We were watching… and listening... and waiting.
It was E3 2003 and Peter Molyneux’s associates were showing (behind closed doors) both B.C.and Fable (aka Project Ego). The former was going to allow Xbox gamers to live the life of a prehistoric caveman, and the latter had become a giant cog in the hype machine known as Molyneux’s mouth. Since the initial launch of Microsoft’s maiden voyage into the world of game console production, Project Ego had become attached at the hip to everything Xbox. We got to see trees, grass, butterflies, and a protagonist that aged before your very eyes in a world whose fate relied on the actions of the player. B.C. would eventually be cancelled and Project Ego became known as Fable. After a few years of delays, the title was released to a now-ravenous public. What gamers got from Molyneux (other than an apology on the official website) was a brilliant, “Zelda-like” action RPG that took six years to make, was far too short, contained little to none of the “groundbreaking” features he saw fit to “boast” about in every “town square” (open environments, ability to procreate, kill whoever you want), and was, for all intents and purposes, pretty close to the established norms gamers were used to in their action RPGs. The boasting system, both in reality and within the game, remained intact, however, and Peter Molyneux had just become the first Fable adventurer to “fail his boast.”
You can tell from the basic premise of the storyline that the original intent was to have the player’s choices “shape” the story and its outcome, and as those features were hacked away one by one, the storyline became a mere skeleton outline: sole survivor of pillaged town grows up and becomes a hero/villain, and learns unexpected things about his family while seeking revenge… blah, blah. After weathering such criticisms after the game’s release, Molyneux & Co announced that the PC version will be called Fable: The Lost Chapters and include some additional content that was cut from the game’s original release. This was to serve as a corrective measure to the primary complaint on the game, it’s length.
Fable: The Lost Chapters has now been released for the Xbox on the Platinum Hits label. The overall package is a nice attempt at making the fans happy, but basically it’s just Fable with a few more missions tacked on at the end. The core game is exactly the same, gleaming in its shortness. After completing the main storyline quest, however, is where the “Lost Chapters” begin and yes, you have to play through the whole game again to get to them. Fable: TLC does not read your hard disk for your original Fable saves. If you were thinking that it sounds like nothing more than a twenty dollar expansion pack, you would be correct. This version is best explained as a twenty dollar expansion pack that includes the entire original game as a bonus.
Graphically, Fable: TLC is very pretty to look at. The characters possess a unique look to them, with excessively large hands and feet. It’s the kind of look one would expect from a storybook drawing or Tim Burton film, and it’s very entertaining. The environments are very lush and detailed, almost like you’re looking at a painting of a real environment. The game keeps track of time and both day and night occur when they should. The player’s character is customizable in terms of look, clothing, haircut, tattoos, etc. and the features age over time. The kind of warrior you are and the choices you make will have visual effects on your character (age lines/scars/weight loss and gain). All of the choices are strictly cosmetic, however, and even the features that garner a reaction from villagers don’t affect them in a way that becomes detrimental to the gameplay. They may become frightened or boo at you (or express their love for you), but life goes on. The game does take a very slight hit in the frame rate department if there is a big melee on screen. This doesn’t affect the gameplay much, but it is noticeable.
The sound design is a marvel. The music is both subtle and dramatic (depending on the on-screen action) and the sound effects are first-rate. The main character does not speak in the game (although he does laugh/grunt/coo when the player selects an emotion to display to a villager), and all of the NPC characters speak with a cockney type accent. Any player who does not grin the first time one of their wives in the game speaks with that accent to make a sexual suggestion is a cold-hearted soul. It’s cute and fun to listen to the NPCs, and a more brutish player is bound to feel like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” when beating on them. The surround effects are pure Dolby Digital magic, the kind that makes a listener look around the room to verify that noise came from a speaker and not outside the room. If you have a surround setup, you will love the Fable experience in this regard.
In its essence, Fable: The Lost Chapters is an action/RPG with mostly hack n’ slash elements comprising its primary combat. This served as a disappointment to quite a few who were anticipating the title to use a system more like what Jade Empire ended up delivering. The combat system is comprised of melee combat, magic, and archery and each section can be leveled up individually based on the player’s desire for their character. Since this game does not limit the player to any one specific class you can become proficient in all areas with very little effort. The melee combat system is very reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda series (the 3D ones anyway), and utilizes a similar ‘lock-on’ type system mixed with button mashing. It’s a very simplistic method that players will grasp almost immediately, but a little more depth (and some flashy combos) would have been quite welcome.
There are a few spells within the magic system that are easily exploited, making the entire game far too simple. These quirks were expected to have been addressed and repaired by the time Fable became Fable: The Lost Chapters, but alas, they are still present. Overall, the game is far too easy for anyone out there that considers themselves a gamer, and some have even claimed to not have died a single time through the whole main story. Players can make decisions that affect the way the game plays moving forward, and their alignment will become obvious to all. Continually do evil things, you will grown horns and become either deathly or devilish looking. Be a saint and you will walk around with a blue aura that makes all the women swoon when you walk by.
You will spend the majority of the game going to the Heroes’ guild, accepting quests, completing said quests, and then heading back to the guild to level up and find another quest. This pretty much sums up the entire gameplay experience. The open-endedness promised for this title seems to have been the first thing to go, as all of these quests seem to relate somehow to the main story, and the entire plot is executed in a very linear manner.
All in all, Fable: The Lost Chapters is a bit more of the same. For the twenty bucks you will spend, you will get Fable in its rather short and disappointing entirety, and when you are finished with the main story you will get to do some more quests that people who originally spent fifty bucks on this game could not do. For the twenty dollar price tag, Fable is worth it if your expectations are realistic and you understand what your dollars are buying: a typical action RPG that plays like Zelda and looks and sounds quite beautiful, but is not the groundbreaking change in the way role-playing games are done as its creator once promised.