Fable: The Journey Review

By Chewie, 6 years ago
Managing Expectations: it's a phrase that people who work in customer facing environments will be familiar with and means to ensure that you don't over hype something to the point that consumers only end up disappointed with the final product or service. It's also something that famed ex-Lionhead boss, Peter Molyneux, isn't exactly known for.

During development for the original Fable, Molyneux famously made the astonishing claim that if the player knocked an acorn from a tree, the acorn would eventually grow into a whole new tree. The feature never materialised and was subsequently promised by Molyneux to appear in the sequel, http://www.trueachievements.com/Fable-II/achievements.htm. It never did. He also promised that decisions you made in Fable II would have a direct effect on http://www.trueachievements.com/Fable-III/achievements.htm. They didn't.

About Fable: The Journey, his final game before departing from Lionhead earlier this year, Molyneux claimed that some of the technology for a Kinect tech demo that was displayed in 2009 entitled Milo and Kate was being used to craft a unique motion-controlled adventure and that Fable: The Journey would not be on rails. Definitely not. He 100% meant it this time.

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A Man & His Horse

Fable: The Journey is an entirely on rails, linear adventure in which players fill the shoes of a young dreamer with a bad haircut named Gabriel, who gets split from his group of travelling folk after dozing off at the reins of his beloved horse, Seren. En route to reuniting with his clan, he comes across Fable stalwart, Theresa, the ageless, sightless, seer who brings trouble wherever she goes. In this adventure, the trouble comes in the form of an evil force known as The Corruption (the Darkness from the end of Fable III) and his buddy, The Devourer, whose favourite forms are an all-devouring black force, similar to 'The Nothing' from The NeverEnding Story.

The game is really one of two halves: you alternate between driving your caravan through areas or stopping off for on-foot combat sequences. During the riding sequences, your path is dictated to you the whole way, with only occasional forks in the road that all end up joining back together after a couple of hundred feet anyway. During the on-foot sections, you are moved through the environments automatically, with the only movements available to you being the ability to sometimes sidestep left and right to avoid incoming boulders or enemy attacks by leaning in the appropriate direction. If stepping sideways counts as 'exploration', then I'm a monkey's uncle.

Obstacles whilst riding vary from large rocks and trees in your path, to sharp stones underfoot that you must slow down to cross, for fear of hurting Seren's delicate tootsies. Strong gusts of wind can also blow you off course. Sometimes driving sequences will also take the form of a chase, in which you must either pursue Hobbes riding Oxen, blasting them from their mounts, or escape from the approaching Corruption as it destroys the land around you with disturbing black ooze and giant, sooty, clawed hands. These sections are truly exhilarating and break up the otherwise fairly monotonous riding sequences as you navigate Seren through an ever tightening path of burning ooze, her hooves narrowly avoiding being singed.

Early in the game, the otherwise magic-deprived Gabriel gets his hands on some magical gauntlets that grant him the ability to heal and wield devastating powers during the on-foot sections. Magical powers include electric bolts, fireballs, summoned shards that can be flung like spears and a force called Push that acts like a leash, stunning and flinging enemies and leaving them open for attack. Environmental elements can also be targeted to solve puzzles, blast through barricades or fling explosive barrels at unfortunate foes. Sometimes you'll need to use a variety of different spells in conjunction to deal with certain puzzles or enemies, particularly the occasional bosses that crop up, but on the whole you can simply blast away with whatever you like as they all have a similar effect.

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The Carrot & The Stick

Where the game shines is in its story and characters. The world of Albion has had a lot of development over the last 8 years (that's around 600 in game years) and, despite having a much smaller cast of characters and locations than the open world iterations, the game feels rich in history and detail. Familiar character names and places are thrown around in dialogue, such as Hammer, Reaver, Bowerstone and The Spire, so fans of Fable lore will be satisfied. Through Gabriel's interactions, we also gain a deeper connection to the normally mysterious and enigmatic Theresa and her connection to the magical fortress, the Spire. However, everything is introduced and explained in such a way that newcomers to the franchise shouldn't feel lost, especially as the core storyline is not connected to the 'bloodline' of the previous games.

Other characters including Benny The (not so) Magnificent, Fergus the kind, unlucky woodsman, the bickering spirits Bob & Finley, and buxom Betty provide regular humorous and occasionally surprisingly poignant moments. However, despite the promises of direct character connections with the game's precursor, Milo and Kate, all of these interactions are through cut-scenes. The only character you can interact with directly is your horse, Seren. At occasional pit-stops and camps you can feed and clean Seren, as well as tending to her wounds. This involves placing your healing gauntlets over the wounded areas and slowly pulling out shards and arrows. If you aren't careful, you can end up harming her more and the look and demeanour of Seren will alter depending on how well you look after her. These activities and others help you form a strong bond with your steed, much like Lionhead managed with your canine companion in Fable's II and III. However, the interactions are so simplistic and limited it mostly feels like a wasted opportunity. It would have been nice to be able to tell Theresa she's a bossy old so-and-so or comfort Fergus when he pines after lost loved ones as the promise of Milo and Kate seemed to suggest would be possible.

