Fable: First Impressions

By Shamus
on Aug 30, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

For Every Choice, A Consequence.

So proclaims the packaging of Fable: The Lost Chapters. The advertising on the box is the game’s own worst enemy, as it pumped up my expectations and drew attention to all the wrong parts of the experience.

Fable is a strange RPG. At a glance the thing looks like kids’ game aimed squarely at the Zelda crowd. The characters have large heads and hands, big eyes, cartoonish features, and the world has a colorful fairy-tale style. But the game is rated M. It contains themes of torture (and even alludes to the torture of a young girl) drug use (one quest has you collect hallucinogenic mushrooms) sex (there is a brothel in the game and it’s possible to have off-screen sex) and other adult themes. It’s pretty strange seeing all of this edgy content coming out of a game with such a whimsical visual style. In the end it has the effect of a twelve year old kid using the F-Bomb in an attempt to get people to take him seriously. I think they would have done better to cut those elements out (they don’t add anything to the game) and aim for a wider audience.

But the major problem with this game is all the fuss about choices and consequences. The blurb on the box left me expecting a world with a myriad of choices and dilemmas, each with unforseen outcomes and opening up various opportunities. The choices in this game are few and of trivial effect. The most common is: You have defeated a boss who is now suing for mercy, will you kill him or not? The “consequence” in this case is that you get an item or you don’t. That’s it. Even if you let him live, you’ll never see or hear from him again. You’ll get “good” or “evil” points based on the choice you make, but the game gives those out at a constant rate and you can move your alignment in either direction pretty much at will.

All choices are binary, and none of them have long-term effects outside of the trinkets you may pick up. Sometimes you’ll choose between two quests: Defend the village from bandits, or help the bandits attack the village. Either way, you end up in the village fighting waves of foes, either bandits or guards. Once the quest is over the town is unchanged, and the people don’t seem to remember your choice in the long term.

Have these guys ever seen Fallout? Are they aware of Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Oblivion, Morrowind, Planescape Torment, or any of the dozens of RPGs which present the player with a steady supply of fascinating choices, many of which can affect you in unforseen ways down the road? Fable bragging about choices and consequences is like Doom bragging about “non-stop laughs”, or Sim City claiming to have “white-knuckle action”. Whoever wrote the copy on the box should have spent a few minutes with the game. Right now it’s not advertising, it’s fiction. Fable is not a bad game. It’s just bad at doing what the box claims it will do.

The game also touts its system where the choices you make affect your in-world appearance. This one is true, and this is something I heartily endorse. You start the game looking like a bit of a runt, but as you level up you get the chance to improve you abilities. Spend your points on strength, and you’ll become big and beefy. Spend them on magic, and you look older. (Okay, that’s a bit odd, but it works for me.) This is a good first step, but the idea doesn’t really go anywhere from there. The game also denies you the most obvious and fundamental choice: You can’t be female.

The game also suffers from some nasty bugs. I had a bug where the various text in the game wouldn’t display, and in casting about for a cure (there isn’t any patch) I found a lot of people that had ongoing issues. I was able to fix my own problem by updating my graphics drivers. (I’d just updated them last month, so I guess it’s good I didn’t buy this game a month ago.) But I still feel bad for those who had to muddle through with crashes, sound issues, and visual artifacts. The “Optimized for Windows” stamp on the back of the box is little more than a taunt to people who can’t make the game work.

Still, the game is fun so far. It’s good looking, the load times are acceptable, and it doesn’t hassle me with copy-protection annoyances. It’s not spectacular, and it’s nowhere near worth the hype I’ve read about it elsewhere, but it’s a game with a modest scope and a competent execution.

(I must note that it sucks writing about such a middle of the road game. Give me something to love or hate! I love to talk about great games, and awful games make for interesting blog posts. Talking about unremarkable games makes for unremarkable writing. I kept wanting to savage Fable, just to spice things up. Perhaps I’d make for a rotten game journalist.)

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202040 comments. (Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.)

From the Archives:

  1. Sharpe says:

    Fable was a good game, though a lot more linear than advertised. I’ve become more and more disappointed in Molyneux, especially after the joke of a game that was “Black and White 2”. Fortunately for him, “The Movies” gave me enough faith that I might consider “Fable 2”.

  2. Gropos49 says:

    Peter Molineaux has promised that he’s fixing all of those problems in Fable 2. In fact, the press from E3 was suggesting that Fable 2 wil be a MUST PLAY when it’s released.

    BTW – If you haven’t heard Peter Molineaux speak about Fable, google an interview with him. I’m a full grown adult and I can’t help but want him reading me bed-time stories at night.

