I remember when I was younger, sharing a room with my brothers and one of them loading up his Xbox to play this new game he got called Fable. Spending an entire weekend watching him play it and falling in love with its setting, colourful characters and humour I didn’t always understand at the time. Fast-forward 3 or 4 years, I finally got to get my own hands on it and experience it for myself. It was just how I remembered it watching my brother’s playthrough and more. A beautiful game with its British charm and humour that was unique at the time and remains so to this day. With reports that Playground Games are hiring more than a hundred new staff, (for its AAA RPG, which many assume is a new Fable game) I want to take a look at this franchise. What did I love about it, its issues and what my hopes are for a sequel. This first part will look at the first two Fable games.
The original Fable (2004) is my clear favourite of the trilogy, the main reason being it’s the one that resembles a typical fantasy setting the most. For many people, the first game in a franchise a person plays are often their favourite. Although this is not always the case, for me, it applies here. As a huge fan of the fantasy genre, Fable was a game that I couldn’t help but adore. Its decision to begin with you as a child exploring the calm town of Oakvale, doing small jobs to earn enough money to buy your sister’s birthday present made the player drop their guard, and enjoy the naïve and care-free life of a kid whilst introducing you to its mechanics. It made the event shortly after of the village burned and its inhabitants butchered all the more harrowing.
It was a game that wasn’t afraid to show you the polar opposites of what can happen in the world and what the player could do. Giving the player the ability to decide whether they could be the hero or the villain was still a fresh and scarce concept for the time. Right from the start, its vibrant music captured the feel and setting of the game perfectly, Oakvale’s theme in particular stands out as one of my favourites. The one thing that makes these games stand out is the humour, British, light-hearted and often silly. Who could forget the girl at the start who asks you “Are you just gonna stand there like a lemon”? Or everyone, particularly at the start, seem to know who you are and call you ‘Chicken Chaser’ in a Somerset accent. I can’t recall another game that has such random, yet charmingly suitable humour.
Its combat did feel clunky at times and doesn’t hold up the best when playing today, but it was a solid system that gave the player plenty of freedom to experiment. The magic or ‘will’ aspect was a particular standout. The number of different spells that could be unlocked and upgraded was vast and could fit easily around whatever playstyle you wanted. You could be a melee fighter with spells that increase your damage and defence as well as summon floating swords to help you. Or, you could focus on magic, shooting fire balls or lightning from your fingertips whilst summoning a creature to aid you. All these aspects, combined with the series’ best villain, fun yet simple plot make Fable a true gem in the Fantasy Genre. While there are issues with it, such as clunky controls and a predictable story, they don’t take away from it too much to stop it from being my favourite in the franchise.
Moving on from my favourite to my least favourite entry in the series. When I got to play Fable 2 (released 2008) I was older, I moved away from liking every game I played to being able to look at games more constructively. While I still enjoyed Fable 2, it had many aspects that left me shaking my head in disappointment.
Let’s start with the positives. Once again, the soundtrack is great, striking a good balance between creating plenty of new songs whilst bringing back and reinventing some of the classics from the original. I feel as if the music evolved and matured as the franchise moved to a darker tone. Speaking of which, Fable 2 definitely put more of a focus on its narrative, becoming darker in general while remembering its roots in light, charming humour. And while its early narrative structure resembles that of the first game, a depressing beginning resulting in the death of a loved one, it still works well to set the tone and story of the game. One particular standout moment in the game is Wraithmarsh, a genuinely creepy segment that builds up tension with a satisfying payoff. That first encounter with a Banshee remains one my most memorable moments in gaming due to the fact that it was so unexpected in the game yet done so well.
The introduction of more open areas was a welcome change that allowed for more exploration, more interesting side quests and a more immersive experience. Walking around Albion whilst being insulted by Scottish stone gargoyles was a highlight, and even more so when you got to fill them with lead. The freedom to be either a saintly hero or an evil piece of scum, was back, but wasn’t really important to the main questline anymore which was a bit of a shame. The refinement of the house renting system literally gave you the power to rule all real estate, giving you the opportunity to become rich exploiting people, by hiking the rent up to the max if you so wished. Also, you get a dog companion…………do I need to say more?
On the flip side I did have a few issues that stood out for me. The combat, although more fluid and responsive, felt to much more reigned in. There was much fewer spells, a sharp contrast to the huge variety available in the original, meaning there was no real chance for experimentation in combat styles for future playthroughs. Furthermore, the game was just far too easy, there was no real penalty for death as you would get straight back up and just lose a bit of experience. The ‘will’ bar was removed so using magic was now unlimited making it easy to spam high level spells. The characters weight mechanic was dreadful as well, you gained weight instantly from eating pretty much anything and had to lose it all by eating dozens of pieces of celery or another scarce vegetable. You’d think that running across Albion would make your character lose weight, but no. What’s really a punch in the gut, is the ending. There is no final boss, you can finish the game by doing nothing. If you don’t press a button that knocks the antagonist off a ledge someone will do it for you. It’s just such a poor ending to a partly disappointing follow up.
While this may not be the popular opinion, Fable 2 was the worst one in the trilogy. I still liked the game, but there were quite a few issues that held it back from being a great sequel the series deserved. For me, Fable 3 did improve on Fable 2 in a few ways whilst continuing to push the series too far forward in time and losing what made the original so great. Next time, I will look at this and tell you what I hope the next game in the Fable franchise can do to make it relevant and stand out as great again.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, like the post if you enjoyed and subscribe to stay notified of any more content I produce, this really helps me out. Thanks for reading.