Review by · September 19, 2004

Project Ego. Announced what seems to be eons ago, Peter Monyneux’s Fable has captivated the minds of those wishing for another Halo for the Xbox. Supposedly a wide-open RPG, Fable was to allow players to track their character over a lifetime. Characters would scar and age, markings you made in a tree as a child would stay as you grew older. You were supposed to be able to do anything you wanted in Fable. A single day after its release, I sat down at my computer and began to type this review. My time clock for the game sits at just over eight hours, barely enough time for me to get started in Star Ocean 3, and less time than I have logged in the recent Burnout 3 release. Somehow I’m not satisfied. Five years in development and I get a game that I’ll be in line at EB tomorrow to return.

Fable does have some very positive things going for it. Visually, the game is absolutely stunning. Aside from random glitches, there is almost nothing in the way of pop-in or frame-rate drop. Character models are gorgeous, and show a character’s age, battle scars, and styling beautifully. Unfortunately, features were dropped. Looking at a screen from earlier in development, the character had a distinct scar running over his left eye, obviously from a strike to that area. My character looked like he had just been hit a few times – some vague looking scars that made me think I was on the evil path. Faces articulate very well and characters armor looks great. A mismatched set of armor really makes a character look goofy, as it very well should.

Environments look spectacular. Trees sway in the wind, and bramble lines fences in areas. Homes really look like homes, albeit without bathrooms and showers, just like every other game. However, environments are very linear. Although you can go anywhere you’d like, paths from area to area aren’t wide open fields that allow you to get lost. They are a beeline from one area to another, branching if it’s a fork to more than one place. Unfortunately, areas are very small; characters can cross the larger areas in less than a minute before facing more load times.

Although Fable has been rated M for Mature, a 17+ rating, for those of you not in North America, the game is not horribly bloody. There is a “Decapitation” statistic in a character’s sheet, but I was never able to ever complete this task. Blood flies very little from most creatures, unlike games similar to Shinobi or Grand Theft Auto. On the same, key, however, the game does have quite a bit of sexual content. Characters are able to marry and have sex – but after trying many times, I was not able to have children as originally stated by Molyneux. On-screen sex is not shown, to the relief of America’s soccer moms, but there is some humorous audio.

Aurally, Fable does very well. Voice acting rarely seems out of place, aside from your companion Whisper, and is spoken very well. NPCs will say things in the background based on your current title, scariness (an actual statistic), and alignment. It was quite funny to hear “The brave warrior, Arseface!” many times during the beginning of the game. However, you never earn new titles for NPCs to call you, you have to buy them. I often had female NPCs tell me to leave town, even though my alignment was good, though, because I was wearing ‘Scary’ armor.

Music is well placed, even though transition points were far too obvious. I’d walk by a point too many times to have the music change and then change back just by fading in and out. Fable has some portions without music, but it is mostly during dialog and never has the Xenosaga Episode I problem of having dungeons completely silent except for the clicking of heels. Aside from minor gripes, though, the game’s audio is top-notch.

Once you peel back the graphical layer of Fable, the game starts to fall quite a bit. The story begins with you as a child, going to get your sister’s birthday present. After learning how to do most of the in-game actions and learning of the game’s good vs evil premise, your town is attacked and you escape alive. I expected this to be the beginning of my journey as I was discovered by the Guild of Heroes and brought back to begin training to get revenge. A dialog box then popped up and asked me if I was ready to become a teenager. I stared aghast at the screen as I selected yes, and Fable first started to dissapoint me. After learning the ins and outs of combat as a teenager, I was presented with yet another choice: Do I want to become an adult? Again, very angered, I grudgingly selected ‘Yes’ and continued on to the start of the real game.

To say that the story is the most minor point of the game would be an understatement. The bare bones story holds little in the way of interest or twists. Your character goes from one end of the game to the other, with the player feeling little to no attachment to his character or any NPC. With the required ‘death of an NPC’, I felt no sorrow at all; it was just some person dying on my quest to do nothing in particular. In fact, near the end of the game, I had a character with me who came in with no introduction and left just as quickly. She seemed to know me, but I had never seen her before. The same goes for the good/evil aspect of the game. My character slaughtered an entire village at the beginning of the game just for fun. Did I feel that my character was any more evil? No. In fact, the only thing that made me feel even the slightest bit of remorse was eating a baby chick that was in my inventory. Not even murdering my wife and farting on her corpse and giving it the finger made me feel bad.

Marriage is one of the many factors that was to have made the game unique. Marriage is very easy to pull off, unless you are marrying Lady Grey. Just throw chocolate, a diamond, a rose, and a wedding ring into your quick menu, buy a house for 20,000 gold, and use the items in order. Instant marriage to any female NPC, or to certain Male NPCs. Yes, that is correct, your character can be homosexual or even bisexual in the game. This is definitely not a game for your kids. As stated above, characters can have sex with their partners, but I was unable to ever have children as stated in the game’s vision.