  3. Gothmog says:

    the guy that does the funny-as-hell ‘Zero Punctuation’ video reviews on the Escapist did a great write-up on Fable and captures the essence of your feelings about it as well, Shamus.

    Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYQLR7dE5k4
    Rated ‘R’ for language, btw.

  4. pffh says:

    What I have seen and heard of fable 2 is that it will be a lot darker.

  5. Scourge says:

    Sharpe Says:
    Fable was a good game, though a lot more linear than advertised.

    A lot more? hat is a joke, it was so what of Linear and as Shamus said, the choices weren’t really that great. One thing that also pretty much annoyed me that was that no matter how good you were that you always ended up as a 65 years old guy, even when you just bought the truely neccesary skills. I found a work around this though and got my Hero back to the nifty age of 18 and ended the game then with 20 years but still sucked it mostly when I ran around as a 65 old man who tried to go after girls roughly the age of 20 or so.

    All I can say is ‘jailbait!’.

    One more thing that was pretty annoying to me was that when you grew elder that no one else grew elder, Lady Grey and the rest always looked the same, only you changed. If they already include the thing with the changing appearance then please at least let others change too.

    What more to rant about, ah yes, the Missions, at first when I looked at it did I think ‘Woah! Great! There is one Mission I can choose and a few which I can’t because I’m not good enough, they also look like random Missions, I bet later will that like that too!’ Wrong!!!! I always got Missions I could do, if there was one I couldn’t take then I could take it after the next Mission. The missions always were the same and never ever changed!

  6. Telas says:

    The big head/hands thing and animation style threw me off of the original game, and I heard the 2-D morality was underwhelming. I’m glad I didn’t stick around.

    BTW, there’s one ‘w’ in Morrowind. :)

  7. essell says:

    If the biggest complaint you can raise about a game is “The box lied to me” then you’re onto a winner. Can we find another game like it that’s better? Even Neverwinter Nights, with it’s multitude of character option, has just a linear story. If anyone knows a better game in the same style then I want to play it!

  8. Luanne says:

    Ah, you can’t be female, but you CAN be a guy in a dress.

    This was my favorite thing about the game. I ran around in a dress, hitting on women (and men), and occasionally doing what I was supposed to be doing. Oh, and I did of course kick chickens, too.

    I think I would have a greater appreciation for Fable if I hadn’t ever played Morrowind. Morrowind was, in fact, my first real gaming experience. My boyfriend says this has ruined my view of gaming. He’s probably right.

  9. Nilus says:

    I didn’t mind Fable, but I consider it a ‘lite’ RPG. It has RPG elements but for the most part you can hack and slash your way through the game without thinking much. I did have a lot of fun changing my hairstyle and getting tatooes. And it was fun to walk a whole bunch of people to the evil temple and sacrifice them.

  10. It’s been a while since I played Fable, but I distinctly remember spending exorbitant amounts of time collecting hairstyles and beards and changing my character’s appearance.

    I think the most fun in that game was some of the oddball things you could do, like talking to the stone faces and getting their bizarre requirements. I ran around for probably 1/3 of the game horribly obese (nearly spherical!) because you have to get really, really fat to get past one of the stone faces.

  11. Mordaedil says:

    Don’t read any hype from Lionhead studios. They deliver great games, but they make way too much hype.

  12. David V.S. says:

    I enjoyed Fable, but not enough to play it twice.

    The game lets you do a lot of fun and silly things. You can change your character’s appearance much like a mix-and-match doll, adjust your alignment in absurd ways, take advantage of an economic system in which supply and demand apply only to individual merchants at individual instants, etc.

    I agree with Shamus that it should have been a “cute” game. It was close. The parts that were not G rated are indeed needless, and Spyro the Dragon shows they are not needed for the game to sell well.

    It definitely is a “lite” RPG, in part because the best weapon/armor are always available towards the end of the game for gold (and gold can be infinitely obtained through tweaking the economy). So as you play the game you never need to worry about missing out on obtaining any items — the ones that really matter will be there when you need them.

  13. Shamus wrote: “Have these guys ever seen Fallout? Are they aware of Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Oblivion, Morrowind, Planescape Torment, or any of the dozens of RPGs which present the player with a steady supply of fascinating choices, many of which can affect you in unforseen ways down the road?”

    Well, to be fair, many of the games you list there didn’t exist when FABLE first came out.

    I think the real problem here is not that the advertising copy lied about the contents of the game, it’s that what they meant by “every choice has a consequence” and what you thought they meant were two different things.

