If you own an Xbox and have not heard anything about Fable then you really haven't been paying close attention have you? Few games have been lavished with as much hype and the game had been prematurely branded greatest RPG of all time some years before release. So with the game about to hit shelves in New Zealand, it is time to find out if the game is actually that good.
I have to admit that I was rather excited receiving my copy. The hype had got to me and I have been a huge fan of some of designer Peter Molyneux's past games. Syndicate, Dungeon Keeper and Black and White were all terrific games and if Fable managed to live up to half of the hype it had received then it would blow all his previous games away. So it was with bated breath that I slipped the disc into my console.
The game starts out at your home village where you learn the basics of the good and evil mechanics that dictate how your character develops. Basically, do something wrong like cover up a man cheating on his wife and you get bad points. Do something good like telling the man's wife that he is unfaithful gets you good points. These good and evil points become important later in the game as your character begins to grow. The action proper begins as your village is attacked. The storyline is nothing spectacular. Your Father is killed and your Mother and Sister are abducted. You are led off on a revenge journey to unmask your parents attackers and the reasons behind it. You are plucked from your village following the attack by Maze, a member of the Guild of Heroes who takes you under his wing and takes you to the Guild to be trained.
The Guild is where you learn the bulk of controlling your character. You are trained in melee combat, range combat and magic and basically kicked out into the world to do good or evil as you see fit. Combat is initially quite tricky. Targeting is done in a Zelda-esque way; hold L to lock onto an opponent then strafe around him. However, switching quickly between targets is somewhat cumbersome and led me getting a bit of a kicking in the early stages of the game. Later on though, spells are able to target multiple enemies and things get a lot simpler. Combat is not perfect but it is adequate and quite fun at later points in the game.
Exploring the world is a little different to how I expected it. Rather than one huge continuous world like Morrowind, the land of Albion is split into small areas with paths on each leading onto the next area. It is not a huge concern but there is a small loading time between each area that can be a little annoying. The loading times are a probably a necessary evil though as there is so much going on in each small area. The world is bustling and full of life. NPCs do not just stay stationery; they actually wander around the town like you do. You are able to interact with them incredibly well in a manner quite similar to the Sims. You are able to perform gestures like Flirt, Manly Bicep Pump or Sexy Hero Pose to attract the attention of women, or other men if you so desire. If you want to terrorise the population then you can give them the middle finger, leer at them or even curse at them. Gifts can also be given and you can even get people drunk by giving them too many beers. It is great fun and is all linked to the ability to get married and have sex. Yes people, if your love lives are suffering a little bit in real life then buy a copy of Fable and you can get lucky.
The main core of the game is based around a set of Missions that are doled out to you at the Guild of Heroes. You can select a number of missions each time usually and often there are both good and evil versions of each mission. One I did led me to rob a local village barn with a load of bandits while there was also an option to help protect the barn from bandits. Completing either side of the mission will reward you with good or bad points as well as renown points that help to build up your reputation around Albion. As your renown increases, citizens either welcome you more enthusiastically or you scare them more. The Good and Evil mechanic within the game drastically alters both how you look and how you are treated around the world. Playing an evil character in the game leads to your character sprouting horns, giving off a kind of red smoke and being terrifying to the local populous. Play a good character and you become a kind of God-like figure both in looks and how you are treated in Albion. It is similar to Knights of the Old Republic with its light and dark sides of the force but a little less involved.
Experience earned also allows for customisation of your character. Rather that just earning levels and being given x strength points and y magic points per level; experience is spent exactly how you want to spend it. If you want to create a huge fighter type then spend all your points on strength. If you want to be a mage then spend it all on magic. The experience system is one of the better aspects of the game and customisation can really shine. It also gives rise to the promise that 'No game is ever the same.' It is possible to go back and play through the game in a totally different way again and again.
Huge levels of user character customisation are given another boost in that the character remains almost anonymous through the game. While this might sound stupid, look at it from another perspective. How many people hated Tidus' voice in Final Fantasy X? Who was longing for the days of little blue boxes being the way characters delivered dialogue? It cannot be just me. The hero you create in the game can be perceived however you want to. He is never fleshed out to the level that you are forced into playing as some one else's character. The hero is YOUR character and because of this it is great.
Titles developed ground up for the Xbox inevitably impress graphically far more than ones ported from the PS2. Chronicles of Riddick earlier this year showed off just what the X-Box can do. Fable is no slouch in the graphics department either. The world is absolutely beautiful and brimming to bursting point with tiny little details. The details on your character in particular are worth having a look at. Battle scars accumulate during the game as well as your gradual change into good or evil. Buildings have character and the textures throughout the world are incredible. The whole of Albion is bustling with life and it is certainly one of the most beautiful game worlds ever created. One small problem is the odd random frame rate glitch but it does not happen very often and is forgivable considering the scale of the world.
Sound is also quite magnificent. The music was composed by Danny Elfman of Tim Burton movie fame. He also wrote The Simpsons' theme tune. Rather than the licensed soundtracks of recent gaming history, Fable treats us to a lush orchestral score that suits the game perfectly.
The voice acting is also quite superb with various British regional dialects representing the various NPCs. There are Cockneys, Brummies, Scots, Scousers, Cornish folk and even one German which I think was a bit of a joke. The voice acting is somewhat similar to Black and White in this respect but it really lightens the mood. It also gives the game an incredibly British feel which being a Pom I loved.
Fable is not the greatest RPG of all time. It probably isn't even the best RPG on the Xbox with Knights still holding that title. However it is a very good game and one that is certainly worth buying. The game becomes 'your' game and you really are, to a degree, free to peruse it however you see fit. It has no chance of living up to the hype that has surrounded it for so many years but it is a solid and enjoyable RPG which you should all go out and buy.