Ten years since the release of Fable, Microsoft and Lionhead Studios have returned with a new spin on their now legendary fantasy game. Press releases and trailers promised modernized graphics, achievements and many other upgrades to the original Fable. However, a steep $40 price tag threatened to dampen the excitement emanating from the original denizens of Xbox fan-landia. With the pedigree Lionhead and Microsoft brings to the table, expectations were running high for this redux.
More than any other review that I have written previously, I think it’s essential for me to explain my credentials before you read ahead. You see, I have been a committed fan of the Fable series since the original was released. I had been a card carrying PC/GameCube gamer and it was Fable that pulled me out of the doldrums. It wasn’t Halo nor Project Gotham Racing that convinced me to buy an Xbox. It was this slick little RPG with a great story to helped me throw Mario Kart: Double Dash to the side. After beating the original game twice (the second time including the Lost Chapters), I tore into Fable II, Fable III and Fable: The Journey. Hell, I’ve even spent time in the XBLA releases of Fable II: Pub Games and Fable Heroes. I think the only Fable title I missed was Fable Kart released exclusively on Peter Molyneux’s brain waves.
You see, Fable was the reason why I am an Xbox enthusiast. It was my gateway drug. For that reason, my expectations were sky-high for this release. Too bad, Lionhead Studios is proving the naysayers right to fear for the future of this series because Fable Anniversary is a let down.
Immediately after loading the disc, there were several glaring issues with Fable Anniversary. The opening cinematic, an expertly animated short detailing the story, had been rendered full of pixels and showed no signs of being in HD. As first impressions go, Lionhead’s unwillingness or inability to clean up this animation is a terrible one. In the modern era, where AAA video games have cut scenes that rival mega-budget movies, the treatment of this cinematic is an embarrassment. Beneath the pixels, this cinematic has incredible artwork and a voiceover that helped make Fable one of the best games of its generation. Too bad you won’t be able to experience this video the way it was intended.
The next glaring problem was Fable’s choppy framerate. While not as jarring as the opening cinematic, early on there are many instances where the gameplay cannot keep up with what is being rendered. For a production that is supposed to be a graphical upgrade, to not have a better framerate than the original, is shocking. The developers have had 10 years to figure out a way to make Fable run smoothly on an Xbox 360. What the hell happened? The issues with the framerate are so bad, my game froze twice in the first 4 hours of playing. That’s never a good sign for a release. Hopefully, future patches will clean this up and are not a sign of a lackadaisical development.
Another issue that, apparently, ten years cannot heal, is the treacherously slow load times. In this day and age where games like Grand Theft Auto V can instantaneously render streets, to have a game take 40-60 seconds between stages seems like an eternity. It is a true test of one’s patience to load up a level and not get up to make a plate of nachos. If you’re not too picky with your toppings, you could probably make a plate and microwave it in-between levels.
Despite these major flaws, there are some positives to share for those enthusiasts willing to overlook the problems and the needlessly high price tag. The graphics in Fable Anniversary are an upgrade. At first I wasn’t convinced that the graphics were that impressive. However, after the beginning levels open up to show some of the depth and scale of the later stages, it’s apparent that the graphics are on class with some of the best games on the Xbox 360. Granted, though Fable Anniversary does not allow for a sandbox experience, what is on display should impress.
One of the cleanest transitions from ten years ago to now was the gameplay. Because the Xbox 360 controller is almost identical to the Xbox controller, everything translated perfectly. The three main attacks (will, swords and arrows) work exactly like the original. Transitioning between attack types is stilted but identical to how attacks worked in the original. That tends to encourage players to use just one attack primarily and holding onto will as a back-up. It’s definitely an old-school dynamic, but one that shouldn’t disuage gamers from enjoying the gameplay.
Also, worth the price of admission is the fantastic storytelling from the original release. If you missed the first edition or you want to take a walk down memory lane, Fable Anniversary spins a fascinating story full of emotional turns, fantastic accompanying music and authentic voice acting talent. The tale ages well and deserves it’s pedigree as one of the best stories of it’s time.
Comparing the negatives with the positives, I can only recommend this game after the price drops to a reasonable number. Although the graphics and the storytelling are spectacular, the rest of the presentation is problematic and shows its age. Fable is still a great game but one that deserved either a bit more of an upgrade or a realistic price point to justify it’s flaws.
This review is based off of a publisher supplied copy of Fable Anniversary for the Xbox 360.