    Specifically, they meant moral consequence; you thought they meant plot consequence. (Oh those cursed vagaries of English!)

    In other words, the designers were primarily aiming at an Ultima IV-style adventure (which I think they successfully delivered). You wanted something more along the lines of Elder Scrolls.

    Justin Alexander
    http://www.thealexandrian.net

  14. Cadamar says:

    Not a bad review, Shamus. The difficult part of doing reviews as a job is that you have to review everything and not just the ones you really like or really hate. The best reviewers are those that can make an impartial critique and express their opinion while making it very clear which is which. You’re goal is to provide an objective analysis so that the reader can make an informed decision but you’re doing this because you have a passion for it. The trick is finding the balance. I think that you did a good job with this one. I’ve heard the hype around Fable and may have given it a chance, but now I probably won’t. Your analysis of the game play limitations is enough to turn me away. However, if you had flamed it too heavily (like it seemed you wanted to) then I might not have taken the review seriously. Someone who is too emotional about something is certainly going to be jaded.
    Keep up the good work. Your site is a great diversion from work…

  15. Laithoron says:

    Odd, I enjoyed Fable quite a lot when it came out. Mind You, that was several years ago and well before some of the other games You’ve compared it to. At the time I was working in an EB Games and it was one of those rare times when EVERY last one of us who worked there actually bought a copy of the same game — even the Halo junkies and Soul Calibur champs.

    Back then we routinely had people come into the store boasting about how their character was turning out and buying memory cards (a rare purchase for most XBox owners) just to show off their heroes or villains to everyone else. Through all that, I really can’t recall anyone complaining about there being a lack of choice or outcome in the game.

    I’m not certain if writing a review of an older game and comparing it to much newer games is a valid comparison or not but I suppose it can still be a useful review for someone looking to buy a game they haven’t played before. Yet in that case, I’d also factor into the review the greatly reduced cost of an older game.

    I’d be curious to see a similar review of Diablo…

  16. Shamus says:

    Laithoron:

    Reduced price? I paid $30 or $40 for it.

    To be fair, I didn’t realize the game was that old.

  17. Nilus says:

    Shamus wrote: “Have these guys ever seen Fallout? Are they aware of Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Oblivion, Morrowind, Planescape Torment, or any of the dozens of RPGs which present the player with a steady supply of fascinating choices, many of which can affect you in unforseen ways down the road?”
    M
    Justin Alexander wrote “Well, to be fair, many of the games you list there didn’t exist when FABLE first came out.”

    Actually most of the games on that list did. Fallout and Fallout 2 were out years before Fable so was Planescape: Torment. KOTOR was out as well, KOTOR 2 might have been as well. Morrowind was out for sure as well as was its prequel Daggerfall. Needless to say there were plenty of quality RPGs that had less linear plots with better moral choices.

  18. ArchU says:

    It’s a very middle-of-the-road game. I quite enjoyed it and I played through twice (once being a goody-two-shoes and the other being a vile corruptor. Evil has way more fun, imo), the second time slaughtering entire villages and just buying the (then) unoccupied houses. Interesting bug in the game – the guards still chase you out of a village you entirely own if you muck up near them.

    I should also note that I hate no trouble with the game running. A brother of mine had artificing constantly until he later upgraded his video card.

  19. ArchU says:

    That should be “I should also note that I had no trouble…”

  20. Matt says:

    I wrote a bit about the stuff I didn’t like in Fable a few months back:

    A bunch of times in Fable, you get to choose whether you want to kill a sympathetic character or not. You can basically kill any other hero character in the game at some point. This is a pretty basic evil thing for you to do, so it makes some sense and serves as a decent way to distribute a bunch of good or evil points, but usually I didn’t want to kill any character because I genuinely liked them, and didn’t want them to be dead. I wanted to see them again. Fable sucks because even if you choose to spare the character, you won’t ever get to see them again in the game. Later on you get some story that they went off to some foreign land or into exile or something. This makes sense from a design perspective, because it’s kind of dumb to put a heap of content into the game that half the players (the evil half) won’t get to see. But it also takes away any real incentive not to kill all your friends. They won’t be in the game again – because you could have killed them, if you’d wanted to.

    This next bit happens pretty late in the game, but I don’t think I’m giving much away. Be warned, anyway. At one point you’re expected to choose between the best sword ever and killing a friend. By this point you’ve spotted the trend that any friend you spare is gone for good, but what really gets me is that there’s no “keep the sword and then don’t cut up your friend” option. You have to either kill them or throw the fucking sword away forever. This is the worst false dillema I’ve seen in a game, ever.

