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Finally the long-awaited Xbox RPG makes it to Europe; has it been worth the wait...
If thereâ??s one thing that Peter Molyneux has besides an expert knowledge in every type of game conceivable, then itâ??s certainly a degree in hype. When a game such as Fable has been in development for so long and amassed so much hype and attention, surely there is no perceivable way that it can live up to everybodyâ??s expectations - as the likes of Molyneuxâ??s previous epic Black & White and the muted reception towards Star Wars: Episode 1 Phantom Menace can testify to.
Having been looking forward to this game as much as anybody, weeping at every delay its seen during its extended development period and jumping around with every new release of screenshots, we decided to take our time with the review in order to see everything that the mighty game has to offer.
Whilst Fable isnâ??t quite the game we were expecting, perhaps the best compliment we can pay is to say that not only does it meet our expectations, but in many cases exceeds them.
Unless youâ??ve been hiding under a rock for the last four years, itâ??s virtually impossible for anybody not to know the basic information regarding Fable; but for those that might possibly have failed to miss out on all the hype and coverage that this game has generated across the last few years, the game originally known as Project Ego, casts players into the fantasy world of Albion, where players assume the role of a young boy, who has to witness his father being slaughtered during a bandit attack on his home village, whilst both his mother and sister are taken hostage. Suffice to say there are one or two surprises in store, but thatâ??s about as much as weâ??re prepared to reveal on the storyline.
In keeping with the moralistic stance of Black & White, Fable takes the concept of playerâ??s actions to the next level. Your decisions throughout the game will have a direct impact on how your character evolves throughout the game, whilst your character ages during the course of the game, grows fat if you eat too much, tans in the sun if youâ??re outside for long periods and even cuts from battles scar over time and provide a lasting memory of particularly frenzied battles â?“ think an RPG crossed with The Sims for a very vague guidelineâ?¦
Perhaps the biggest surprise for us came from the fact that the game is incredibly structured. To begin with we were expecting a free-flowing adventure akin to the likes of Black & White and to a lesser extent Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind; however perhaps learning from the development of Black & White, Fable incorporates a definite structure to your progress throughout the game to ensure thereâ??s no frustrating aimlessly wandering about and that players definitely witness the important elements of the game.
Initially this comes as a slight disappointment, particularly those that are imagining the formative years as a child will be slightly frustrated to learn that your childhood serves only as a tutorial to understanding the basics of combat; once youâ??ve passed it thatâ??s it, onto adolescence â?“ believe us youâ??ll know what we mean by saying a big fat NO when asked â??Do you want to leave your childhood behind?â? for the first time.
However as you progress through the game, the level of structure becomes increasingly evident in creating a well-balanced title, that hooks you from the moment it starts and refuses to let go. As weâ??ve said before, Fable isnâ??t the free-flowing RPG that we initially expected, itâ??s far closer to a traditional RPG, but one that has been refined to near-perfection and one that certainly has a few novel ideas and innovations to throw into the equation. The game is certainly broken up into sections, with your character significantly ageing and evolving once youâ??ve reached a certain milestone, which are depicted with various stylish cut-scenes.
Itâ??s certainly not to say that the game puts heavy restrictions on you as a player, as such youâ??re pretty much free to do whatever you want, however there needs to be a word of caution as the citizens of Albion are a clever lot that interact with you on a level not previously seen in videogames. Usually RPGâ??s have a cast of primary characters and a huge assortment of secondary characters that provide little worth, however in Fable even the secondary characters play an important role â?“ bowing down with fear if youâ??re evil, following you and clapping you on if youâ??re heroic, falling in love if youâ??re a handsome hero and equally taking the piss if youâ??re not. The sense of belief is quite frankly staggering, and still amazes us despite the fact weâ??ve busted the game open on a few occasions and seen pretty much everything it has to offer.
Tying into this is one of the games finest introductions in the shape of the Expression System. Instead of just tapping the A button to play back the same line of dialogue over and over again, Fable features an expression system whereby various expressions are mapped onto the d-pad. To begin with your player only has access to a few childish terms such as laughing, whilst the Lionhead fans will be happy to know that toilet-humour prevails and youâ??re free to belch and fart at whoever takes your fancy. As you progress through the game your alignment and experience awards new expressions such as the â??Heroâ??s Poseâ? or the â??Manly Arm Pumpâ?, allowing you to have even more of an impact on the citizens of Albion and crucial if you want to strike up a more personal relationship with a specific character. Quite honestly itâ??s entirely possible just to take your time with the game and build up relations (good or bad) with the locals; as Molyneux has stated in the past, villagers from one town could worship you, whilst another could fear you based solely on your actions.
