It is 2012 and Peter Molyneux, fabled game developer and liar-at-large, is now respected as one of the most successful game developers of all time. Molyneux’s Lionhead (pronouned Lyin’ Head) Studios has, in the past decade, produced three extremely successful role-playing games. This series–the Fable series–has earned itself an enormous, diehard fanbase which is willing to defend the games in the series to the bitter end. It is that bitter end which this reviewer eagerly looks forward to, even as Fable: Pony Training is currently still in development. The reasons why can be seen in the beginnings of the series.
This review cannot begin without declaring a simple fact: Fable is a bad game. The opinions of this reviewer have been reiterated over the years on websites such as CatFancy, where those opinions earned the admiration and agreement of countless thousands of readers. Nevertheless, after striking a Faustian bargain with the readership of this site in exchange for funds to keep the lights on, this reviewer has no choice but to delve into the festering, turgid shithole that is Fable. And shithole it is.
The plot of Fable begins when an incredibly ugly young man (who has no set name, so let us call him “Stinker”), apparently suffering from some kind of hydrocephalic disorder, is confronted by his equally handicapped sister. The year is A.D. ‘vaguely medival fantasy’, and the people are all bad caricatures of cockneys from the London dockyard–or perhaps that should be Londinium, for the setting is called Albion, a poetic term for the island of England. In this Dick-Van-Dyke-besotted universe, Stinker’s spoiled and demanding sister Theresa desires presents, for it is, unhappily, her birthday. With a screeching voice and a stomp of her foot, Stinker is sent to search for the expected gifts and it is then that fate intervenes. For the village of hydrocephalic imbeciles is attacked and, presumably, the Stinker’s parents and sister are–mercifully–slaughtered.
But alas, all is not lost! After growing up in the Heroes’ Guild with his dismal friend, Whisper, Stinker discovers that both his sister and his mother are alive. Soon, Stinker learns who destroyed his village (a fellow named Jack of Blades), and he swears vengeance. Jack of Blades, it turns out, holds a sword unimaginatively called the “Sword of Aeons,” which gains power as it receives the blood of the line of Archon. No prizes for guessing whose the line of Archon is. Jack endeavours to kill Stinker’s sister and mother, and Stinker must intervene. Though he is unable to prevent the death of his mother, Stinker is able to prevent Jack killing his sister and, in the process, Stinker becomes the new master of the Sword of Aeons. At this point, he can either kill Theresa and further empower the sword, or he can cast the sword into a void, destroying it forever. This reviewer killed Stinker’s sister, because she is a whiny bitch.
The theme to Fable was composed, possibly in a moment of drunken madness, by Danny Elfman. Consequently, it is passable. The rest of the music was composed by Molyneux’s music maestro, Russell Shaw, who has none of Danny Elfman’s capabilities. Nevertheless, the soundtrack is the best part of Fable. This is not much of a feat, however, as the rest of Fable is lamentable. The morality system is absurdly bifurcated (KILL YOUR SISTER to absorb her power in the sword, or SAVE HER); the vaunted ‘character actions have effects on the gameworld’ system actually boils down to ‘light coloured clothing makes you good; dark coloured clothing makes you evil’; and the combat system is more or less ‘mash attack to win’. Meanwhile, the world of Albion is filled with cockney idiots who annoy, rather than delight, guv’nah. Usually, they demonstrate their Genuine British Nature(tm) by ending every sentence with guv’nah, guv’nah. This quickly becomes annoying, as you are probably beginning to see, guv’nah.
But if Dick-Van-Dykery is not sufficent to dissuade the potential player, allow this reviewer to add that the PC version, which is technically being reviewed here, has even more of the exceptional crapitude which the console release has. For in The Lost Chapters, Jack of Blades returns with yet another magical sword and, in a twist which surprised no one but Molyneux himself (in one of his “Eureka! I’ve got it!” moments), Stinker is once again set upon the task of slaying Jack. Who is now a dragon. With a mask. And upon slaying Jack, another Big Moral Dilemma(tm) takes place: whether to destroy the mask and Jack, or to wear it, Diablo-like, and become Jack. Oooh, tough one there, Molyneux.
There’s more to Fable, but all of it stinks. There’s a murder mystery that no one gives a tinker’s toot about, and a Bandit King who saves Theresa, and some extra areas in The Lost Chapters. But to explore all of this would prolong the experience of Fable and, as it is a profoundly dissatisfying experience, players will more likely hurry on and–quite rightly–ignore the nonsense which festoons the game like so many peacock feathers in a lady’s overburdened hat.
But the worst part of all are the lies which Molyneux told about Fable, the promises he made and on which he could not–and did not–deliver. Players, giddy with expectation, laid down pre-orders for Fable, excited to see ‘real morality’ systems and ‘an ever-changing world’. What they got instead was a simplified RPG with stupid characters and a simplistic ethical system, all stifled by a bare-bones combat system and a difficulty level only slightly above Barbie’s Horse Adventures. And whilst playing the game with open eyes here in 2012 might well save one from the defeated expectations which attended the game’s release, doing so will only prolong the life of the series and the success of its creator–both of which, this reviewer hopes, will soon end.
Genre: Western Role-playing Game
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform Reviewed: Microsoft Windows (NA)
Release Date: 20 September 2005