Five attempts over three weeks at four different points in gameplay; that best describes my experience with Fable Anniversary. Fable Anniversary is the rare remake that managed to rank higher on my “must play” list than actual new titles. It’s a crazy world where a remake means so much to someone that they would rather play it than experience something entirely (or mostly entirely) new. The Fable Trilogy, and the world of Albion as a whole, holds such a special place in my heart, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
My thoughts on this remake however may be surprising. That is unless you’re a fan of Constantly Calibrating and have listened to episodes “Calibrating The Fable of Aunt Gertrude” or “Calibrating Guardians of the Titanfall“. For the uninitiated, or those who prefer reviews in the written format, I present to you the below text.
A Guild, a Hero and a Mask
When talking about Fable, whether it be the original/Lost Chapters, its sequels, or The Journey, all Fable titles boil down to what kind of story they tell. Well, all but Fable Heroes perhaps, as that is a game that plays to the beat of its own drum. For the longest time I considered Fable: The Lost Chapters to be the best in the Fable series as far as the cohesion between story & gameplay, but after replaying the series in stunning HD, I find myself unsure. Yes, the story is an enjoyable affair as you make your way through the world, exploring the land of Albion in a quest to discover your heritage and right the wrongs committed against you as a child. It’s doubly enjoyable if you do it while farting on everyone you meet, concurrent with sacrificing traders to a god, created by a corrupt businessman.
My main issue with the story is that ultimately it feels too generic, with not enough character focus. We have The Hero of Oakvale — hereto referred to by my character’s name “The Velour Fog” — our avatar in the world whom we get to play and shape as we see fit. He is a person who never speaks in anything other than grunts, yet he has more characterization to him than nearly anyone in the supporting cast. Sure, this is a positive of the title as it works for those of us that are role players whom prefer to embody the character we play. The problem is that a main character is often best defined by his supporting players, something that is exceptionally weak in Fable Anniversary.
Opening section of Fable Anniversary.
First off we have the Fog’s rival Whisper, a character we see a total of five times in the game before finally being given the option of sparing her or killing her in the Witchwood Arena. No matter what you choose, she ends up not being heard from again, except through commentary from her brother Thunder. At no point did I ever feel pressured to outperform her, which may have to do with the fact that the original didn’t have as deep of consequences as we hoped, leading to beating Whisper being a game requirement and not a personal choice. There lies the difficulty of giving players a choice in games: if you give us just enough, but not all the choice, we’ll complain all day, despite what we’re given being something amazing to behold.
Beyond Whisper there are five other major supporting players throughout the first 75% of the game: Theresa, the sister & arguably main character of the series; Scarlet Robe, the mother; Jack of Blades, our gently campy villain; Maze, alternative father figure and childhood savior; and The Guildmaster, actual father figure and notable health management specialist. Outside of the Guildmaster, the other four characters are seen maybe a dozen times combined in the game. This is to be expected out of Scarlet Robe, as meeting her is a climatic late-game scene, but it seems like major players like Maze and Theresa sort of vanish for large swaths of the story. That’s all well and good, but ultimately they have very little impact. I’m not honestly even sure if I realized Theresa was at all important to the story until after the release of Fable II, which seems like an issue when forming a lasting story.
On the alternative side of things, the story in the latter quarter of Fable Anniversary, which makes up The Lost Chapters section of the game is fairly phenomenal. Maybe it’s due to my having played it less all those years ago, but the story taking place around the Northern Wastes seems far more compelling. It also doesn’t hurt that characters like Scythe and Briar Rose, the latter of which was an obnoxious less-than-side character in the main story, are fairly fleshed out. This is aided by The Oracle’s ability to interpret truly interpretative dance into multi-layered loregasms, but still it feels like a deeper connection is formed with them. Maybe this is why a decade later people are still craving a return from Scythe, a character that wasn’t even in the original version of Fable.
Hero, Your Fashion Sense is Low
When remaking a title, developers are given two options: completely overhaul the older, more dated aspects of the game, or keep it completely the same, even if it risks alienating people new to the franchise. Lionhead decided to split the difference and allow players a degree of choice. Did you like the combat of Fable: The Lost Chapters with controls dependent on what weapons were equipped? Or are you more a fan of Fable II & III’s each-face-button-does-a-specific-weapon kind of gameplay? Well, in Fable Anniversary you can try both, and figure out which works better for you. Personally, I opted for the newer control scheme, as I always enjoyed it more.
