“Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun”
That right there sums up the basic premise of Fable: The Lost Chapters. Welcome to your own fairytale story in which you get to do what you like. Noble knight, evil spell caster, rugged archer…all are in your reach in Peter Molyneaux’s latest simulation of “The Choice”. He has recently taken the choice between Good and Evil and mixed in his own style of British fairy tale to bring us Fable. Before I dive into the full review, lets review the system I used for it:
- Dell 9100 Series Laptop
- P4 3ghz w/hyperthreading
- ATI Radeon 9700 Mobility video card
- 1GB RAM
- Nostromo N52
- Logitech MX1000 mouse
I would also like to add that other than seeing the Fable website, until The Lost Chapters arrived, I have not actually played the game. I skipped the screenshots, discussion threads, and in general all the hype around the Xbox version of the game.
Even on my underpowered laptop, the graphics for Fable had me from the get go. I tried to run them at my desktop resolution, but no amount of tweaking would let me get away with that. The upside is that even at 1024×768 and shadows disabled I could run all the other features maxed out. The game looked amazing. They really put a lot of work into all the elements in each area, and it shows. There are leaves falling from trees, swords flash in combat, and the spells look like deadly bolts of energy or healing waves. Oh, did I mention the flies that would hover about my horns after I slaughtered enough of the guards of Oakvale? The transformations your character goes through even add to the atmosphere. With all the detail put in the game, the world really does look like it is straight out of one of Grimm’s fairy tales.
One minor issue with the graphics in the game is that there never felt like there was an open area. Some of the areas you walk through have sections that may be about the size of a large house, but there are always walls or other obstructions that limit your view. This really limits the amount of amazing views that this game could have, but the upside is that framerates in the game are pretty stable once you have the settings to your liking. It’s more of a dissapointment rather than a serious flaw, but sometime you do get the feeling you are always running in tunnels rather than being outdoors.
They took some time to give what seems like all the characters in the game a voice, except, they missed one important voice…yours.Welcome to the world of the silent hero. The voices are decently done, and the British accent really adds to the game. The downside is that after some time, you’ll start realizing that it is the same two or three people over and over again. Only the major characters in the game have unique voices…well…almost all the major characters do. If you hadn’t noticed, I really dislike games where the hero basically cocks his head and people think that he has spoken Shakespeare, but I digress. That detail will come up later in the gameplay section.
The music was decently done. It changes depending on the area and situation you are in. Some areas seem to have their own distinctive theme. Whomever planned out the music for the areas also put a lot of thought into the other background noises as well. The Guild interior resonates with a monk-inspired chant. The swamps have a very foreboding presence that is enhanced by howling and growls that seem to be just off in the bushes. The sound, combined with the graphics, did a very good job of presenting Peter Molyneaux’s fairy tale world.
Unfortunately, this is where the review starts to go sour. The designers had a chance to make a port that broke free of the Xbox roots and joined Knights of the Old Republic as an outstanding PC game. They blew it with the default control scheme. The default controls, whether you use WASD or the arrow keys for your movement, are poorly laid out. Add on top of that a system in which you keep clicking or hitting a key to attack, and you will have one worn out keyboard because of this game. I wonder if a click and hold scheme (like Diablo II) was ever even considered.
Now, normally I would take the time to put my Nostromo N52 to use and map out some controls there and then just use the rest on my keyboard. The sheer number of controls that are used in the game and how you have to put them to use was just mind boggling. This game has enough controls to rival some of my favorite flight sims. I can’t believe that all of this was mapped down to an Xbox controller. I can’t believe the average user would even put in the trouble to remap the keys to a comfortable pattern. The fact that you can remap all of the controls does save this somewhat, but it took me two weeks to finally get comfortable with the controls and their layout. I think that is was the first time I used all three shift states on my N52. I usually run from a game that makes me consider even using one shift state.
I also want to address the interface for a minute. This is something that also responded poorly to a port from the Xbox. It has the usual minimap in the upper right hand corner which worked really well to show me where to go. Along the bottom were hot buttons I could assign to the 1-9 keys for spells and items. In the lower left hand corner f1 through f3 were set up as context based quick keys. They would change depending on whats happening. Hurt badly? A potion will appear there. Walking near a woman in town, you get the flirt expression. It was a great idea, but more often than not they would change as I moved around or paused to press the key. I ended up ignoring them for most of the game. Another issue I noticed were the menus. I would often hit esc or one of the F keys to bring up my inventory or quest log. The game would pause at this point, sometimes up to fifteen seconds before displaying. The menus required me to drill down through three or four menus in some cases, just to change the weapon I was using, or set my armor.
