Fable: A Retrospective Review

A few months ago, Lionhead Studios announced a remake of the first Fable game, to be released on Xbox 360. Offering updated visuals and not much else, Fable Anniversary is looking to be little more than a prettier, streamlined version of Fable: The Lost Chapters—the series’ first remake. From the outset, this seems like a bad investment to me. Why would I want to pay for a slightly prettier version of something I already have, especially since you don’t need an original Xbox to run the original Fable?

But then a few niggling doubts started to creep into my head. With backwards compatibility being less than assured between console generations, what if the original has some game-breaking bug on Xbox 360? Such a flaw would certainly warrant an up-to-date version designed for the 360’s hardware. Then I began to wonder if I would even want to go back to Fable, if my progression to darker, more serious games might have made me outgrow the storybook design and simple morality system. Before I could determine whether Fable Anniversary was worth my time and money, I needed to go back to the original and see if it still had the old magic.

With that in the air, I’d cover my nose too.

My questions were answered almost immediately. Once the Start screen music began to waft into my ears, all concerns melted away. This was Albion. This was home. Right away I remembered falling in love with this game’s charm back in the mid-2000s. This was the catalyst that ignited my passion for fantasy, and the first game I used to emulate characters from my own writing. As I’ve moved on to darker fantasy games such as the Dragon Age and Elder Scrolls series, which feature less organic but more detailed character creation, I figured going back to Fable might not provide quite the same creative kick that it once did. I was wrong; sculpting my hero into whatever I desire is just as engaging as ever, and the light-hearted atmosphere provides relief from my usual grim struggles against daedra and darkspawn.

With some trepidation I began my hunt for glitches, and was surprised to find very few. I encountered no broken quests at all, except possibly the book collection one, though it’s more likely that I just missed a book somewhere. Freezes and crashes are rare, but just frequent enough that I’d advise saving after you do anything you’d rather not repeat. The game does slow down a bit when applying tattoos, even more so when getting them removed. Altering your hero’s hair sometimes turns it transparent, and changing tattoos can also have the terrifying side effect of appearing to remove his skin, but these are both easily fixed with a quick save and reload. The audio gives off a loud buzz now and then, and compared to modern games, the frame rate is rather low. Yet, for a game this old to perform this well on a system for which it wasn’t even designed is quite the achievement, one that makes it much less frustrating than Skyrim’s nightmarishly buggy Dragonborn DLC.

Bigfoot in disguise.

I honestly expected the game to disappoint on a superficial level, but it surprised me again. Two gaming generations on, Fable still looks gorgeous. This is less about polygon count and realistic character models than it is about style and design. Yes, the graphics are dated, but they still perfectly express the vibrant world of Albion. The musical score hypnotises me every time I play. From the irreverent staccato plinking of Bowerstone, to the gentle harp strings of hidden sanctuaries, to the eerie tones of the Chapel of Skorm, every piece of music perfectly complements the player’s situation. Only after about eighteen hours of play did I start to grow sick of the Oakvale theme, but by then I had all but finished the game anyway.

Time can be a cruel mistress, but Fable has weathered the temporal storm better than any other game I’ve ever revisited. This leaves me with two opinions of Fable Anniversary. For Fable veterans who still have their original copy, this remake is absolutely unnecessary. However, the joy Fable brings is not just about nostalgia. Fable Anniversary is an excellent opportunity for newcomers to see what they missed out on the first time.

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