Complete Calibrations Fable Anniversary: The Arena of Evil
Whichever way you play, it’s still an enjoyable experience; one that is rarely frustrating. Though, when it is frustrating, it becomes a lesson in misery. Simply put, the aiming in Fable Anniversary is awful, possibly worse than it originally was, but maybe that’s the rose-tinted glasses speaking. Multiple times throughout my 42 hours of gameplay, I found myself firing arrows off into space, despite holding down the trigger and targeting a very obviously highlighted enemy. It honestly got to the point that while using melee weapons I gave up on aiming entirely and instead flailed around like a true-to-form berserker. The combat is still fun, if a bit flaily, but thankfully (or not) the game is never difficult enough to fear death due to muddy controls.
A new aspect of Fable Anniversary is its use of Xbox 360 SmartGlass, the rarely properly used second screen experience that Microsoft has been halfheartedly championing the last year or so. At the GameStop Expo last year, I played a demo of Fable Anniversary with James Vale, Art Director on the game, sitting beside me pointing out aspects of the game. Both himself and Ted Timmins, Lead Designer, commented during the demo afterwards that the SmartGlass integration for Fable was among their favorite aspects. At the time I agreed with them, as during my demo I found it quite interesting. Using a tablet, I was able to take a look at original art for locations, watch as demo Velour Fog’s image walked around the map, and see where chests were in the world. I’m not sure if something changed between August and February, but my experiences with SmartGlass were ultimately less than stellar.
For starters, the SmartGlass app on its own is nothing more than location maps with the aforementioned comparative pictures of how Fable used to look. To get the interactive map, showing Silver Key locations, Demon Doors, Dig Spots, and more, you either have to drop $3 for the add-on pack on Xbox Live Marketplace (don’t do this!) or drop $20+ for the official strategy guide. Personally, I have a bookshelf devoted to fancy strategy guides, so it was a no brainer to go the latter route for me. That and there is some really great art, as well as a look back at the making of the original Fable that’s well worth a read for most fans. That being said, the app itself ended up being a complete joke. Switching from map to map on my Surface takes at least a minute, usually longer, as the app regularly freezes up. If I can keep it loaded it doesn’t always update, oftentimes not even showing The Velour Fog on-screen. The most grievous offense of the app however is the fact that it’s not even accurate. As I neared the end of Fable Anniversary, I realized that I was missing five Silver Keys, which was all I needed to finish my last two non-story achievements. This made no sense as I had been following along with SmartGlass app the whole way through, despite it taking longer to finish most areas with it than necessary. I ended up pulling up the app alongside the physical book and discovered that not everything was in fact shown in-app compared to in-guide. Maybe it was an oversight, but it seems odd and greatly lacking to me.
That being said, SmartGlass is not a required aspect of Fable Anniversary and my frustrations aside, it didn’t affect my opinions of the game. I just wish it stopped reminding me to download it every single time I fired up the game.
Experience the Sights, Sounds and Smells of Albion
Boasting fully updated graphics and a remastered score, Fable Anniversary is an absolute delight to the visual and auditory senses. While some characters look a bit odd without a sheen of grainy textures over them — looking at you, childhood me! — it cannot be argued that the game is absolutely stunning. While the quality is certainly not comparable to later games, I will say that the actual design of the game easily dwarfs its predecessors. The score is in of itself a thing of beauty as well, and something that I have listened to multiple times during my many attempts to write this review.
Ten Years Makes a Difference
Fable Anniversary is a treat for both old and new fans of Lionhead’s premiere RPG series. They take us back to the origins of Albion in a way that feels nostalgic, without feeling truly dated. The instilled new life into the series with enhanced visuals, sound, and the use of modern achievements in a new way. Sure it has it’s problems, but that doesn’t diminish the experience to any great degree. My only lasting gripe is that once the main story is complete, there isn’t a whole lot else to do. Sure, I’m now The Masked Velour Fog, but why bother wandering around when all achievements are complete?
Well, maybe I can hop back in for one more quick Farty Murderfest…
4 out of 5 bananas