Fable Anniversary Review
Written Monday, February 10, 2014 By Lee Bradley
There’s nothing quite like the Fable series. While many roleplaying games draw on the fantasy of Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, Lionhead’s leading franchise imbues fairy tale and folklore with the youthful adventure of the Harry Potter books, the irreverent buffoonery of Monty Python and the bawdy humour of Chaucer. It makes for a uniquely characterful experience.
For some however, Fable is also associated with the overblown promotion of former Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux. Especially in the lead up to the first game, Molyneux’s work as a hype man outstripped the capabilities of his developers, leading to great dissatisfaction from fans. It was a cloud that would hang over the series for some time.
The hills are alive!
It’s nice then to revisit the original away from this distracting context. You still can’t plant an acorn and watch it grow into an oak tree, and it’s still not “the greatest roleplaying game of all time”, but Fable remains an enjoyable, entertaining piece of Xbox history. And thanks to the Anniversary edition, which hit shops last week, it now comes with some new bells and whistles.
Hoping to follow in the admirable lead of Halo Anniversary, this remaster dresses up the original in shiny new HD graphics to decent effect. It’s a little muddy, but for the most part the new textures, models and effects look good, helping to inject more life into the world of Albion and its eccentric inhabitants. Though it still doesn’t match up visually to its successors, it’s undoubtedly a huge improvement.
What holds it back is the animation. Lionhead has understandably chosen to leave the original character animation in place, rather than starting from scratch, and it’s showing its age. Back in 2004 motion capture wasn’t widely employed, so we’re left with stunted, wooden performances with now-ancient looking pathfinding, something that roots the experience in a previous decade, despite the more modern clothing.
A similar approach has been taken throughout. Fable Anniversary is still the same game it was all those years ago, for both good and ill. So while it’s fantastic to revisit the origins of the series; reliving your first encounter with hobbes and balverines, solving Demon Door riddles and strolling into Bowerstone for the first time, old complaints return along with a fresh set born of modern expectations.
The visual revamp is attractive, but a bit muddy.
To this end, there’s a clunky quest system that requires repeated returns to the guild, frequent loading times between areas, poor stealth elements, and escortees with infuriating artificial intelligence. All are problems that have been magnified by age. Even the combat, one of the few original gameplay elements to receive a minor overhaul, remains rough and basic. We’ve since come to expect more.
Similarly, the morality system, such a large focus of the series, feels rather light and inconsequential by contemporary standards. What was once novel is now rather commonplace.
It’s best not to fixate on these issues, however. Fable Anniversary is an attempt to bring a classic title to both new and nostalgic audiences in a presentable shape, without airbrushing over the past. Things like the original’s confusing save system have been revised and improved, but the experience of actually playing the game feels the same. It’s a remaster, not a remake.
What is new speaks to Lionhead’s fondness for both the game and the franchise. Alongside The Lost Chapters content added in a subsequent release - which adds new areas, quests and equipment - there’s a bunch of new weapons and armours, making this the most content-rich version of the game. Presentationally too, Anniversary shines, with new menus and screens bringing everything bang up to date.
Combat has been streamlined.
The most impressive element of modernisation comes via the game’s achievements. One of the best lists we’ve seen in recent years, it’s brimming with ideas and in-jokes. Encompassing a good mix of progression-based rewards, off-the-beaten-path challenges and tests of skill, it’s pretty much everything we’re looking for in a list. Impressively, in some cases it also offers multiple ways of earning individual achievements, with different tiles popping depending on how you earned them. You couldn’t hope for more.
Less pleasing is the frame rate. Fable Anniversary is plagued by dropped frames, making for a slightly stuttery experience. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it is noticeable and it is an annoyance. Far worse, some users have been reporting crashes since release. We ran the game on a noisy, early model Xbox 360 and had better luck, but regardless it’s clear that further optimisation is needed. It’s a black spot on otherwise laudable work from Lionhead.
Fable Anniversary isn’t without its problems then. But it remains a beautifully gentle, charming, and playful experience. The story of the young boy, separated from his family and growing into a role as saviour of Albion still hits home, grabbing you from the opening scenes and pulling you along through its twists and turns. Whether you take a route of naughty self-interest, altruistic heroism or somewhere in-between, your path to greatness is a warmly enjoyable one.
If nothing else, pulling down your pants and farting right up the noses of Bowerstone’s inhabitants is guaranteed to raise a smile.
Fable’s score remains gorgeous, moving effortlessly from lilting pastoral strings to the brassy bombast of its more dramatic moments. The voice acting, meanwhile, is occasionally flat but never, ever without character. Thanks to a 5.1 surround sound remaster, it’s also never sounded better.
An undoubted improvement over the original, Fable Anniversary’s new visuals gain from new textures, character models and lighting effects, but are now a little bit dull and muddy. Frame rate issues also provide a constant, nagging minor irritant.
Fable’s original gameplay is showing its age. Combat is simple and undemanding, the morality system is basic, the quest system a bit clunky and the loading screens too frequent. But regardless, it remains an engaging, enjoyable experience.
Bulked out by the addition of The Lost Chapters content, alongside some brand new equipment, and SmartGlass support, Fable Anniversary is generous package. There’s comfortably 20 hours of beautifully presented game for players to get lost in.
Brilliant. Leading the way with adaptive achievement tiles, creative challenges, tests of skill and humorous diversions, Fable Anniversary’s list is overflowing with great ideas and knowing references. It’s everything you could want from a list.
A great opportunity to revisit the origins of a leading Xbox series, Fable Anniversary is an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Brought up to date with new visuals, extra content and a brilliant achievement list, its charms just about overpower its ageing, decade-old gameplay. A must for fans.
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