    I’m still pretty fond of Fable, regardless. The things they do well they do very well – I loved the level of customization available for characters, which isn’t even especially robust, but certainly is moreso than in most games of its type. The game goes out of its way to make you feel like a hero; which is refreshing, considering how in other RPGs the townsfolk seem largely disaffected by the fact that you are saving them and their world – as if they don’t really care much either way.

  21. Talus Perdix says:

    I don’t know, I laughed while playing Doom. Is that so wrong?

  22. Telas says:

    One of the biggest failings of Fable was that they designers were bragging early on about their multi-layered morality matrix. Google for Peter Molyneux and Fable…

  23. jubuttib says:

    I played through it two or three times, and I have to say, I liked it. It was a really really fun lite rpg, and I really did like the humor inherent in it. I don’t remember a time I have laughed as hard (at a game) as when you did the YMCA dance to awaken the Oracle. Like you I really couldn’t find any real differences between good and evil, and a few times when i went from 100% evil to 100% good people still ran away in terror. The titles we’re great too, especially Chickenchaser.

  24. wererogue says:

    I liked the game a lot – I think the real draw comes when you start to ignore the storyline (which I did enjoy) and just start playing with the game. There’s just so much stuff to *do* – GTA-style, but on a smaller scale. I played through it twice, and none of my nearby friends managed to resist sitting in our lounge, starting a game with their own character. To this day it’s the only game other than solitaire that two of my friends have played for any length of time.

    You’re right – it was flawed (the “requirements” on those quests at the beginning, and subsequent lack of any similar “out of reach” quests or quest diversity disappointed me especially) buy I wouldn’t say it was middle-of-the-road – I think it was a great effort, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve done with Fable 2. Which you can play a girl in, you’ll be glad to hear.

  25. runeforger says:

    the reviw you have given is a little slim really, sure some choices dont do anything no matter what, but for instance:

    1. you get a choice to marry lady grey, or reveal that she is a er
    marry- you receive access to the town hall and can get a silver key, also, a demon door at grey house opens for you and you can get “ronok the axe” a powerful weapon but everyone in bowerstone s you for pretty much the rest of the game, thus a couple of quests cant be started
    reveal- you save the life of the person lady grey haas been trying to kill and get one hell of a lot of Light points (good points) but the grey house demon door will be unopenable for the rest of the game. everyone loves you (high chance of gettiing a wife from this)

    2. when lady grey is trying to get your affection (before my 1st example) another hero (thunder) that has been trying to get her to love him, challenges you to a fight, if you accept then you beat him up a bit, he picks you up and throws oyu off a cliff and jumps down as well, finish the fight and he leaves, you can then get access to the demon door he just threw you to. if you dont accept the fight, you cant access it

    they dont have major effect on the game, but they do change the way people act towards you and stuff like that.
    i enjoyed playing fable anyway, but i still think Knights Of The Old Republic (star wars: KOTOR) was better, though you cant actually fight your own battles, you just say what you want to attack.

  26. runeforger says:

    also, fable 2 is coming out soon, and it has the choice of gender at the start, along with:

    guns, though not average guns like Colts or Magnums, AK-47’s or Dostivels, it has muskets and flintlock pistols (argh! pirate gear!)

    a diff storyline for each gender,

    a tonne more choices and side quests,

    tonnes more items and suits of clothing/armour,

    and loads more stuff that Fable:TLC didnt have

  27. Dr-Online says:

    See, here’s where I think the problem is.

    You went into Fable expecting Morrowind, and got Fable.

    I went into Fable knowing that the game was short, fun, and had an interesting(albeit cobbled together) plotline.

    I wasn’t dissapointed.

  28. Mark Caliber says:

    Uh, Shamus? I posted the previous post in the wrong topic. Could you be so kind as to delete that and this post in the “Fable” thread?

    Thanks.

  29. Deoxy says:

    “I kept wanting to savage Fable, just to spice things up. Perhaps I’d make for a rotten game journalist.”

    No, you’d probably make a fairly average one; most of them seem biologically incapable of “middle of the road” pronouncements. It’s either a new level suckitude, or God’s own genius in computer game form. Meh.

  30. Snook says:

    When Fable came out, I had reserved it; I came home, ecstatic to play it. 10 hours later, I’d beaten it, and was peeved that it had been so easy and short… But, I had a good time while playing it. So, I made up some challenges to make it more difficult (pure mage character, pure archer, pure hand-to-hand) and went on to beat it about 4 more times before finally becoming bored with the game. I think I got my $50 worth. It’s a game that, although it has alot of shortcomings, could have been something more if only the developers had come through on more of their promises. I seem to recall some articles in Game Informer from about 4 or 5 years back promising that Fable would allow you to live a “normal” life before you turn back to adventuring, along with quite a few other things… Oh well. Fable is an exercise in what could have been.

