Fable: The Journey Hands-On Preview – My Horse and Me
Written Tuesday, September 18, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
It's not as bad as you think. In fact it's not even as bad as we may have led you to believe. The last time we played Fable: The Journey, Dan said that the Kinect-powered spin-off looked like “a shameless cash-in on the Fable franchise for a device that desperately needs a core experience to tempt in a new audience.” Ouch.
He's onto something. Kinect does desperately need a core experience. If the rumours of a new, improved version of the tech launching with the next Xbox are true (they are), then we're getting perilously close to this generation's obsolescence without a reason to justify our purchase. Dance Central, Child of Eden and some half-hearted voice controls just aren't enough.
But is Fable: The Journey a “shameless cash-in”? Not in my opinion. In fact I can say with some confidence that it's the nearest thing we'll get to a decent core Kinect title this gen. Lionhead has poured no shortage of love and talent into the game. Its limitations - and it does have some very serious limitations - come directly from the hardware.
I played about four hours of Fable: The Journey at Lionhead's studios in Guildford recently. That's about a third of the game's total play time. I had a large, airy room to myself, a comfy chair, a surround sound system and none of of the calibration issues we experienced at Gamescom. And despite the inevitable wonkiness of Kinect, I was captivated.
Let's not get too carried away though. It should come as no surprise that Fable: The Journey doesn't control particularly well. There's noticeable lag between your movements and the on-screen action, it feels inaccurate and there's a fuzzy disconnect to the whole experience. Y'know, it is a Kinect game after all. Yet it wasn't enough to derail my enjoyment.
There are two main facets of the gameplay. You'll either be geeing and steering your horse and cart through the narrow paths of the world, or casting spells to manipulate environmental objects and combat enemies. Taken in isolation these elements are quite shallow, but the way your adventure is paced and the way these gameplay systems are threaded together is impressive.
What this means is that once you've got to grips with the individual elements, Lionhead mixes it up by offering cart-based spell-casting, light on-foot puzzles, tense chases and mine cart sections. None outstayed their welcome during my four hours. Add a camp hub in which you can groom, feed and heal your horse, optional stop off areas for mini side-quests and a functional leveling system and there's enough here to keep you engaged if not thrilled.
Where Fable: The Journey really excels is in its world, characters and story. This has always been a strength of the Fable series and it's even more apparent here. Because your adventure is far more linear than in the previous titles, the writers can take more authorial control over it, crafting a charming and mystery-packed adventure .
It's all about the relationships. At the start of the game we learn that the protagonist, Gabriel, is a bit of a dreamer, a gypsy of sorts who travels through the land with a tribe of Dwellers. Set well after the events of Fable III, tales of heroes and magic have long since passed into legend. But Gabriel still believes, much to the dismay of the tribe leader and his personal father figure, Katlan.
This little narrative detail and the interaction between the characters means that when Gabriel is separated from the rest of the convoy you're genuinely concerned for him. He's not a hero, not yet. He's just a boy who seems utterly incapable of surviving alone. Without Katlan and his extended family he's painfully vulnerable.
And then Theresa turns up. The “Blind Seeress” has played an important role in all of the Fable games thus far and in The Journey she takes centre stage as Gabriel's mentor and guide. Yet as with her other appearances, we're never quite sure of her motivations. Fable: The Journey looks set to conclude this mysterious figure's storyline. Finally, we'll get some answers.
Gabriel's relationship with Theresa is a fascinating one. As the adventure continues, Theresa steers the young traveler into the path of danger, thrusting power, responsibility and possible death on to the reluctant hero's shoulders. Gabriel isn't particularly happy about this and the interplay between the two characters raises a few laughs as they bristle up against each other.
Indeed, Fable: The Journey capitalised on the series' trademark humour throughout my session, laying on plenty of irreverent, distinctively British laughs. Now wrapped up in a more coherent, linear narrative, it's a real treat.
And then there's Gabriel's horse, Seren. This is the central relationship in the game and one that Lionhead establishes wonderfully. From the opening scenes where the two frolic together in warm sunlight, to the first time you pull a giant splinter from her side, heal her wounds and groom her coat, there's a connection there that brings to mind Morpurgo's War Horse. Fable: The Journey has the potential to tug at your heart strings in a similar way.
So while the gameplay itself may be compromised somewhat, the story is not. I'd go so far as to say that if you consider yourself a Fable fan then The Journey may be worth buying for the narrative alone. This could be the final, conclusive part of a story that Lionhead has been spinning for the best part of a decade.
It's pretty obvious by now that Kinect isn't capable of offering a truly core experience. There is just no way that the device can offer the depth or immediacy of control provided by a gamepad. It just can't. But as far as crafting a decent, well-presented adventure within the constraints of the hardware, Lionhead seems to be on the right track. Fable: The Journey promises to be as good as it gets.