Happily Ever After or a Grimm Fairy Tale?
I don't typically write reviews because in doing so I usually ruin it for myself. I would rather take a movie, book or video game at face value and not spend an exorbitant amount of time critiquing it. Call it intellectual malaise, or as I like to think, a desire to keep things simple, either way when it comes to entertainment, I love it or hate it and don't focus on the shades in-between. However, I can't simply accept Fable, the long anticipated opus from Peter Molyneux, nor can I dismiss it. Perhaps it is the inadequate and inaccurate reviews; it also could be the unprecedented hype surrounding the game. Regardless I have very mixed feelings concerning the game, ones that need to be aired.
This review is going to be divided into two parts; one dealing with the game as it is, and the other focusing on the game and what it was supposed to have been. Both sections will illustrate the positives of the game, the negatives and most everything in between.
What I liked
I rather enjoyed Fable. It sports beautiful graphics, genre appropriate music and lively ambient sounds. The combat is concise, fun, and allows for a variety of successful strategies. One could spend hours just playing the various mini-games, I lost well over ten-thousand gold playing black jack. There is an even a wayward bard, albeit a very untalented one, that pops up from the place to place. The game, on its face, is well worth fifty dollars, especially if you only own an X-Box because you are in dire need when it comes to RPG's and Adventure games, and Fable is a successful hybrid of the two genres.
What I didn't like
The game is rather short. I took my good ole time, spent several hours on courting four different wives, complete most of the quests, and even left the game running while I went out to dinner with the folks. Total elapsed playing time: twelve hours. Doom 3, a first person shooter which are notoriously short, takes longer to beat. If you noticed I didn't use the term complete, I will admit to discover every easter egg, to ascertain the location of every item and to marry another wife or two would take an another five or ten hours. Guess what? That is still a little short, even for an action RPG, especially when a good deal of that time is spent on superfluous content.
The game is way too easy. I understand that it was a purposeful design decision, one that would make the game more accessible but PM and company went a little too far. My eight year old brother would have no difficult completing the lion share of the game. That is unacceptable, especially for a game that is marketed towards adults. In fact it has an M, as in Mature, rating so in theory only adults will be playing it. Give us some credit as we, the adult aged game playing public, do have some modicum of skill. And, even if most of us didn't, Fable is still too easy.
There isn't nearly enough variety in the NPC content. I can live with the dozens of apparent twins, triplets and quadruplets who inhabit the world but every single one of them say the same things, react the same ways and ruin the ambience of the world created by the wonderful graphics and sounds. I spent several hours interacting with various villagers, as my aforementioned polygamous lifestyle is evidence there of. It was enjoyable for a couple hours but soon became burdensome.
The NPC's do react differently based on your renown, attractiveness, scariness and alignment, making one think that there is a huge variety of responses and need to play through several times to see everyone, sadly that isn't the case. You earn renown simply by playing through the main quest, and the occasional side quest, so it grows fairly steadily. Your attractiveness and scariness is determined by your armor type, hair cut, facial hair and tattoos. Since it only takes a few hours to discover most of the armor locations, barber styles, and tattoo options it is very easy to run through the canned reactions to each. Furthermore since the NPC reactions are more cumulative in nature, meaning they react to the combination of hair styles, moustaches, armors, and tattoo styles rather then particulars, it doesn't take long to experience every response.
I didn't mention alignment since it is so ridiculously easy to change alignment from bad to good and vice versa that one, who plays through it trying different things along the way like me, will easily change alignments several times within a few hours and view every NPC response possible. This description actually makes it sound as if there is more to it than there really is. Four or five hours into Fable, playing mostly the linear main quest, provides plenty of time to see virtually every response and reaction. It is very much like a dumb downed version of the Sims. I admire them for attempting to do something different, however; in reality they haven't progresses much farther than the repeated one sentence "The Castle is that way" responses from the NES RPG era. This wouldn't matter if the actual main quest was more fleshed out and took more than eight to ten hours to complete.
Verdict: A conditional Happily Ever After
Is it the best RPG on the X-Box? No, it comes in at a distant second to Knights of the Old Republic. Is it the best action game on X-Box? No, Halo is the undisputed king, at least until its worthy successor becomes available. Is it the best action-adventure RPG hybrid on the X-Box? Yes, of course it is the only game I can think of that fits this description. Nonetheless, it is still a very fun and ambitious game. It very well could be Microsoft's answer to Zelda, which is impressive company to be mentioned with.
What I liked
At first I was blown away by the predictions. Greatest RPG Ever! The must own X-Box title. It will be Peter Molyneux's greatest achievement, the culmination of several decades in the business. The sheer audacity behind the hype was amazing and endearing. I didn't believe most of it, but I wanted to and at times I let myself daydream; a world where real time aging occurred, saplings became massive trees, families were created and torn apart, the chance to adventure with and against other heroes, these fanciful thoughts ran wild through my head. I knew better but even a hardened cynic, a naysayer of Peter Molyneux since the abysmal failure that was Black & White, couldn't help but think what if Project Ego, as it was known early on, succeeded. I couldn't wait to find out.
What I didn't like
PM is a great marketer. He knows what to say, how to say it and, most importantly, when it fails to deliver how to offer something even more enticing to make you forget your disappointment. His hype, which steadily gained momentum over the last four years, guaranteed Fable to be a success. He had done it before, i.e. Dungeon Keeper & Black and White, and will probably do it again. This title will sell well over a million copies, it will most likely become the third or fourth most popular title on the X-Box, so his words, while self-fulfilling, were prophetic in a sense.
It is a must own X-Box title, of course it isn't the must own title but it is close enough. It is one of the best RPG's on the X-Box, though the console is barren of the genre for the most part, so there is some truth to that as well. PM never said that Fable would be his greatest achievement, at least not that I know of, but he did infer it constantly through his adulterated praise of the game during development. And, truth be told it will be known as his most financially successful title, but in terms of sheer game play and innovation Populous is still his crowning achievement. Yet again there is some truth to it.
Verdict: Grimm Fairy Tale
With all that said Fable is still a great disappointment-it isn't groundbreaking, genre defining or revolutionary in anyway. The game is fun but PM promised, no scratch that, he guaranteed something more than simple enjoyment; this game was to be the evolution of RPG’s, the title that ushered in the next era of video games. I knew it couldn't be true, but damn it, he made me believe, at least a little bit and for that I am terribly disappointed. What is by all accounts a fine game is marred by the hype, the half-truths and even outright lies. It would be different if I thought PM and Microsoft truly believed this was going to be the next thing big thing, X-Box's answer to GTA, but by the looks of the finished product and the prolonged development length, I know that they knew it was a stylized promises with no hope for substantive delivery.
Shame on them. And, shame on me for most likely buying Black and White 2 when it comes out. I am, if anything, Peter Molyneux's bitch.
Go to Hell