I like Fable. No, seriously. Playing the games has taught me that Fable and I have a lot in common.
Perhaps this requires some explanation. When I first started playing Fable it was back when I was in High School. I was in the midst of some sweeping changes during this time; while not making new friends and getting deeper and deeper into the niches I find myself in today, I started playing video games that had been different than the games I had grown up on, and many of them solidified the tastes I have today. Among them was Fable, a game that, like myself in adolescence, had identity issues. To this day, I am not sure what genre Fable and its sequels are supposed to be. Some may say that they can simply be called “action games,” but to me, that is far too vague.
The first Fable was purportedly an “action role-playing game”, but this is somewhat misleading. Despite the presence of typical RPG elements such as experience points, talent trees, and equipment with statistics, none of these usually mattered. A character could, with the right talent buys, have the same amount of health and damage resistance with a magic-user as they could with an armor-bound knight, mostly because the protection afforded by armor in the original Fable were minimal to the point of being cosmetic, and items whose descriptions told of bonuses or additional benefits (such as the Will User’s Hat) were outright false. Classic RPG tropes are played with in Fable as well, though mostly to show off the then-revolutionary alignment system the game had–which itself was easily exploited, making the alignment “roleplayed” in Fable pointless.
“Very well,” one might say, “it is just an action game with superficial RPG elements.” Not quite. Combat in Fable is a bit too simplistic for it to really work as a stand-alone action title. While it does make players think about using different strategies and abilities in any given situation and encourage players to have a versatile play-style, combat in Fable is almost always just limited to attacking the same enemies over and over again, then chugging down potions afterward. And potions in Fable are ridiculously easy to get. Thus, combat wound up being a chore to to do in order to reach the plot.
“Oh,” one replies sheepishly. “Maybe Fable could be considered a social Sim with Action-RPG elements?” No. Just, no. The way Fable handled NPC interactions, while novel in retrospect, is one of the most annoying aspects of the game. Marriage, romance, and interaction were boiled down to character statistics and liberal applications of poses and farts. While I understand that the limitations of the technology available to game designers of the time essentially prohibited in-depth character relationships with a potentially large number of NPCs, Lionhead’s immature approach to romance (and, unfortunately, sexuality), was largely mediocre and left a taste in the mouth of many a gamer.
Despite criticisms of its fans and nay-sayers alike, the games and expansions following the initial release of Fable have done little to help pinpoint the type of game the franchise was trying to become. Combat was further simplified and dumbed-down by taking away the chance of death entirely, on the assumption that scarring a character would give the player incentive to play cautiously (it did not), little has been done to deepen character relationships (even with quests and challenges that specifically call for romance and seduction), and Fables II and III essentially have RPG elements only in name.
But when all is said and done, what can be said about the genre of Fable‘s series? Calling Fable an “Action game” might be sufficient, on second thought; when taking the worst elements of many genres and cramming them together, the game will rarely be greater than or equal to the sum of its parts, and one need not be a mathematician to figure this out.