Just like the graphics and ambiance, combat is a part of Fable that shines, just not as brightly. There are three ways to slay in Fable: with melee combat, ranged combat, or through Will powers, similar to magic. Melee combat works exactly as you would expect it to. You can strike, parry, and dodge to your heart’s delight. Physical combat is very based on parrying or dodging strikes; if you attempt to just pound through the game with the X button, you’ll be sorely mistaken, unless you bring a lot of food. You have the ability to buy both light and heavy weapons, but there’s no real reason to go with the heavy stuff, its strikes leave you open for far too long to make up for the damage they deal. Control itself for melee combat is very smooth, the character does everything you tell him to do when you tell him to do it.

Ranged combat is a bit different and also quite a bit easier than hand to hand combat. There are two ways to play it, one in third person view and one in first person view. However, after the first two hours of the game or so, third person is the only way to go, as the sacrifice in accuracy is made up with increased dodging ability. Characters can wield both bows and crossbows, but, similarly to melee combat, crossbows take far too long to reload to be of any usefulness. Oddly enough, the longer you hold the button, the stronger both a bow and a crossbow become – regardless of the fact that a crossbow is completely machinated aside from loading it. Plaguing both melee and ranged combat are dicey lock-on controls and a horrible battle camera. Lock-ons simply stop after a foe is defeated. Releasing L and pressing it again re-locks on another target, but more often than not, I ended up locked on to barrels during combat and took quite a few hits. This also flips the camera around, as the L button doubles as the camera control. Why not just use the right analog stick?

Magical combat is probably the easiest of the three, especially when taking a single path where undead enemies constantly respawn and abusing fire spells to get an insane exp modifier and eating meat for experience. 900 experience for a single piece of 10 gold meat after using quite a bit of potions is just unfair, as you can accumulate a hundred meats very easily. Even without abusing this, magical combat is very easy against most enemies. Although there are a wide variety of spells for disposal, I rarely used any but Enflame and Lightning, easily the most potent. Very, very few enemies are strong against both bows and magic, so you can keep your distance for most of the game if you focus on magical combat.

The actual meat of combat, the Boss fights, are incredibly simple. Every boss has a pattern that can be determined at a glance. After you discover the pattern, the boss is pretty much dead. Some bosses take a bit of time this way, but it’s the easist way, and also the simplest. The rest of the game is just as easy, if not easier. Most combat can be skipped out of as the bulk of experience comes from guild quests. Experience is also oddly gained from monsters. Instead of monsters just assigning the character a certain amount of EXP, he needs to suck up the green experience orbs that they drop, ala Onimusha. In another control issue, the button to get orbs is the R button, the same button that switches to magical control, making it nearly impossible to collect orbs during non-magical battle.

Character customization is one of the parts of Fable that works just as advertised. By the time my character turned 35, he had a mohawk and handlebar mustache sticking out of a chain helmet. The tattoos are a nice touch, but they are very rarely seen as characters are almost always wearing armor. Characters age along the course of the game, but aside from wrinkles and grey hair, it does nothing but look cool, as a character at 25 is just as competent as a character at 55. My character was also scarred because he was beaten up early in the game by Hobbes, dwarf-like creatures. He was never knocked down, however, so why were the scars on his face?

By far the largest issue Fable has is its length. Completing at least 50% of the sidequests, marrying, slaughtering an entire village, and buying three houses, I still only ended the game at slightly over eight hours. Most sidequests have no reason to complete, as they simply give you more gold, which is easy enough to get by renting out houses. It’s also very easy to flip flop on your alignment. Evil and don’t want to be? Go give 10,000 gold to the Church of Avo and all is good again. Want easy evil points? Marry a woman, and punch her until she divorces you. Instant Evil.

Unfortunately, I felt quite a bit of regret after beating Fable. Spending $50 on a game I’m going to spend less than a day at work with is just not a good deal in my eyes. Although graphically impressive and combat is fun, Fable is far too short and far too lacking on promised features. Even taken as a game without any hype, the time it took to write, edit, and post this review exceeded the time it took to complete Fable. There is little in the way of replay value, as the decision for real good/evil is only at the very end of the game. Although Fable is a solid weekend rental, I dissuade you from purchasing the game. It’s certainly not as big of a letdown as Black and White, but Fable is not this year’s KotOR.

Overall Score 73
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John McCarroll

John McCarroll

A Nevada native now in the Midwest, John started at RPGFan in 2002 reviewing games. In the following years, he gradually took on more responsibility, writing features, news, taking point on E3 and event coverage, and ultimately, became owner and Editor-in-Chief until finally hanging up his Emerald Cloak of Leadership +1 in 2019.