With the recent news of the hire of John Needham as Lionhead Studios’ new head, and the upcoming announcement of the next generation Xbox, this is the perfect opportunity to take a look at the history of the Fable series, one of the few remaining Xbox exclusives. While the games weren’t the revolutionary masterpieces that the bombastic Peter Molyneux kept promising his fans, they all had at least some new features that helped the series stand out.
The first Fable was, to me, the most fascinating RPG I had ever played. Starting as a kid and seeing your character grow into adulthood was so different from any other game. It gave you the feeling that you were crafting your own character from childhood through adulthood. The game even made changes to your character model according to your morality alignment in addition to changes that depended on the weight of your weapon/armor combination. The aspect that most impressed me was how if you put all your points into melee focused attributes, your character bulked up and got muscular, focusing on ranged abilities made you taller, and magic users had glowing tattoos spread all over their bodies. If you took a lot of damage in combat you even developed scars!
The sequel introduced a mechanic that helped players take a more active hand in deciding the condition of the world around them. You could buy property and set rent prices which was an additional way to affect your morality scale and get discounts on merchandise. Setting rent low raised your good alignment and made your tenants love you. Raising it made you as hated as Molyneux was when he talked up the series to near impossible levels and having most of the features he promised be absent from the final product. Without a shadow of a doubt, the best aspect of Fable 2 was the introduction of the character, Reaver. Voiced by the ever-charming Stephen Fry, Reaver was one of the characters you recruited over the course of the game and was the most arrogant, selfish, vain, and wonderful characters to ever populate the series. he was so well-received that Lionhead brought him back and gave him and equally prominent role in Fable 3. His dry wit and general disdain for everyone and everything other than himself had you constantly chuckling.
The weapons of Fable 3 were the first thing that stood out as you played the game. Depending on how you used them and what you killed, the weapons would morph and evolve to look different and take on different stat attributes. By the end of my playthrough, my sword had a clockwork handle and golden glow while my pistol had a bone handle and some other crazy tomfoolery that looked great. This meant that everyone’s weapons had the potential to be one of a kind. Another point of originality was that your character was fully leveled up at the halfway point in the game. This was one of the few Molyneux promises that lived up to the hype. Characters are always fully powered versions of themselves either near or at the end of the game and this feature allowed players to enjoy the fruits of their early grinding and equipment scavenging. This ties into the next great aspect of the game; once you become king, you have to make some difficult choices like any king would. Do you keep an orphanage open even though it is a drain on your resources or do you close it down to use that money to protect your borders later on? Tough choices like that add grey areas to a game that, up to this point, had been more black and white. Fable 3 also went a step further with its voiceover cast. Whereas the first two games had only a few well known voices, the third game includes some big names such as Stephen Fry reprising his role as Reaver, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, John Cleese and more. Their extraordinary work helped make the characters they played more memorable (and entertaining) than they would have otherwise been.
While each entry in the series had its own points of success, the second and third games each had their share of missteps. The second game had no final confrontation and just ended while the third game had some arbitrary number point you had to reach to get the best ending and gave you no clear indication of what that number was. In my opinion, the original Fable had the best combination of tried and true gameplay mechanics and innovative features to make it the most enjoyable. Ignoring the abomination that was Fable: The Journey, we haven’t had a new entry in the series in almost three years. This could mean that Lionhead has been developing the newest game for the next-gen Xbox console. As one of the few remaining Xbox exclusives, hopefully we’ll hear some news during the May 21st Microsoft conference or at E3 this year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to jump back into Fable 3 to fart in people’s faces while wearing a chicken suit and a crown and shooting fireballs at people.