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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