As I understand it, Peter Molyneux, the creative lead behind the Fable series, is a man who tends to over promise and under deliver. Well, I know almost nothing about that, so I’m taking Fable: Anniversary for just what it is: a solid action RPG that has enough unique hooks to keep you playing hours at a time.
The story is not unlike that of a lot of role playing games. As a kid, on the day of your sister’s birthday, your hometown is ransacked by bandits, and few people make it out of the burning village alive. Your character, who is just referred to as “Hero”, does make it out alive, and is taken to another town where he undergoes rigorous combat training through to adulthood to get revenge on those that destroyed his town and killed his family. Ah, the all too common revenge story. It gets the job done in giving you a reason to attack the game’s bad guys. To Fable’s credit, once the game really starts, you don’t have to get revenge at all. You can side with the bandits that destroyed your village and disown those that trained you to fight bandits if you so choose. I didn’t play that way, but it’s refreshing that that’s an option.
Actually, that’s a big part of what Fable is all about: player choice. Everything you do has moral weight to it. Depending on who you attack among the game’s cast of character types, an icon with a halo or devil horns will appear with a number next to it. These points count toward a good or evil alignment, and depending on how you’re aligned, characters will applaud your arrival or stay far away from you. This sort of system might seem cliche in a post-Mass Effect world, but Fable predates Mass Effect by three years. There are times where having a moral choice to make at all will surprise you, right up to the end of the game. Even outside of the morality system, there’s a lot you can do. You can own land, get married, become mayor of a town, and more.
Fable is an action RPG, and the action is pretty enjoyable. Your main weapon is the sword, which you can block with until the enemy is vulnerable to an attack. That said, you’re usually better off just swinging the sword freely. This is especially true because you’re often faced with multiple enemies, and blocking one enemy’s attack doesn’t block another’s, causing you to still take damage. Another benefit is that swinging your sword can hit multiple enemies at once.
You also have a bow, which works great for ranged shots. Depending on how many enemies you’re up against, you can take out a group of attackers by drawing your bow and running backwards. There’s a timing aspect to the bow, where the longer you pull it back the more damage you do. This adds a nice strategy element to bow and arrow use. Finally, there’s magic. Perhaps embarrassingly, I didn’t know how to level up my magic until I was about halfway through the game. Once you do though, it becomes a vital part of your combat strategy. There’s a certain satisfaction to using lightning to stun four guys, and then using your sword to polish them all off. The number of magic options available is impressive, and mastering each one will guarantee an easy finish to the game.
Another fun part of the game (really, any RPG) is upgrading your weapons or armor and then trying them out. Sometimes you find a piece of gear in the field that’s way better than what you currently have and you can equip it on the spot. That said, most of the time you’ll be purchasing items in the shop. Something nice about Fable is you actually see the weapons and armor you equip on your character. At one point, my guy looked like a medieval knight with a sword that emitted flames on occasion, which was pretty badass. If you really want the best gear, you’re going to have to grind for it, so consider yourself warned.
Considering that Fable originated on the original Xbox, the graphics have held up remarkably well. A criticism is that the color palette can be a bit samey in places, but the polygons have held up nicely. Playing on PC, the framerate was silky smooth at 1080p resolution, even in intense battles. I played with the Steam Controller, which is something I’m trying to do with as many PC games as I can. The developers at Lionhead took the time to support the Steam Controller, and playing with it felt perfectly natural. That said, it would have been nice to invert the X axis of the camera controls.
At the end of Fable: Anniversary (after a long credit roll), I immediately wanted to learn more about Fable 2 and 3. For an action RPG, the combat is stellar. The story is good, and the writing keeps the tone of the game light and cheery. And most of all, it’s just fun, from start to finish. It’s an essential RPG for any PC, Xbox 360, or Xbox owner.