Nearly a decade ago, the original incarnation of Fable hit the original Xbox and it was one of the most hyped releases on the platform. It fell a bit short of Peter Molyneux’s hype, but still delivered an excellent action-RPG romp that offered up something new in the morality system. While good and evil paths have been done to death since then, they weren’t commonplace then – making it a different experience now than it was at the time of its original release. The follow-ups to this game have received mixed reviews, with many feeling the franchise peaked with this first game, so a remake of it made logical sense. Halo 1 had one, and it was revered for not only putting a fresh coat of paint on an older game, but doing so while being able to swap between the old and new visual styles. You can’t do that here, which is probably a good thing as they’ve focused on modernizing the presentation in many ways.
The core game remains unchanged, so like before, you start the adventure learning about the townspeople, running minor errands, and eventually giving a gift to your sister before the town is ravaged by bandits who slaughter the entire town, kill your father, and capture your mother and sister. Fortunately, the Guildmaster saves you and teaches you the ways of the Jedi…err…Guild. Here, you’ll learn melee combat, magic, and archery. The original game’s somewhat clunky combat controls have been changed up to closer replicate Fable II and III, which means that melee and magic combat feel better, but shooting arrows with Y feels a bit clunky. Luckily, you can swap between control setups on a whim, so if you loved the original controls, you can stick with them. Quests vary between fetch quests and combat, and while the former can drag on, the latter allows you to really let loose. Fable is a challenging game in combat because you can be ganged up on fairly quickly. Knowing when to regroup is key, and you’ll probably want to save often just in case a battle doesn’t go your way.
With so much time passing between the original release and now, the most compelling reason to check it out was to not only see how much better the graphics were, but also to see how well the gameplay had aged. The story is as basic as it was before – it’s not really all that compelling, but it does have some twists in it and is reasonably compelling. The ability to make your character either nice or evil remains entertaining – even if the idea has been done before. Fortunately, very few action RPGs have done it since, so it still feels somewhat fresh here even if it’s become a well-worn thing in gaming. The fantasy setting done with a heavy focus on comedy and light-heartedness helps make the fetch quests a bit more enjoyable – even if nothing quite tops the early mission of helping a woman find her cheating husband leading to a hilarious rant from her when she finds him.
There haven’t been any major changes to the core game beyond the control changes and the inclusion of the Lost Chapters DLC from the original release, which was already thrown into the platinum hits version. As with any HD remake, the redone graphics are going to be the difference people are most interested in and this one largely succeeds in that regard. Fable was a gorgeous Xbox game ten years ago, and after playing it again recently, I was surprised to see that its lighting effects have held up quite well to age. Its character models and environmental textures certainly haven’t though – although they aren’t so much ugly as they are clearly old and eclipsed by time.
The developers have taken note of the original’s flaws and thankfully remade everything. In doing so, it’s resulted in the environments looking a lot better and the whole game looking more modern – but it does underwhelm at times too. The character models feature far better clothing, but the faces still look fairly generic. The environments now have a touch of depth to them, but don’t look cutting-edge and since you’ll be seeing a lot of them up-close, the sometimes-muddy texture work sticks out more. Character models also look better than before, yet the faces still have a plastic sheen to them that hurts the reality of things. The graphics are a huge mixed bag because while they are a massive step up from the original, they also have a lot of shortcomings. The end result is a remake that offers up a tremendous overhaul, and yet still winds up a bit underwhelming due to the textures being so iffy.
The audio seems to be the same as it was before. Luckily, it was done right before then and still sounds fantastic today. The music is straight out of a renaissance fair and fits the setting perfectly, while the voice work is solid but not exactly the greatest you’ll ever hear. The cast does a good job with what they’re given – so the comedic moments come off as funny, bullying characters come off as cruel, and so on and so forth.
Fable Anniversary is a hard game to judge because while it’s a massive improvement on the original game in some ways, it simply doesn’t feel like it’s reached its full potential. The redone controls work really well and help this blend in more seamlessly with the sequels. The visuals certainly look better than they ever did before, but are greatly hurt by iffy texture work on the faces that results in them looking more like action figures than people, and muddy textures throughout the environments. Fable’s soundtrack and voice work have held up nicely over the past decade though, and are as fun to hear now as they were then. At $40, it’s worth buying if you loved the original release and just want to go through it again. Newcomers to the franchise may prefer to check out the Xbox Originals version of Fable for only $10 instead of spending full-price on this – that will allow you to see if the game is to your liking, and you can still pick this up down the road for whatever price you feel is fair.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a retail copy of Fable Anniversary for the Xbox 360 provided by Microsoft Studios.