Although the main storyline of revenge, and the quest to save your mother and sister runs throughout the game, and is specifically tied into primary goals and missions, a large part of the game relies upon building up your presence as a hero within Albion with a wide selection of secondary missions. Your character joins the Heroes Guild early in the game, with the Guild Master acting as your mentor during the formative stages. Within the Guild Hall is a map-table, which allows you to not only gain an overview of the world of Albion but also select quests that you wish to undertake. Again this method is a little more structured then we were initially conceptualising, but once again helps to ensure that the game is always tightly focussed. Once youâ??ve selected a certain mission, another of the games multitude of smart touches becomes apparent â?“ the ability to boast. Boasting acts as a sort of wager and sees your character stand up on a podium just outside the Guild Hall, where youâ??re free to select certain requirements such as fighting with no armour or with only your fists. Each objective costs you a varying amount of money to boast, however the rewards of a successful completion under the terms can be great.
Missions throughout the game, both those tied to the main storyline and secondary are exciting, and the overall plot has more then its fair share of twists and surprises; however one strange issue is the fact that not many give you the opportunity to perform them from a Good or Evil perspective. Certainly one missions stands out early on in the game, offering you the choice when you select it, to either complete it from a Good or Evil angle, but after that the majority of missions give you a single goal. Itâ??s not quite the free-flowing structure that we originally envisaged, and perhaps one of the few real disappointments that Fable provides.
Completing missions not only grants you money but also Renown Points, which are critical to the experience gained within Fable. Renown Points serve as your recognition within the world, and whilst youâ??ll start out as an unknown and likely become the subject of much ridicule and mocking, earning enough Renown Points will see the villagers act in strange ways, such as talking behind your back and clapping you on your way. Tied into this are Good and Bad points, which accumulate based on your actions and have an impact on your alignment. Such actions as saving merchants from bandit attacks and performing good deeds in general naturally earns you good points, whilst such acts as murdering villagers, trespassing and stealing will all see your character slip towards the evil side.
Quite honestly the level of interaction with the hundreds of characters in Albion exceeds our highest expectations; youâ??re free to marry characters, have gay relationships, although itâ??s not advised you can manually lock-on to villagers and attack them â?“ however the best thing is that they all remember, so if you stroll into one town on a murderous rampage and find yourself eventually kicked out by the guards, the next time you stroll in there youâ??ll find villagers running away and cowering down in fear. We could easily write pages and pages of the experiences weâ??ve had just in this area, safe to say itâ??s been implemented exceptionally and itâ??s just something you want to take your time with and enjoy.
As with any RPG combat features heavily in the game, with virtually all of the non-town locations having some sort of ferocious monster to defeat. The combat is on the whole exceptional, utilising the left shoulder button to lock-on and the X and Y buttons to perform standard attacks. Large combos boost what is called your â??Combat Multiplierâ?, which in turn allows you to pull off a devastating â??Flourishâ? manoeuvre with the B button once youâ??ve reached a certain level. The combat is nicely based on rhythm and timing, so it doesnâ??t just degenerate into a mindless button-basher and youâ??re free to swap between your melee and range weapon with the black and white buttons.
In addition your character can become a master of magic with a huge assortment of spells to unlock. The magic system maps three spells to the X, A and B face buttons, with players having to hold onto the right shoulder button to swap between physical combat and magic. Sadly this throws up one of the games few problems, which comes when youâ??ve amassed a mighty assortment of spells, you have to find yourself rotating the three featured on the face buttons with the Y button; itâ??s perhaps the only way around it, but you will constantly find yourself rotating too far and casting the wrong spell when the battles become increasingly intense.
As a whole however the combat canâ??t be faulted, itâ??s quick, responsive and a lot of fun. More importantly thereâ??s a lot of depth to it, as players can discover and equip a significant number of weapons and spells, which can in turn all be upgraded by levelling up your character. Both physical and magic attacks can be incorporated into combos, creating some hugely dynamic battles that look as exciting as they are to play.
