Fable Review

Game designer Peter Molyneux is known for creating original games that challenge the player to make moral decisions that affect the game’s outcome. His games are also known for their advanced AI which creates more lifelike people and creatures and can lead to some very interesting game experiences. Now Molyneux’s Lionshead Studios has turned its attention to the RPG genre and the result is Fable, a game that not too surprisingly requires you to face moral dilemmas as you play and uses advanced AI to make the non-player characters (NPCs) in the game more lifelike. The result is an RPG that provides an experience unique to the genre and that should be experienced by RPG fans.

Fable opens with you as a child trying to gather enough money to buy a birthday present for your sister. Right from the start you’ll be able to tell that Fable is a different sort of RPG. Each opportunity to earn money has a moral choice behind it. Do you defend a small child from a bully or do you join in on the beating to take what you need from the child? Do you honor the trust of a merchant by watching his warehouse for a gold coin, or do you smash through his barrels while he is gone in hopes of a larger payout? Each choice you make swings your moral alignment towards good or evil, and you’ll soon find that this has a larger effect on your game than simply changing an alignment statistic.

In Fable, your character, and the way he is perceived by others around him, is a direct result of his actions and experiences. Choose the path of evil and your character’s appearance will begin to slowly change so that you appear foul and sinister. In fact, you’ll eventually sprout devil horns. Do the right thing and you will appear almost angelic, with a glow about you and butterflies flapping around you. NPCs will look on you with suspicion or cower in fear if you’re evil, and will smile, wave, and cheer you on if you’re good. It can be fun to play an evil character, but evil characters don’t get surrounded by lovesick women when they stroll into town. As you make your way through the game and complete more quests, you’ll find that you are building a reputation along the way. Passersby will recognize you and refer to you by your nickname or title, sometimes jokingly or mockingly at first but later with admiration (or fear) and awe as you prove yourself to be a real hero. You’ll come to understand how a movie star must feel when your fame reaches a point where you can make everyone in a tavern instantly fall in love with you just by walking in the door.

Everyone loves a good hero.

It is not just your reputation that will influence people – you can interact with the game’s NPCs as well through a large set of expressions and interactions. These interactions can be accessed easily with the D-pad and allow you to do things like flirt, snarl, belch, and even apologize for it. Different actions in combination with your reputation and even with the clothes you are wearing and your hairstyle will elicit different reactions from the villagers and other NPCs. All of the villager dialog is spoken, but your character never says anything – presumably so you can feel that he is you and not a typical videogame hero with a prefabricated personality. Although there are a fair amount of interactions, overall they do not have much of an impact on the game itself and if you make use of the same basic interactions they’ll begin to feel repetitive before too long. They’re there more for atmosphere unless you’re interested in marriage. In Fable, you can flirt with and give gifts to a villager until she loves you to the point where she is willing to wed you. You just need to buy a local house, buy a ring, and then you’ve got yourself a pretty young wife. Or husband, the game doesn’t discriminate against your particular persuasion. You can then return from an adventure to visit and sleep with your wife as long as you maintain the relationship with more flirting and gifts. If she is no longer happy she just may up and divorce you. It’s not necessary for you to pursue marriage in the game but it is an interesting way to see the game’s AI at work. It is interesting to note that a game that emphasizes moral choices so highly allows you to marry one person in each village without an alignment penalty for your polygamy.

Another interesting aspect of Fable is that your character’s look will change throughout the game, and not just as a result of your alignment. Specialize in melee combat and your character will grow large and strong. Specialize in magic and you won’t sport bulging muscles but you will begin to glow and spark with magical energy. Eat food when your health is already full and you’ll eventually begin to put on extra pounds. You will even age during the course of the game, with your hair graying and your skin showing your age. You can also control the look of your character by changing the style of your hair and facial hair at a barbershop or visiting a tattoo parlor for a new tattoo. In spite of these options, though, you can’t control your character’s starting look and you must always play the game as the same black-haired male character.

The freedom afforded you by the game also applies in the area of character class. You do not choose from set character classes in Fable. Rather, you become better skilled in a class by utilizing the attacks of that class and gaining experience at it. The three basic types of attack in the game are melee, archery, and magic and you can concentrate in using one of these three attack disciplines to fashion your character into a fighter, archer, or mage. More than likely though you’ll draw on more than one discipline and fashion yourself into a hybrid character such as a Spellwarrior. When you slay a foe using a particular attack you get both general experience points and points in strength, skill, and will pools depending on the attack. These can then be spent to improve your skills, gain new spells, and the like. The catch is that while you can spend general points on anything, the other pools can only be spent in a certain area – for example, you can’t spend strength points to gain a new spell – so focusing on a single type of attack will allow you to strengthen and upgrade that attack class further. Early in the game you are faced with the choice of becoming a strong specialist or a weaker but more flexible generalist, but later the upgrades in a specialty will become so expensive in points that it is hard to resist the temptation for a specialist to pick up a slew of skills in other areas with the points.