Given that I entered the world of Xbox in the age of 360, I never had the opportunity to play the original Fable. My experience with the series started with its sequel and continued on through its third instalment and side-titles in the time since. Given the opportunity to revisit the series’ origin almost ten years – ten YEARS! – after its initial release, I was pretty keen to see where one of my favourite Microsoft exclusives originated.
Anniversary is in fact a remastered version of Fable: The Lost Chapters, the expanded version of the original game released for PC. This version included additional content on pretty much every front – locations, quests, weapons items and in-game expressions. Whilst this version was re-released on Xbox 360 after its arrival on PCs, it has now been RE-re-released with a fresh coat of paint in the twilight of the console’s life-cycle. Further tweaks have been made to the game, beyond the 1080p graphics and transition to the Unreal 3 engine.
Lighting and environmental effects have been tweaked to complement the graphical overhaul, which really brings the game forward. The in-game menus have also been overhauled with a journal or scrapbook motif and a new control scheme influenced by the play style of the later Fable games has been implemented, particularly handy for folks like me approaching this game for the first time with experience of the later titles. Last but not least, for cheevo-hunters like our very own Editor-in-Chief, 1000 Gamerscore worth of all-new Achievements have been incorporated into the game. As a fun little nod to Fable’s love of open-ended gameplay, many of these Achievements can be gained through multiple routes. For instance one Achievement is granted for becoming either very good or very evil on the game’s morality scale, but others are less obvious in their options; one challenges you to either win a fishing competition or strip naked for a quest-related Boast challenge. Each achievement’s description text and name is a fine example of the series’ sense of humour, too – that last one’s name is the amusingly ambiguous ‘That’s a Real Lunker!’.
Another addition to Anniversary is the inclusion of SmartGlass functionality using any supported phone, tablet or smart device. In this game’s case, SmartGlass offers you real-time access to the game’s map, highlighting quest destinations and secret areas, adding the ability to take screenshots and in select locations offering snapshots of the original game for you to compare. While using this functionality with my iPad, however, I found the game’s framerate started to drop. Whilst this may be due to the demands of relaying real-time data about your location on the map and so on, the jaggies and skipping issues it caused made the benefits the app does offer seem like an uneven trade-off.
On the gameplay side, Fable Anniversary dances on the same knife-edge that so many of these HD remastered classics tends to. For fans of the original game, it can be a nostalgic step back to a simpler time and control scheme, but for first-time players or less-patient fans it can be a jarring experience. Personally I found the combat a little jarring and slow, as firing off spells or arrows seemed less reactive than I was used to with the later games. The combat lock-on was also a bit of a nightmare, not being nearly as intuitive as its sequels either. One early game sequence that introduced me to using the lightning attack called for me to quickly electrocute several training dummies in a time limit. However, using the lock-on caused the continuous lightning bolt to quickly jump from target to target automatically – including my instructor.
With no option to turn off friendly fire that I could find, this made combat a challenge not through difficulty or challenging enemies, but through fighting against the system itself. With travelling merchants wandering through the game’s combat zones, I often found myself unsure whether I was about to shoot an arrow into the face of a bandit or a hapless salesman in the wrong place, because the combat UI did not clearly delineate between foes and neutral NPCs. I found I had similar troubles with the game’s revitalised menus, where movement between major menu categories uses the left and right buttons, and subcategories are browsed using the triggers. My instincts – and most every other game I’ve played with a similar layout – tell me to do the exact opposite, which left me struggling to get around at times.
In the game’s favour, it’s definitely brought this classic title forward. Character models and environments have not just been reskinned but in many cases remodelled with more detailed 3D builds. This brings it a step up from many of the Playstation 3’s HD Classics titles, which is a nice touch. Sadly, it is missing one feature from the Xbox’s other Anniversary title, Halo Anniversary – the ability to switch between old and new iterations of the game with the press of a button. The ability in both Halo and the Monkey Island remasters to compare the old and the new on the fly was a great way to highlight how far the quality of gaming has come. Whilst it is understandable that the complete rebuild of the game’s environs may make this technically infeasible, I was still disappointed to be limited to only a few SmartGlass screenshots here and there for comparison.
All in all, Fable Anniversary is worth a look. Whether you’re feeding the Nostalgia Monster or visiting the past for the first time like me, the first Fable title offers a solid story and gameplay experience. Introducing many of the concepts and story elements that became the keystones of the later titles, it’s a great way to get a feel for how the franchise evolved, as we look forward to Fable Legends sometimes in the future.