As written in the RPG statures Fable grants experience points for killing monsters and completing quests, which in turn can be used at the Guild Hall to level up your character â?“ not entirely surprising. However what Fable does do better then any other is to portray the effect that levelling up has on your character. Upgrading your attributes related to strength, health and just general toughness will result in your character becoming bigger and growing muscles that would make Arnie proud; whilst those who concentrate on their magic will notice that their character strikes a wiser and more majestic pose. Itâ??s not just your physical attributes that can be upgraded, but also your spells, allowing your character to become a serious bad-ass once youâ??ve mastered some of these.
Certainly a lot of criticism has been levelled at the duration of the game, and we have to admit that we managed to progress through the entire game, completing virtually all of the primary and secondary quests in less than 13 hours. That said we definitely recommend taking your time and enjoying the experience; you can really appreciate the years of development that have gone into creating such a believable game world, in which your actions have a diverse consequence on proceedings. Along the way players can obtain such items as a spade and a fishing rod, providing the scope for spending days just admiring the sights and engaging in a spot of fishing, thanks to a fun little mini-game. In addition there are numerous bar-games to play such as Pairs and Black-Jack with locals at the tavern, whilst youâ??re able to literally drink yourself sick with a steady supply of ale.
One other area of concern is that itâ??s just too easy to gain experience, level up and turn your character into a bad-ass that simply canâ??t be beaten. RPG fanatics will certainly feel that this area of the game hasnâ??t been fine-tuned enough, and will find that the experience becomes very much a walk in the park once youâ??ve reached a certain stage.
The various merchants and shops throughout Albion utilise an actual trading system, resulting in stock that diminishes over time and is re-supplied in the morning with characters carrying boxes to the shops. Itâ??s a dynamic system, so players are free to act as a merchant throughout the game, picking up certain items at a lower price and selling them of for a profit. One particularly neat touch is the ability to scare the characters into dropping their stock, and thus driving up demand for a certain item, which you are then free to sell to them (provided youâ??ve got it) at a tidy profit. Its little touches such as these that extend Fable beyond its basic structure, and encourage players to truly â??liveâ? in the majestic world of Albion.
Visually the game is a champion of style over technicality, although thatâ??s not to say that the game isnâ??t impressive. The game world is vibrant and packed full of little details, and whilst the inhabitants of Albion may not be overly detailed they fit in nicely. The game uses a variety of special visual effects such as bump-mapping and specular shading, to create a definite depth to everything whilst the lighting creates a beautifully saturated look to the whole canvas. Special note must go to the main character who is wonderfully detailed, whilst the various incarnations based upon your alignment and how they affect his visual appearance is astounding. Occasionally when the screen becomes cluttered with characters there are moments when the framerate slows down, and less frequently it can become completely fixed and take a few seconds to sort itself out.
Although the visuals impress, theyâ??re nothing compared to the music throughout the game. Enlisting Danny Elfman to provide the theme-music, itâ??s testimony to the rest of the game that this holds up to Elfmanâ??s effort. The orchestral soundtrack truly brings the experience to home, and creates an atmosphere that suits the game brilliant; in fact all areas of the presentation help to create a fantasy look and feel thatâ??d you imagine from such books as The Brother Grimm. Of equal quality is the sheer number of voice lines recorded and used throughout the game; naturally the cut-scenes are of high quality, however all the citizens of Albion have something to say based around your character, his level of renown and what youâ??re doing. Most of it is told in our own very local South-West accent, so there may be some grimacing whenever you hear â??My Luvverâ? for the umpteenth time, but it all suits the context of the game.
Certainly there are issues over the length of the game and the balance of levelling up your character, but it’s likely that only the most hardened of RPG fanatics can level these complaints against the wonderful world that Big Blue Box have created for players to explore. Without doubt Fable is one of the finest videogames yet that we’ve had the pleasure to play, in which your actions have a definite consequence to the progress of the game – it’s all handled so naturally, that a lot of it passes you by without noticing.
We could have written many more pages on Fable and feel that there are many points we’ve left out, however we’ve deliberately stayed away from revealing plot details as they certainly provide a lot of the emphasis for progress in the game. Just buy it, enjoy it and hope that Fable 2 won’t take so long to arrive.
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