Fable Anniversary review

“After an eternity away from you all, Jack of Blades is back!”

Ah Fable, has it really been 10 years since you released? I remember all those false promises like it were only yesterday….

But anyway, yes Fable has been given the remaster treatment on the 360 that seeks to keep the original charm and personality of the game intact, but of course introducing an appropriate visual upgrade. Above all, Anniversary is a glossy nostalgia-trip that reminds you after all this time how brilliant the world of Albion still remains, but indeed also the biting reality of how far we’ve come in gameplay terms since its creation.

One of the key strengths of the original was how effective its simple heroic tale was, you take control of young boy as he begins his journey to fulfil his destiny as a Hero of Albion. The beautifully paced introduction in the idyllic setting of Oakvale is still utterly captivating all these years on and the various twists still pack a big impact. This endearing fantasy adventure is helped out by how terrifically evil the main villain is, to be blunt Jack of Blades is just outright a really cool antagonist with some awesome dialogue and a suitably epic final confrontation.

Fable Anniversary is an action RPG where you use a mix of combat and magic to defeat the legions of enemies you’ll encounter through the course of your heroic quest; however Fable has always been quite unlike most other games of its genre and you can really tell by playing Anniversary. First off, the control scheme has been tweaked to that of the later Fables with the various abilities being mapped on the pad. For instance, melee is on X, ranged is Y and magic is on B, this makes things a bit easier but old problems still remain which we’ll come to now.

Unfortunately the abysmal auto-lock is once again present in Anniversary, the mechanic is at best remarkably clunky and at worst downright broken. All too often in my play-through did I lock onto a bandit for a melee attack, only to then wildly slash a nearby guard thanks to a helping hand off the imperfect camera. Unsurprisingly, this gets even more frustrating when you’re trying to pick off enemies with ranged attacks and magic, the lock on system stubbornly refuses to cycle through targets meaning that if you don’t target the enemy on your first attempt, you’re never going to able to. Towards the end of the game then, with waves of powerful enemies blocking your progress, it’s a real challenge to juggle the controls effectively and often you’ll just resort to spamming the X button to get over the fight as quickly as possible.

Aside from the action, there’s also traditional RPG elements here with your hero being able to interact with the inhabitants of Albion in a multitude of ways; in the eccentric Fable fashion of course. You can buy and sell goods you find in the world to the various market vendors, get drunk in the Inns, buy properties, get a tattoo, get a hair-cut, enter chicken-kicking competitions and even get married. All these interactions are made via the D-pad where you can take advantage of the variety of expressions on offer, for instance pump your muscles a few times and give your potential love interest a box of chocolates, they’ll fall in love with you instantly. Just like in real life!

This glorious simplicity also extends to Fable’s big issue of morality which it sort of led the way back in 2004, do a certain number of kind acts and you may notice a halo over your head, on the other hand if you act like a prick all the time your character will sprout some demon horns. This hollow take on morality is harsh to criticise, after all these mechanics all date from 2004 and later games in the series took it further, but it encourages you to be playful with your interactions knowing that its not going to cause any real consequences.

Hence, that’s why I murdered my wife in the town square during the middle of the day in front of everyone…

… and then came back the next day to pay a fine and find another lucky bride.

 This silliness is all well and good but the clunkiness of the menus is a bit bizarre considering how easy it would have been to improve it, random expressions and items are mapped to the D-Pad even if you didn’t want them there, whilst digging through the menus to actually do the expression you want is a real chore. Similarly, although Albion is still a brilliant place to explore, the structure of the world feels so dated now. Too many areas are segmented into thin zones, a frustration exacerbated by frequent intrusive loading screens, I can’t understand how Lionhead haven’t managed to reduce the loading screens, additionally it’s not unreasonable to have wished for them to be completely absent.

Content-wise, you get good value here with the Lost Chapters expansion being included in its entirety, so you’re probably looking at about 10 hours for the main campaign and then a further 8-10 hours depending on how many side-quests you want to do and collectables to well… collect.

I guess I should add that Fable Anniversary proudly proclaims on its intro screen that it supports SmartGlass, I don’t care about the feature so I never used it, maybe it adds to the experience or maybe it’s just completely useless?

 Let’s be honest here, the main selling point of this game is the enhanced visuals right? It’s certainly true that this is a vast improvement on the original, with new textures and realistic lighting being implemented; the resolution has as expected been bumped up and finally environmental assets such as the architecture and forests have been re-built from the ground up. This all results in it looking pretty much on par with Fable 3, unfortunately however old animations are preserved in its entire ancient inadequacy, so if you’re looking for mo-capped fluidity, it’s not here. This brings me onto the general point that these enhanced visuals simply aren’t going to blow you away even with nostalgia working in its favour. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s a lazy effort, but I feel they could have done way more and when you consider this is really the only major improvement, it’s very curious indeed.

 The sound meanwhile remains utterly fantastic, the overall score has been left untouched but the audio is now uncompressed thanks to the relevant technological advances so it sounds better than it’s ever had before, thus hearing the warm, rich theme of Oakvale for example is a true delight. As in keeping with the rest of the game, sound is an inconsistent affair with Anniversary falling down in aspects such as repetitive enemy taunts to grating greetings.

 Fable is a game I hold dear to my heart and it still remains for the most part a good game, however Anniversary is an oddity in the sense that it shouldn’t really exist. The supposed ‘remastering’ only takes it visually on the level of Fable III whilst the animations, core gameplay and sound remain largely untouched; thus attempting to more or less get by on nostalgia alone. Admittedly, nostalgia is a very powerful thing and revisiting Albion was an almost intoxicating experience, but once the adventure is finished so does any lingering sentiment. Anniversary is an absorbing treat for newcomers to the series but for returning fans, it’s disappointing to see such a hollow ‘remaster’.

6/10

+ It’s charm and humour remain undiminished

Albion is still a wonderful place to explore

There’s a lot of content on offer here

Gripping main quest-line

– Frustrating, basic combat

– Tedious structure

– Clunky menus

– It isn’t that much of a ‘remaster’