Fable and the Lost Chapters

edit: I’ve noticed a lot of hits to this article, and most are searching for Fable stuff. So I’m going to split the original article into two for the sake of convenience. Fable guys won’t find CoD2 stuff here and vice versa.

Also this wasn’t originally a review per se. But I cave to the demands of netizens. And sorry gamespot for leeching on your pics. I’ll link it back, promise.

I know I know I just have the special knack about commenting on games that have been out since after the dinosaurs died out, making whatever I say seem like a casual reassurance that the sun STILL does rise in the east, but bear with me guys. I don’t BUY games [often] and I don’t get to play the latest games mostly due to lack of up-to-date gaming rigs. it seems everytime I upgrade I just narrowly miss the gfx card deals that would’ve been good two generations ago. I’m sorry I can’t keep up with your numbers nVidia and ATI.

On that note, right now I have a Core 2 Duo, 1GB of RAM, and a 7300GS with 512MB video memory. The only reason I can play Bioshock [no distortion; no water effects 😥 ] in medium-low settings is the larger video memory [thank goodness].

But despite all that, there’s one thing I remain sure of. I love gaming. I like to imagine it gives me a temporary sense of purpose, that makes the aimless drifting of First Life [and even Second Life] pale in comparison. So if my financial challenges mean I can only enjoy good games much later, I saw why not? Better late than never. But on that note, remind me to invest in a console next time I think of upgrading. Saves a LOT of trouble worrying if it’ll last a year at least.

So anyway, I just finished Fable: Lost Chapters [eh just once with an uber good Warrior], and it was pretty good. It was. I’d started on it once before more than a year ago but it didn’t take. I felt the maps were claustrophobic and there was naught else to do but hack and slash [well it’s definitely not an RPG, and more of a VERY immersive action adventure third person clicker] and I was right, then. A coupla weeks ago, I picked it up again and this time round I went with it all the way through. And actually I STILL agree with what I said earlier, cept now in a good way.

Ohkay, lemme explain. if you haven’t played Fable before, it’s a Peter Molyneux game [and that means, despite how much overhype the game will come to be surrounded by] it’s still good by any reasonable standards. Just not as good as he promised it would be. I really enjoyed his previous offering, Black & White. In Black and White, you ARE a god, and you interact almost entirely with a mouse. You don’t actually have a figure per se. Just a hand for a cursor and even something as mundane as moving can be done by dragging on the landscape. Some of the innovations this game gave me was an actual world with random weather, day/night cycles and a variety of occupations that villagers could be made to perform including fishing, farming, building, shepherding, lumberjacking, praying [for your mana] or even just breeding. Female breeders actually take time off when they get pregnant.

World
World 1
Mind you, this was years before Radiant AI. What’s more this game introduced me or maybe the world to the concept of mouse gestures. You were a god and so you could work miracles. How do you cast miracles? You hold down the right mouse button and you draw on the ground, like an arcane rune. In these fast days of Opera-surfin’ this seems old school but at that time, I though it was pretty nifty.

And the highlight of Black & White, was of course the Creature. The programmer, Richard Evans, got numerous awards and even a spot in the Guiness World Records for the most complex AI requiring the most variable user input. So this creature, is like an overgrown animal; a manifestation of your power in the world. It starts off at least 3 storeys high and goes on to be tall as a skyscraper. And the coolest part is, it’s NOT controlled by you. It has a mind of its own. It gets hungry [and goes fishing or eats the cows or gets some grain from the farm on its own] or sleepy, and even feels neglected if you don’t play with it once in a while. It can be naughty and may do bad things once in a while; and when it does, you can slap it [as hard as you like, preferably lightly] to discourage such behaviour. And if it does good stuff, you can pet it to encourage that kinda behaviour. And of course all this depends on whether you want to be a good or bad god, or even something in between. Cos you ARE god, there’re no ethical limits to what you can do. You can cast rain to make crops grow better, or you can cast a lightning storm that can destroy the whole village. You can ask villagers to pray for you, or you can sacrifice the kids for mana. And so on. Basically you can make the villagers work cos they love you or work cos they fear you.

There are other gods as well, some evil and some not. And these guys have creatures too. And when creature meets creature, you have an awesome deathmatch of creatures that you can’t directly control. It’s really impressive the first time round, even now. And it was Peter Molyneux’s idea.

So coming back to Fable, another Peter Molyneux brainchild, one can’t help but expect a lot. And he delivers.

Fable is about a small boy who goes on to be a Hero. You age visibly everytime you level up [a bit too fast if you ask me. I don’t fancy being a past-prime Hero by the time the game ends]; you scar [visibly] when you get hit in major battles.

