I’ve always held to the opinion that the original Fable was the best game in the series. Yes, each of the sequels added little improvements, but in doing so, I felt that they stripped a little bit of the enjoyment out of the game. There was always something about the first Fable that felt like the perfect blend of gameplay, humor, plot, and customization that the sequels seemed to be lacking. However, when Fable Anniversary was announced, which includes both Fable and The Lost Chapters expansion, I wasn’t too thrilled for it. After spending some time with it, I’m happy to say my unenthusiastic response was wrong.
For those of you who didn’t get the chance to play the original Fable when it came out, the plot follows your character from childhood into adulthood. Typical of an RPG plot, your family is killed in front of you as a child, and you spend your youth training to avenge them. You set off in the world of Albion with the guidance of Maze, the Hero who saves you as a child and the Guildmaster, who can most aptly be described as an amalgamation between Dumbledore and Navi, with his constant “Your health is low. Watch that.” While your character, and other other Guild members, are known as Heroes, the deeds you do don’t have to be virtuous. Succumb to your darker instincts and watch as your character’s appearance changes to mirror your actions.
The very first thing you notice about Fable Anniversary is the much improved graphics. The original Fable was never a bad looking game since the design was a bit stylized, but the visuals in Anniversary just seem so clean and updated, while retaining elements of the original’s stylized design. Everything in the game got a facelift, from the small and weird forehead tattoo the Guildmaster rocks, to the huge destructive effects of the myriad of spells at your disposal. Character movement, for your Hero as well as NPCs, seems strangely marionette-like, but that’s only in cutscenes.
One of the aspects I missed most about the original Fable is one that probably few people ever remember. If you go to your stats page, you can find the type of character you are playing as, which is important in a game with this many gameplay options. Do you want to be known as a Fighter, Mage, Archer, Spellwarrior, Assassin, etc? All you have to do is approach combat the way you want, and this title changes to fit your Hero. Another is that your armor choices actually play a role in how protected you are, as opposed to the sequels, where clothing only had an aesthetic use.
With this shiny new coat, Lionhead Studios also ported over the streamlined control scheme introduced in Fable II. I’m not going to say that the original control scheme was broken but it was cluttered. With melee, ranged, and magic attacks all mapped to the same button, it’s very easy to accidentally shoot lightning at a bandit you were trying to sneak up on and decapitate with an arrow to the head. The Fable II control scheme maps different attacks to different buttons, so it’s easier to loose off a few arrows, cast a quick spell or two, then pull out your melee weapons for when enemies close the distance.
The humor in the game is typical Lionhead, but is a bit more subtle than in Fable II and Fable III. The jokes and gags seem a little less slapstick-y than in the sequels as well. The achievements that were added to Fable Anniversary also show off a bit of the Guildford-based developer’s funny side and ability to poke fun at themselves. There’s an achievement that you can get called “Definitely Not On Rails” which you can get for either exploring all the areas in the game or just getting really fat, a jab at the underwhelming Fable: The Journey.
Another new addition to Anniversary is the SmartGlass connectivity which allows you to tether your iPhone/Android smartphone or tablet. Simply open up the app, and as long as it is connected to the same network your 360 is, it will automatically sync to the game. This brings up a world map that you can zoom into to see the different locations, chest and Demon Door locations, and a realtime representation of your hero traversing the world. Certain areas have screenshots that show what the original Fable looked like compared to Fable Anniversary. While I didn’t use this feature too much, it was interesting to try out and using it even nets you an achievement!
As much as I adored this game, there were a few points that frustrated me to no end. As good as Fable looks, the physics engine doesn’t feel polished at all. Expect to get stuck on random geometry a lot, which is frustrating when you’re trying to make some space between you and enemies or you’re doing a timed objective. Strangely, if you’re not getting stuck on geometry, you’re clipping right through it. The one part that most concerned me was the fact that there were multiple occasions where the framerate would plummet or the video would just freeze for a few seconds; it even crashed twice. With Lionhead delaying the release, you would think that they would have cleaned up all this issues. Mainly, as nostalgic as Fable Anniversary is, there really isn’t anything we all haven’t seen 10 years ago.
More than anything, this game seems like Lionhead’s love letter to all the fans of the original game. It’s like that high school sweetheart that we drifted apart from, that shows up at the reunion looking amazing. Now my only advice to Lionhead would be to base future Fable games on Fable Anniversary. Just clean up the few jagged edges, cherrypick the few great aspects of Fable II and Fable III, and you’ll be back among the RPG elite in no time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my renowned Battlemage named Chicken Chaser and go wipe out a Bandit colony.