Fable Anniversary Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 2 years ago
In 2004, Fable was full of promise. Backed by industry icon, Peter Molyneux, the hype surrounding the ambitious Xbox title reigned supreme. Every choice would have a consequence. As the hero of Albion, you could be the hero of the day or the harvester of sorrow. As the beginning of what is now a successful franchise, the original Fable set the standard to which the "next-gen" titles would be judged. While many gamers harbor fond memories of the original, especially when levying judgment on the sequels, Microsoft and Lionhead are now giving gamers a chance to re-experience Albion's origins with Fable Anniversary. The question that remains, however, is, "Does this return warrant more than a trip down memory lane?"

June 04


Let's start this off with the basics. If you loved Fable (or its "Director's Cut", 2005's Fable: The Lost Chapters), this game is probably one you've already purchased, are playing, and are loving. Lionhead has faithfully given a new sheen of HD polish to their 2004 game, made some UI improvements, and added in SmartGlass integration. With those updates and additions, you're probably grateful for the chance to pop some achievements, level up your Chicken Chaser, and spend between twenty and thirty hours righting (or propagating) the wrongs of Albion. For those unfamiliar with the original game, strap in, because you're in for something of a ride.

For the uninitiated, Fable is an action-RPG that allows for a measure of moral variance when it comes to how you handle your Hero. In old Albion, "Heroes" can range the gambit from noble crime fighters and defenders of the public all the way to feared bandits and oppressors of the innocent. From humble beginnings as an orphaned child, you'll be able to sculpt your Hero using three basic skill trees: Might (melee), Skill (archery), and Will (magic). Using these talents in combat will yield talent-specific experience as well as general experience that you may use to level up your Hero, making them a strong warrior, a sneaky archer, or a powerful wizard. Like more action-focused games, Anniversary also features a combat multiplier that rises higher the more you inflict damage without receiving any. As the game progresses, it's not unusual to hit a multiplier in the teens or twenties, which really boosts experience collection.

Furthermore, your Hero can become fat or skinny (based on what you eat and do) and good or evil, depending on who you serve and how you operate. Focus on "Skill" and you'll become taller. Focus on "Might" and you'll become beefier. Focus on "Will" and you'll develop glowing tattoos. Dress like a Bandit and you'll be (partially) treated like one. All of these choices reflect on your character's appearance and how the citizens of Albion treat you. Delivering on promise, in Fable Anniversary your character will truly reflect your decisions and how you handle your adventures.

Such reflection is good, because you'll have a variety of options in Anniversary. From the foods you eat to the quests you take on to the magic powers you favor, everything is judged in alignment. Be and dress "Evil" and you'll grow horns. Be "Good" and wear "Bright" clothing and you'll gain a halo. Unfortunately, those morality choices have little bearing on how the story plays out for the most part. Regardless on whether you're lawfully good or chaotically evil, you'll be able to progress through the story as you wish. If you find yourself on the wrong moral path, you're also able to alter your morality with money, dietary choices, and/or human sacrifices.

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When morals are put aside, you're left with a pretty basic journey of ascendance. As your hero matures from childhood to adolescence to adulthood (mainly adulthood), you'll grow your talents and power and gradually make your way up the food chain, gaining more "Renown" that will make you more famous and allow you to take more quests. The greatest trick that Anniversary weaves, however, is how it makes you feel powerful quickly. Without a terrible amount of effort, you'll soon find yourself blasting through quests and laying waste to enemies. This feeling continues through most of the game and eventually reaches a point where enemies that are hard to defeat feel cheap somehow.

Combat is easy and intuitive; Might is locked to the "X" button, Skill is locked to the "Y" button, and Will is locked to the "B" button. This makes switching between combat styles relatively easy, although not instantaneous. The biggest problem with the control scheme comes from the integration of using items and expressions. Any time you want to use a new expression or item, you must hit up on the D-pad, then use the D-pad to scroll through a mini-menu to find the appropriate item or expression, and continue to use the D-pad to execute the command. In a counter-intuitive decision, you must always use the left button on the D-pad to back out of a selection. This creates some obvious tension when gamer-logic dictates that hitting the "B" button will back you out of most things, but in Anniversary it causes your Hero to use whatever magic spell you have selected, which often leads to some unintended and often tragic consequences.

