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Review: Fable Anniversary is doomed to repeat 10-year-old mistakes

By GamesMaster on Monday 10th Feb 2014 at 10:20 AM UTC

A fable is a timeless story of myth and legend. Sadly, timelessness isn't something the now nine-year old Fable 1 can put on its CV.

At the time of its original release Fable was criticised for over-promising and under-delivering - but its lofty ambitions and commitment to making sure the decisions you made had a lasting impact on the world around you meant most were eager to forgive.

Ten years on and numerous RPGs have built on the moral-choice groundwork Fable laid. What was once bold and brave is now familiar and cosy. Without the forcefield of novelty to shield them, Fable's creaky underlying mechanics are exposed to the elements, and they wilt under the scrutiny.

On a broad level, it's an RPG of tremendous charm and charisma. Fable tells a classic coming of age story - casting you in the moist boots of a recently-orphaned farmboy who is destined to become a fearsome warrior. You follow him on his journey from childhood to adulthood and beyond, making moral choices that affect how Albion's denizens react to you.

Will you become a ruthless villain who leaves villagers quivering at the mere sight of you, or will you lace yourself into a princess dress and cossack dance for their amusement? While Fable's idea of good and evil is as binary as it comes, a smathering of wit and west country accents gives flavour to an otherwise uninspiring cast of characters, and makes it easy to engage with the fiction.

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Unfortunately 10 years is an absolute age in video games and the truth is that for all its charm, 2004's edition of Albion is no fun to explore. Technical limitations of the time forced Lionhead to carve the game up into short, bitty sections, stymieing any illusion of exploration and giving the game a stop-start flow.

Even within these sections opportunities to go off the beaten track are far and few between, and the rigid geometry of the level - necessitating huge detours to get past ankle-high fences - will frustrate today's parkour generation.

Combat is clumsy and thoroughly uninteresting: enemies attack in linear, boring patterns and are generally happy to wait their turn as you lay the smack down on one of their mates, rather than capitalise on openings.

"10 years is an absolute age in video games and for all its charm, 2004's Albion is no fun to explore"

Lionhead has attempted to freshen it up by refreshing the control system so it resembles the 'one button' system introduced in Fable II - X for melee attacks, Y for archery, A for magic attacks.

While this is a positive move, Lionhead's hands are tied for the most part - Fable 1's faults lie right at the heart of the way it is designed, and can't be ironed out in post-production.

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With that being the case, you begin to wonder why Fable Anniversary exists at all. The graphical makeover is decent enough but it's hardly going to blow you away or offer a new perspective on previously-trodden ground.

Changes to play are strictly cosmetic or superficial (that said, we should probably be happy Lionhead didn't happen upon the idea of having us actually laugh/fart/cossack dance in front of Kinect for the villagers' pleasure).

The smell of desperation around the SmartGlass support is overwhelming. (It flashes a reminder on start-up, and tries to bribe you with an Achievement). What's left is a game that valiantly fails to reinvent itself.

With the spine of the game carved in stone, Fable: Anniversary is unable to meaningfully address the flaws that lie at its heart - and so is doomed to repeat them.

The verdict

Stunted, bitty world design and cut and paste quests drain the colour from one of gaming's most vivid worlds. Dig out the sequels instead.

  • The opening section still has impact after all these years.
  • Lots to see and do; includes Lost Chapters add-on.
  • Having to go back to the guild. For. Every. Quest.
  • Fussy, overly-complicated menu systems.
6
Format
Xbox 360
Developer
Lionhead
Publisher
Microsoft
Genre
Action, Adventure, RPG