Speaking of levelling up, Fable has an Oblivion-like levelling system. There’s no milestone requirement that you have to meet to level up. Every mob you beat down and every quest you complete awards you EXP. The EXP is divided into 4 categories. There’s General and most of your Quest EXP goes in there. And depending on how you play the game [it IS a combat-oriented game] and which skills you use more often, you’ll gain EXP in Strength, Will and Skill. Enemies downed with Melee techniques will contribute to Strength EXP, enemies downed with ranged attacks and/or passive skills used in normal gameplay [like pickpocketing] will award you Skill points. And of course, enemies downed with magic will contribute to Will EXP. Anytime you have enough EXP points to upgrade a level in any attribute/skill, just head back to your training Guild and “level up”. General EXP can be used for anything, but Strength, Skill and Will EXP can only be used within their own categories.

Under Strength, you have the option to improve Physique [your character will look bigger and more muscular], Toughness [harder to hit and less damage inflicted when successfully hit] and Health [more HP]. Under Skill, you’ll find Guile [mercantile bartering skills, not that you’ll need it and stealth for eventual thieving], Accuracy [for ranged attacks] and Speed [quickness of your character]. You’ll max these out pretty quickly. Of course, it’s the Will section that’s highly populated. But please, don’t go in expecting BG2 magebooks’ worth. These are only about 15-20 spells that you can gradually become more powerful at. The spell animations are awesome!

Instead of just having magic for magic’s sake, you can even use certain spells to augment your warrior. For example, Physical Shield makes you man reserve the preliminary health bar. Considering mana potions are pretty cheap and abundant, you’ll never run out! Or you can quick dodge around enemies using a spell that whizzes you behind the enemy every time. They’ll never know what hit them.

Your physical appearance in the game is also affected by the activities you pursue. You can be a warrior, and honing fighting skills makes you big-sized and muscular. You can be an archer/thief who sneaks around, shoots people from afar and sweet talks every merchant; then you see yourself thin and lanky, fast and agile. Or you can dabble in magic extensively [recommended; what fantasy/RPG game is best enjoyed WITHOUT some magic system?] and you’ll age quickly but end up lookin’ all wise like Merlin.

That’s not talking about ethical code yet. Be good to everyone and do the right thing, and you’ll eventually have a halo with little butterflies hovering around you. Be evil and malevolent and you’ll sprout short horns, have bloodshot eyes and so on.

Evil

Good

The clothes you wear, and your appearance also affects how people view you. No matter how famous you are, if you have a lousy haircut, people are going to laugh. Wear dark clothes and tattoo yourself all over [oh yes you can do that in-game], and people will instinctively fear you.
Based on traffic, from what I know, almost all tattoos only make you more fearsome, and I didn’t come across any that actually boosted any characteristics other than alignment and scariness/attract. Besides, if you’re even decently armored, most of these tattoos will be covered most of the time. What’s the point?

Wear bright stuff and be nice to the people and you’ll find a lot of them more than just infatuated with you. I mean even guys. You can choose to pursue this and flirt around, buy a ring, propose and get married. You can hire henchmen to fight beside you. You can go fishing or grave digging for loot. You can buy real estate, spruce it up and sell it for a higher value. Or you can rent it out for long term returns. Or you can live in and eventually make it a marital home. Stuff like that.

You can even buy titles for yourself. You start off with Chicken-chaser but I’m sure you’ll want something nicer. I chose Ranger for the first part, and Avatar when I became really powerful. The problem with the titles is that you can only buy them. I mean you may have just started the game as a young wimpy upstart but you can purchase a cool-sounding title like Ranger and that’s it, you sound pretty damn cool. And the choice of titles are so limited. Plus there’s no title bestowed upon you in-game for any achievement. Bah, don’t they know real men fight better for pieces of ribbon?

I don’t how to impress you with this but EVERY dialogue in the game is spoken by the characters in gorgeous British accents. You have no idea how immersive a game becomes just cos of this. It’s really amazing to see. When you start getting really powerful, people will talk behind your back. You walk into town [and you’ll hear [from the back, not direct dialogue] stuff like, “Oh there goes the mighty Avatar.”] It’s really novel and fun. You’ll feel really good playing this game. The graphics are a bit…cartoony I guess. With bulgy buildings and all and funny faces on NPCs [a lot of repetition there too] BUT the maps and environments are beautiful and detailed. Autumnal forests with occasional falling leaves, underground caves and decent sized town with various merchants, random weather, day/night cycles AND time-sensitive activities.

Fable Screenies

But the nitty gritty part is that, yeah you can do all this stuff BUT it plays like a sandbox. For a game about choice and consequences, whether you are good or evil, the story you play through is the same with the same plot events. For a game about consequences, when you fail a mission, you just get to restart it as if nothing has happened. Not live in down in shame. And combat is the heart of the game really, which is why Fable is NOT an RPG. It’s action adventure, but there’s none of that stat or inventory management, multiple objective quests or a rich storyline that would guarantee Fable’s entry into the realm of RPGs. In fact, it would’ve been nice if they HAD put in that little bit more effort and made it into an RPG, for then it would be a fully breathing world that coupled with Fable’s strengths would’ve made it the best RPG in recent times.
So the combat is intuitive mouse-clicking, especially so with magic thrown into the mix. Once you get really powerful though, which is halfway through the game, you’ll practically bulldoze through the waves of enemies. Or with magic, there are these coupla spells that basically just suspend immediate enemies in mid air while causing monumental damage and once you master those spells, it’ll just be lather-rinse-repeat. Seriously. So basically I’m telling you the engine is MADE for combat and combat gets easy after a while.

