Back in 2004, when Lionhead released the original Fable, it was met with both critical and commercial success, and rightfully so, for it was one of the best examples of the role playing genre to descend upon us mere mortal gamers from the great development studio in the sky (in reality, they’re based in Guildford). Ten years later, and after receiving a glossy makeover courtesy of Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, Fable is back, but does it still hold up as well as it once did?
The answer to this question would be…well, mostly. It has sadly brought some issues with it to this update, one of which is its slightly fiddly controls which was an area that the development team had hoped to address with a more Fable 2 style controller setup, this predominantly works fine, but attempts at accurate shooting with ranged weapons become more than a tad fiddly in first person view. Players can, of course, lock on to nearby targets by simply holding the left trigger, allowing them to strafe their opponent and utilise both ranged weapons and magic attacks against them, however, even this is not perfect. The game has a rather nasty habit of changing targets, seemingly at will, which can be a tad confusing, but perhaps even worse than this, it can direct the player against traders, civilians or even the NPCs following them into battle. It provides a wonderful statement for the necessity of the Safety Mode which was implemented into in its sequel.
Unfortunately though, the faults don’t end there, with the combat system feeling rather dated now, magic doesn’t work as well as it should-though it isn’t too bad-it just feels as though it is a major back step from Fable 3, as it should, I suppose. However, melee combat also feels rather frustrating and unrewarding by comparison, it’s rather clumsy by today’s standards, and quite why Lionhead didn’t endeavour to correct this is beyond me.
Graphically speaking, this re-mastered version may appear to be incredibly disappointing at first, until the world opens up and the full extent of its makeover becomes startlingly apparent. It is beautifully sharp, features far more detailed character models and is packed throughout with vastly improved lighting effects to deliver the most visually stunning depiction of Albion to date. Additionally, the texture resolution has been substantially improved, and the result is a rather pretty recreation of both Fable’s world and its many inhabitants. Though, personally, I am still somewhat disappointed by the fact that the team did not instead utilise Unreal Engine 4 to deliver what could have been a jaw dropping return for the game on the Xbox One. Still, perhaps that’s a venture that may appear at some point over the coming years.
The audio appears to have been given some loving attention too, with the brilliant score from Russell Shaw and Danny Elfman sounding even better than ever, it’s full and rich, and as one of the most iconic soundtracks to any game, this is a most welcome addition to this re-release. The original voice acting also remains as splendid as ever, with a script that is still as brilliantly whimsical as it was ten years ago, humour has always been a hallmark of the Fable series, and to my mind there is no finer example than the original game. This is extended beyond NPC chatter to signposts warning of bandit tolls and the grave stones that litter the land, there is humour to be found everywhere in Albion, and more often than not, you don’t have to look very far to find it.
The world of the original Fable is indeed vast, and with the additional content of The Lost Chapters also included into this one, there is enough here to keep any gamer going for a very long time indeed. Strategy guides and maps can also be accessed via the game’s Smartglass application, so there is really no excuse for gamers not to find the myriad silver keys, hero dolls and books that populate the land of Albion. There may not be any gargoyles waiting to be shot, or gnomes to be thrashed, but the demon doors are still here in all of their glory, with each requiring a specific task to be completed before allowing any heroes to access their plunder-this being an integral aspect of the Fable experience, I am sure that you will agree. A further enhancement over the original game, is a much improved save system that now includes checkpoints in quests, allowing players to return to the most recently passed one upon death, rather than having to restart the entire mission again. This is a vital improvement to the overall experience, particularly for those venturing into Albion for the first time.
Having come across from the original Xbox console, Fable is sadly broken up by an obscene amount of loading screens, whilst this is not a major aggravation per se, it is still rather annoying, and it makes me pine for an Xbox One version devoid of these interruptions. Though as I said, this really is just a minor gripe, for Fable Anniversary is exactly as one would expect it to be, the ultimate version of Lionhead’s finest game.
Released at a discounted price, graphically enhanced and featuring both excellent audio and side splitting humour, Fable Anniversary is a game that every Xbox 360 owner should consider purchasing, for whilst it may have its flaws, the charm of Fable is almost insurmountable, and in the end it sees it through. The game may not be as emotionally involving as its subsequent sequels, but its tale of revenge does the job admirably enough, though it’s the detail of its magnificent world that will suck players in, and ultimately deliver them a gaming experience that they will not soon forget, not even a decade later.
– James Paton @theblackpage81