Weapons, armor, and items are readily and easily available and upgrading your equipment is rarely a problem after the first few hours of the game. One of the dark, little secrets about Anniversary is that different stores have different pricing for items, weapons, and armor and a skillful player can buy out a store of a cheap item, then turn around and re-sell them to the same merchant for a greater price because of supply and demand. If you've got the time, you can easily farm gold quickly, allowing you to buy advanced gear at a ridiculously early stage. Unfortunately, that's not the extent of Anniversary's odd, technical issues.

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During my time playing Anniversary, the game hard-locked my 360 no less than six times. It is also worth noting that, in an age before patches, this problem plagued the original Xbox release as well. While Lionhead is investigating the matter, no patch is currently present to fix these frequent hard-lock issues. Furthermore, the camera has its own problems; it clips through scenery, characters, is unreliable at best, and downright frustrating at worst. The target lock system also presents massive issues and will allow you to lock on to an innocent bystander while attempting to take down a group of enemies. This becomes an especially sticky issue during escort missions and the later stages of the game when Anniversary resorts to simply throwing greater numbers of enemies at you to create a challenge... a challenge that is easily overcome with the powerful, area-of-effect spells that are unlocked in the "Will" tree. The icing on the technical cake is that the game suffers from occasional frame rate drops, stutters, and periodic freezes. This, paired with the hard-lock issues, creates a genuine sense of technical tension any time Anniversary has a hiccup. Fortunately, auto-saves are frequent and the most egregious hard-lock restarts only had me losing around five minutes of progress. Finally, there were several audio drop issues where dialogue, music, and/or sound effects stopped working (usually during extended combat) until the game loaded in a new area.

The game also suffers from the integration of "The Lost Chapters" content. When the game was released in 2004, DLC was not heard of. The game was re-released a year later in 2005 with "The Lost Chapters" content added in. This new content adds an additional two-to-three hours of gameplay as well as new weapons, armor, spells, and enemies. Despite being in one package, this content still feels incredibly tacked-on after completing the content of the "original" release. While the content is fun and enriches the experience, the narrative separation between the original content and "The Lost Chapters" still feels jarring and almost requires space to breath.

On the positive side, the new HD graphics look great (although facial animations are still a bit off) and Albion as a whole has never looked better. The colors are bright, the characters are vibrant, and the world is one that feels worth caring for and investing time in. The game also offers a selection of different control schemes, allowing gamers to pick from the traditional Fable control scheme or the updated control scheme that was evolved in Fable II and Fable III.

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But the achievements... oh those sweet achievements. If it wasn't obvious from our Achievement Preview Spotlight, Lionhead has gone above and beyond in designing the achievements for Anniversary. Much like alignment, almost every achievement can be unlocked in two ways, making completion even easier. Furthermore, the achievements encourage you to explore Albion without being overbearing. Even the various collectible achievements feel well-integrated into the natural action and exploration that the series fosters; you'll want to find all of the silver keys and open all of the Demon Doors. As of right now, Anniversary has a quasi-ridiculous TA score, but that will inevitably go down as more gamers make their way through the adventure. In short, there hasn't been a better-designed set of achievements this generation.

At its outset, Fable had highly-ambitious plans, through three entries (and a few side adventures) that promise still has yet to be fully realized. As a trip down memory lane, Anniversary scratches the itch of those who have fond memories of its original Xbox incarnation and is highly recommendable to those who enjoy the franchise. Furthermore, fans of action-RPGs or those looking to get into the Fable franchise should definitely start with this entry, as it still lays an amazing foundation for a good series. Beyond that, though, Anniversary suffers from odd technical issues that prevent it from being recommended to all.

The reviewer spent over 25 hours playing through game, popping 44 of the game's 50 achievements. His hero was reasonably good, if a philanderer and habitual chicken kicker. He had plenty of potions and food. This copy was purchased by the reviewer.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.