Fable: The Lost Chapters is a hack’n’slash straight from the classic cloth of role-playing games. You will spend most of your time travelling from place to place swinging your sword, nocking arrows, and pitching spells left and right. It is a quest centric game, with the Heroes Guild sending you to different places around the country to solve wrongs, or unmake rights.
Being a roleplaying game, you earn experience as you adventure. Experience is divided up into four areas: General, Strength, Skill, and Will. General experience is awarded by completing quests and also appears as green glows on the ground when you kill something. The other three types of experience is awarded when you kill something with your sword, bow, or spell. When you return to the guild hall, you use this experience to purchase new abilities. The basic concept is great, allowing you to grow more powerful depending on how you choose to solve the different quests, and the general experience allows to some leeway to round out your character. Never want to swing a sword? Not a problem. Use your bow. You can still buy health upgrades with your general experience. At least, this is the theory. It falls apart not too far in the game. Going through this game specilizing in one area really cripples your character, mostly due to the fact that the Will experience tree is the only one that feels remotely fleshed out. In the strength tree there is physique, health, and toughness. These stats each upgrade your melee damage, total hit points, and your natural ability to resist damage respectively. That’s it. The skill tree is very similar, having speed, accuracy, and guile. Guile is the only ability that they bothered to add anything to in the process of advancment. As you raise your Guile skill, you get the steal and the pick locks expressions at level 3 and 6. Now, the will tree has all the abilities..er..spells that would have been better spread amongst the other threes. Berserker rage, assassin strike, and more have all been placed as spells. If you want to be a truly powerful warrior, you end up spreading the experience you earn amongst all three trees. From what I can tell, this is how character advancement was in the original Fable. There is nothing new in this department that I can tell, and I found myself very dissapointed in this part of the game.
True to form, it is very easy to be evil in this game, and very hard to be 100% virtuous. You’d think someone wanted to promote a system of values here. I ultimately stopped caring about my alignment about halfway through the game, more due to the admonishments from complete strangers at every little thing I did wrong. I decided that it was more interesting to give them something to talk about, and went fully evil. There are rewards for both the good and evil paths in this game, and I think this is one of the few places the game really worked.
Another place that the game really worked was the social system that was put in place. It’s not terribly deep, but each town had its own life and people in it. The world changed depending on the quests that you did. The game had a level of detail in it that made me feel like I was doing something.
I mentioned earlier that I dislike characters without a voice. I understand that for the most part that some designers hand it to you so that you have the freedom to put yourself in the game. I sit down to a game to experience another person’s adventure and leave my own behind. It’s the same reason I grab a book to read. Without a strong central character to bind the story together, any hope at drawing the reader/player in is lost. And that really sums up what is wrong with the game in general. This is a decent roleplaying game, with a decent setting. But you remain “Hero”, “Chicken-chaser” or whatever title you purchase for yourself in the course of play.
I worked my way through the storyline, did a few extra quests here and there and made it to the end of the game. I was shocked at how quickly I did this. Once I was finished with the original Fable, the game picked up with another adventure, right where you left off from the first one. I looked at the amount of time it took me to get to this point. Eight hours, not too bad. So I dove into the start of The Lost Chapters. Two hours later I had beaten it. I was floored. When it first started up and I did the initial quests, I went back to spend some more of the experience I had earned. With no new spells or abilities to buy, I was a little concerned about the length of this new section of the game. Other than having some sidequests to complete at the Heroes Guild, there was little new aside from about six new areas to explore. The Lost Chapters even tossed out continuity and brought back one of the major characters that I killed, just so I had a good or evil choice for the new section. (I killed him again, just to spite him.) Another flaw with this new section is the fact that you are just as powerful as when you fought the final boss in Fable. There isn’t much in the way of new gear or items, though you do get to play with the nice stuff you had previously. I think that’s the most serious flaw in the Lost Chapters section. You are already powerful. You don’t have to be creative against anything that appears here. You’ve faced almost all of it before, and already know you can beat it. There might have been more of a challenge if they had a way to make you fight your way to top of the pack again, but removing your gear or lowering your abilities would have felt like a cop out.
I would play through this game again, just to see the effects of being truly virtuous, or maybe try just being an archer. There were some quests that I did not do, but the average sidequest took me no more than ten or fifteen minutes to complete.