The models are very well drawn and extremely well animated. A few repeated faces here and there, but significant characters are thankfully unique. Monsters are varied for the most part, but they get cycled too often in the endgame. It’s understandable that you’re so powerful by then that the only way to present a challenge is to fill the screen with enemies and give you the added pleasure of ploughing through them.

There’re a couple of minigames, not unlike any other RPG wannabe, with the likes of fishing and digging but they feel contrived.
You can’t fish anywhere you want; only places where magical bubbles are found. A minigame launches where you have to reel in the catch methodically without straining the rod too hard. There are pools you can step into and in these pools you can fish normally, but the fish you catch have little market value, and there’s only one optional quest where the weight of your biggest fish decides whether you win some fishing competition. And there’s a digging game, where…well, you dig at locations that have nice obvious mushroom circles. How dumb is that?
On that note, there’s also the boxing clubs, and this particular career track is fun and challenging [no armor allowed].. There’s an archery range, but it feels damn stupid.

What’s more, there is really no element of exploration. The areas you end up going to are the areas you will HAVE to end up going through for the sake of some mission or the other. There are the occasional hidden glades [as in hard to see/reach within existing maps] or demon doors that transport you to small pocket dimensions if you satisfy their requirements, but that’s about it. The maps themselves are pretty small in terms of the kinda action that takes place there. You’re almost always stuck on a meandering well-worn path and you definitely don’t feel like you’re discovering new stuff for the first time, even within the deepest caves. That’s not to say each map isn’t densely packed. They all are, which is why it’s a crying shame that more of the locations don’t get marked. Sometimes you forget where important secondary landmarks are, and you just can’t find them at all. Coming from the rich heritage of Planescape Torment [which I think still looks pretty damn good!] and BGII [3 years went by and I know not what else happened during that time], as an RPG, Fable fails. It coulda been, but it settles for action-adventure.

Enemies spawn on every map that’s not a city area, and not randomly either. For a game that deals with timing, it’s unimaginable how you clear out an entire map, leave for the next area, and warp back realising you’ve forgotten something and there the mobs are, all over the place as before. -_-”

As a epic story in itself [you are named Hero…duh], it falls short. Way short. Repetitive mission types in free-ranging environments for the most part of the game. Spoilers ahead: for most of the game, you play a rising star, winning mission after mission [you have to, to progress]. Very tried-and-tested, very staple fantasy kinda missions. The only novelty being the awesome Hero customisation, gorgeous graphics and unbelievably immersive sound sets.

The one time the game breaks from normalcy, it shoots for awesome. Seriously, you suddenly get captured by the antagonist and you get thrown in a cell, for years! In which time you will age. This was really a welcome break in the story. But the dumb part: how you get out is fairly stupid. Every year, all prisoners have the opportunity to race around the prison block, and when you win, you get the ultimate reward of listening to the Warden’s poetry. While he’s busy reciting you are supposed to sneak around and find the key. Fail to find it within the time limit, or make too much noise and yay, you get to wait another year before trying again. This was really different. But that’s all there is to it. Once you get the key, you’re out! Doesn’t take too long to find good gear, and get back to 0wning the guards scattered around. What a pretty stale workaround, don’t you think? It coulda been something more epic, a la Butcher Bay? It should’ve been a chapter in itself. Not just an incident.
So there you go, you escape the prison, find your mom [who’s a Hero too], and get back to the normal world. Lather rinse repeat, yawn.
End of spoilers.

For a game so bold to use the forced passing of time as a plot device, why not utilise it more often? Aging every time I level up, an hour in between and getting wrinkled after 10 hours is not a cool prospect. So what if I dabbled with magic? Also, if the world was made to be so liveable and believable, why do you spend most of the game in action? I’m not asking for Animal Crossing mechanics; at least some gameplay that involves you trying to live a normal life but not being allowed to? I mean, you can get married and all, but right after, you can just up and leave and return occasionally for hanky panky and that’s just fine? C’mon!

All in all, Fable is fun, and a novel gaming experience that you play for the experience and bragging rights. As for the story itself, you’ll find more variety in any random Dungeons & Dragons novella than in Fables rather predictable go from point A to point B to rescue thing/person and come back without thing/person damaged/dead missions. Which make up ALL the game’s missions.

Perhaps the BIGGEST flaw, isn’t that the engine isn’t good or the input was mediocre. The engine is awesome, the effort is much appreciated. It just blows my mind to ponder the reasons why developers don’t release modding SDKs for games like this. I mean, this is one game that could’ve used user-made modules to make the gamepay more extensive and customised. So many stellar modding communities around, surely they could’ve pushed up the gameplay a notch given time. All they need is an avenue to do so.
Let’s hope Fable 2 at least has the good sense to allow for modding.

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