    Now, if you want a game that you’ll have a lot of fun playing, try out Mount & Blade. It’s not finished yet, but it’s still a great game to sink 40 to 50 hours into.

  31. Luke says:

    I actually loved fable. I didn’t have really hight expectations for it. With the carton-ish look I didn’t expect it to be anything but a mostly linear RPG hack and slash. Never really considered it to be in the same ballpark as Morrowind or Fallout.

    I always loved how all the NPC’s would cower in fear and run away from you if you maxed out your evil index – or how they would clap their hands and greet you when you were a good guy.

  32. icekatze says:

    hi hi

    Fable is to Games what “Those summer action movies where a lovable group winds up stranded on a deserted island that is inhabited by some form of giant lizard creature that wants to eat them and they must travel across the island to the secret deserted military base to send a signal for help and then make it off the island,” are to Movies in general.

  33. Charles says:

    I liked it, mostly for the NPC chatter. Leaving a tavern and hearing one of the local women purr “He’s _so_ evil” while some guy whines “‘Ey, that’s me wife…”

    It’s also the first game I’ve played where I could piss off a chicken to the point where it chased me into my own house.

  34. Allan says:

    I think most of Fable’s problems stemmed from the fact that 2/4 to 3/4 the way through development they scrapped everything they’d done so far and started again. I don’t why they did this but it explains a lot.

  35. guy says:

    It probably was buggy, thats why so many games srcap existing stuff. multiplayer games also dump things for balance reasons.

  36. Deacon Blues says:

    I recently got Fable: The Lost Chapters for my XBox at a used-game store, paying $10 (plus tax, of course) for the privilege. I think I got my ten bucks’ worth out of it. I tried good, then I tried evil, then I just tried to get the most powerful stuff as early as I could (although I still haven’t managed to track down all six Treasure Clues…).

    Incidentally, although few seem to have discovered this, you can get a more powerful weapon than Ronoke the Axe by turning Lady Grey in. When you return to Bowerstone, the Sheriff in North B. will express his shock at what they’ve learned of Lady Grey, then offer you the job of Mayor. If you accept, you get access to the Grey Manor (it is the Mayor’s palace, after all). In the back of Lady Grey’s Bedroom, there’s a 15-key chest housing the Katana Hiruyu, which makes Ronoke look sick (and not the good kind of sick, either).

    SPOILER WARNING:

    And if you choose to destroy the Sword of Aeons, rather than using your sister’s blood to power it up, then when the game resumes (a year has passed), you will be offered the chance to recover the legendary sword, Avo’s Tear. It’s exactly the same as the Sword of Aeons, except it’s Good rather than Evil.

    END SPOILER

    I was rather annoyed that no one seemed to mention that casting magic makes you age (Divine Wrath is good for about four months off your life, apparently) until I ran across an offhand mention in an online walkthrough.

    • Sydney says:

      A common misconception. Spending experience at all makes you age. Magic gives you those blue glowies all over yourself. But since Will is usually the slowest thing to level, by the time you have much of it you’ll have spent enough experience to age yourself up good and proper.

  37. Michael says:

    “Fable bragging about choices and consequences is like Doom bragging about “non-stop laughs””

    I don´t know if we´re talking about the same game, but for me, Doom was exactly that. :-)

  38. Dan Hemmens says:

    Specifically, they meant moral consequence; you thought they meant plot consequence. (Oh those cursed vagaries of English!)

    A bit late to the party (this post doesn’t show up on my home computer for some reason).

    Something CRPGs really need to get over is the idea that “moral consequences” means “your character’s Evilness Rating increases/decreases”.

    It is famously the case that the third most evil thing you can do in Fable is to beat your wife to death, the second most evil thing is to beat your wife and then divorce her, and the most evil thing is to eat ten pieces of fried chicken in a row.

    The “moral consequences” of your decisions in Fable are that your aligmnent shifts. You can trivially shift it back by eating the right foodstuff. That’s not a consequence, it’s resource management.

  39. […] Shamus Young’s panning of the first game, I have to say I’m a bit wary of any big claims that Molyneux wants to make regarding a […]

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    […] Shamus Young’s panning of the first game, I have to say I’m a bit wary of any big claims that Molyneux wants to make regarding a […]

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