving the game and were in fact devolving the series, going beyond streamlining in an attempt to make things simpler and cutting large chunks of the game out at each opportunity. While I'm no stranger to the fact that multiple members of the same brand may be completely different genres, this was a step too far as each game seemed aimed as much at the mass market as possible and left behind too much of what I counted as special about it. A case in point is Fable: The Journey, a Kinect (motion-controlled by camera input) title where the player creates different spells with their gestures and plays from a first person point of view. In many ways this could have been a hell of a game, but to limit the combat to spells only (recent iterations of the game had gotten rid of the more interesting spells and replaced them with straight damage dealers) was the final nail in the coffin of the magic system for me, a system I'd already written up an in-depth and simple redesign for which gave more power back to the player while still allowing for the quick point and shoot of recent games. It was clear that this title marked a move away from where I saw Fable evolving to as a brand and I was actually sad to say goodbye to the series as I'd had incredible hopes for it based on the potential of the early games.
The latest release from the Fable stable will be a multiplayer combat game with a cooperative and competitive edge to it. This download only title sees players choosing to play as one of the Hero Dolls they once collected throughout the games, battling hordes of enemies together across arenas themed after places in Albion and competing to collect as many coins as possible. There seems to be a board game element to it in some places. The game actually looks like a lot of fun and I will be getting it. What it doesn't look like is Fable; either the Fable I knew or the Fable it has become. The style is cute and I can actually see that sort of style enhancing a game with the depth I'd been advocating, but the game itself is an indicator of where the heads of the project are taking the franchise. It has become the catch-all brand for shoe-horning other game styles into (kind of like when the studio behind the excellent Se7en bought a script for an unrelated movie and rewrote it to star Morgan Freeman as the same character from Se7en only psychic this time around, and wanted to call it Ei8ht - thankfully this was as far as that project ever got) and has fallen so far from the potential the series had.
I don't understand why Microsoft is releasing this as only a Fable game when there are so many Microsoft brands that could have been built into it that may have enhanced it in the long run. With both Halo and Gears of War being Microsoft brands and having instantly recognisable main characters and enemies as well as iconic levels, both of these franchises could have been tied into the game to increase the potential fanbase and a new IP could have been created rather than the further desecration of an existing one. Furthermore Microsoft owns Forza too and could have risked the ire of Michael "You can't talk about disappointing a fanbase without mentioning me" Bay by including cars and making them transform into combat modes. Too far? Maybe, but the Halo and GoW comments stand. It would have made much more sense for Microsoft to have balanced the risk of a new release with more characters from existing properties rather than further enraging the fanbase of one of their most controversial titles.
I get that this was developed in-house over at Lionhead and that many of the core Fable team worked on it, but to me this is merely further proof that the team is taking Fable in a more casual direction than almost anyone wants. Does the game look fun? Absolutely. Would making it anything but a Fable title take away from that fun as it adds to the fanbase? No, no it would not.