From a design perspective, the world of Albion has been beautifully rendered. The environments offer a lot of variety from lush woodlands to dank caves and lava-filled dungeons. When you're riding, you may find yourself just wanting to slow down and admire the scenery. The enemies and characters are all drawn in the familiar, exaggerated, cartoonish style of all the previous Fable titles. All the standard enemies are present, including Hobbes, Hollow Men, Trolls and Balverines. Some new creatures make an appearance, such as Rockmites and Stingers - basically giant bugs - but they aren't the most original creatures to grace a game world. It would have been nice if the game's developers would have used the opportunity of a new type of Fable game and new technology to explore new design choices, rather than playing it safe, but what is in the game provides just enough variety to keep it interesting, even if it is a little over-familiar.

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Why the Long Face?

The main issue with the gameplay is unfortunately a common one with titles of this ilk: the motion controls. Whilst the controls are simple and intuitive for the most part, such as holding and lashing imaginary reins to direct and control the speed of Seren, occasional inaccuracies can lead to frustration. This is especially true in combat, where you must thrust your arm forwards in the correct direction to fire a spell at a target. More often than not, you'll find your spell missing the mark and requiring three or four shots to find the sweet spot. Meanwhile, the enemies are always on the move and constantly closing in. This isn't always too much of an issue, as the game is also very forgiving. On the whole, enemies are quite large, especially as most end up coming right up to you, just asking for a fireball to the face and most go down after just a few good hits. Also, if you feel like you're missing more often than hitting, targeting reticules occasionally appear to lend a helping hand and auto target your spell-casting. What's more, you can use the shield-like Counter or Push spells to deflect most attacks whilst you line up your own missiles or recharge your health.

Some spells have the option for Aftertouch. This involves flicking your arm straight after firing a spell in order to redirect it around obstacles or split the missile into smaller components to hit more enemies. Unfortunately, the opportunities to successfully pull this off are limited as, in the heat of battle, you mostly just end up flailing your arms at the screen in the hope you'll end up hitting something. Like anything, practice makes perfect, and you can end up getting quite adept at spell casting. However, if you take a break from the game and come back to it, you'll probably end up forgetting those little things, like exactly how many inches to the right you need to aim in order to hit something at the edge of the screen.

Pop up windows and loading screens give helpful tips to improve your experience with the Kinect, such as to sit upright and forward instead of slouching with slogans like 'Be a Hero, not a Hobbe'. However, these screens can feel a little patronising when you've died a few times after swearing that you were pointing in the top left, not the middle right.

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Experience, Upgrades, Collectibles & Game Modes

Killing enemies, completing mini games and collecting orbs from your path grant you experience points that can be used to upgrade your health, horse's strength and stamina, and your magical power's damage. The game dishes out these upgrades regularly so you do feel like you're making progress and getting more powerful, if only by degrees.

Even if your game saves have no impact on the world of Albion itself between Fable games, thanks to some cross promotional wizardry, if you've played Fable Heroes, you can unlock extra XP and some natty dolls to hang in your caravan, similar to fuzzy dice from the rear-view mirror - in case other road users weren't worried enough about your complete lack of cart-control.

Whilst riding, you can make optional stops, indicated by glowing circles. These stops invariably lead you to exploring a small area on foot, fighting off some minor baddies and opening a treasure chest. The game doesn't contain any loot, equipment or gold to collect, so these chests only yield collectible cards that detail different things from the Fable universe. There is no real challenge in discovering the chests or collecting their prize, so the fact that the reward is so dull isn't too frustrating, but it feels like an unnecessary and ultimately pointless add-on.

Once you complete certain battle sections, you unlock the ability to replay these sections in an Arcade Mode. This mode allows you to replay the battle in an effort to chase high scores on leaderboards. Getting through sections quickly, losing as little health as possible, chaining together kill streaks and performing 'stylish' kills all effect an ultimate score and whether you receive a shiny medal at the end.

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Your Bread & Butter

The majority of the achievements in Fable: The Journey are all fairly simple to pick up throughout the main storyline. As well as the standard story progression achievements, there are a few for level progression and upgrading certain skills, all of which should be easily achievable in a single playthrough if you pick up as much XP as you can along the way. Some achievements are related to killing certain enemies in specific ways, such as juggling a Hobbe with Push or killing something by flinging it into lava. All of these are achievable at numerous points during the story and can also be picked up easily by replaying levels in Arcade Mode. Achievements relating to picking up bronze, silver or gold medals for all the levels in Arcade Mode may prove the only real difficulty for those of you having accuracy issues, but with a little perseverance, they are all attainable.

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The Final Furlong

Ultimately, Fable: The Journey is a mixed bag. It looks lovely and retains the appealing, humorous tone of previous titles, with an engaging and fast-paced storyline. It's fun and diverting in short bursts and you develop a real connection to some of the characters; your horse in particular. There are some interesting ideas at play and fairly unique uses of the Kinect technology. However, it ultimately all feels rather shallow and repetitive, with nothing in particular that will make people sit up and take notice. With some control frustrations, Kinect detractors won't find anything to change their minds about motion control, but lovers of Albion and those who want more from their Kinect than dancing or mini-games should definitely take a look.
Written by Chewie
Chewie is a Wookiee from Kashyyyk. Since helping the Rebel Alliance defeat the Emperor, he has taken up Achievement-Hunting and Newshoundery on TA. Also, ice-skating.