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Fable Anniversary – Xbox 360

Fable Anniversary – Xbox 360

Fable AnniversaryPlatform:  Xbox 360

Developer:  Lionhead Studios

Publisher:  Microsoft Studios

Release Date (NA):  Febuary 4, 2014

Genre:  RPG, Action / Adventure

ESRB Rating:  Mature

Nerd Rating:   8 out of 10

Reviewed by:  Variand

 

After the fiasco of original Fable, released (almost) 10 years ago, I’ve come to have a bit of skepticism when it comes to Lionhead Studios’ games.  They usually deliver great games, but after I was promised growing trees during the Project Ego era, this once-bitten gamer has become twice shy.  So with the release of Fable Anniversary and Lionhead’s promise of better graphics, controls, menus, animations, sounds, and even SmartGlass functionality, I find myself wondering if Lionhead will deliver the remastered masterpiece promised, or if they are just being “Norty.”

Before we start out, I just want to say that this release does include the updated content from The Lost Chapters expansion to the original Fable as well.  So it’s valid to say that Fable Anniversary is the culmination of the original Fable and expansions.  This is great news because, as it turns out, the Fable game available in the Xbox Live Originals collection does NOT contain the TLC content, which has always prevented me from buying it.  So this automatically gets a slight bump of praise from me for finally delivering the game that should have been delivered 10 years ago.  Also note that at the end of each section I’ll summarize any differences there may be between the original Fable release and Fable Anniversary.

The Legend of the Chicken Chaser

Fable AnniversaryFable Anniversary is not a remake but an HD upgrade to the original game, so the story is the same.  You start out as a young boy whose chicken-chasing (and kicking) childhood in a quaint, small-town is ripped from him by bandits.  His father dead, and mother and future-seeing sister taken to be tortured and presumably worse, this young boy is rescued from the same fate by a Hero’s Guild elite, named Maze.  Stern and hard, Maze takes the boy from the still burning ashes of his home, and delivers him to the Hero’s Guild to be trained as a bona fide Hero!  There you meet your friends and rivals, learn the ways of the sword, bow, and Will (read: magic), possibly even make a bit of coin doing odd jobs and betting, but most importantly, grow up and become a Hero.

Fable Anniversary hero's guildOnce you’re a Hero, you’ll be able to take on quests provided by the guild, boasting about how well you can do it, and throughout these quests, learn more about what happened that fateful night when Oakvale burned.  Provided with leads from your fellow Heroes, you’ll find that perhaps it wasn’t just a random bandit raid on Oakvale, but that there might have been a more sinister purpose for the destruction of your home.  And most surprising of all, your sister might have survived!

The story, while sounding a bit cliché, is a powerful one nonetheless.  The primal emotions that players can derive from the loss of family, loss of childhood, and even the rivalries between comrades are universal to all people of all backgrounds.  Players will find themselves enthralled with story revelations and immersed in the characters as they search for answers and seek more renown.  However, gamers may also find that story and gameplay are heavily segmented and segregated from one another.  The general gameplay, while nagging you to take the story quests, stands apart from the normal running around and killing things, or farting towards random passers-by.  Even the character aging system might have you running around as an old, white-haired man while still relatively early in the game.  This leaves cut scene references of how young and naive you are feeling as if they are more comical than anything else.   So while the story is a good one, its lack of unity with the gameplay makes it feel more like a minigame placed over a sandbox game.

Fable AnniversaryCharacter arcs outside of the Chicken Chaser’s (as I’ll be referring to the Player’s Hero for the rest of the review) are rarely touched upon.  In fact, even the Chicken Chaser’s most obsessively competitive and adversarial comrade from the Hero’s Guild, a young woman named Whisper, does not go into much detail of her story even though she’s a key player in the first third of the game.  Sure, we know that she lives under the shadow of her hulking powerhouse of a brother, the hero Thunder (note the choice of naming for the siblings), but she herself doesn’t have much character development.  She only shows up to be friendly competition or backup when things get a bit more challenging.  However, it’s not until you get into the TLC chapters of Fable Anniversary that you find out any of what will happen to her.  There are no romance options for Whisper, which I personally like, as she could be the surrogate sister-figure to replace the one Chicken Chaser lost that terrible night, but the friendship, and rivalry, could have been so much deeper.

As it stands, she’s just a random acquaintance who seems to spend most of her time thinking about how to be better than you.  This same lack of depth goes into all characters you meet, and this includes all the major players.  The way that the story sits so lightly over top of the gameplay shows that the story was not the main focus, and was just used to push the gameplay along rather than deliver a long lasting and enthralling tale that players would want to revisit often.

Fable Vs Fable Anniversary:  Besides the inclusion of The Lost Content…err Chapters, no story changes were different.  For better or worse.

The lighting effects of Avo can be seen EVERYWHERE.

Scythe and Maze both got upgrades.  Though no Maze is scarier.

Scythe and Maze both got upgrades. Though now Maze is scarier.

Being that Fable Anniversary is an HD remake, the graphics are going to be the main focus of the differences mentioned.  Where the original Fable has cartoonishly proportioned character models and relatively simple, but functional, environments, Fable Anniversary tries to add a higher level of detail.  The graphics are a massive improvement compared to the original; however, it also felt much like a working example of the Uncanny Valley.  Maze, in particular, looked grizzled and wrecked by a hard life and the overuse of Will, but in Fable Anniversary, it looks like he was bitten by something radioactively infectious at one point and he never really healed properly.  There’s nothing wrong with the graphics, and they do look stellar, but it’s the same effect of watching a TV show on the old standard 480 definition then suddenly jumping to a 4k TV.  The effect is that you suddenly see ever blemish, pockmark, and pimple they’ve ever had, and it’s simply off putting at first.  But you’ll eventually get used to it and accept it.

Fable Anniversary Boy headSpecial note:  The young (child) Chicken Chaser looked like he had the face of an 18 year old… that was a little weird!

While the graphics look great, once you get over the nightmares of seeing Maze’s face in HD there are a few other little graphical glitches that manifest from the recreation of the assets.  The heads of the children running around Bowerstone don’t exactly match up with their torsos, and in a couple of cut scenes, you can tell the models are not actually touching the ground.  Minor glitches to say the least, but they can be distracting every now and then.

Animations are toted as being much improved, and when comparing them against the original, they do look much better.  That being said, they are not nearly as close to today’s modern style of lip-syncing, and the overall result is that the characters still look a bit jaw-flappy.  At times, it’s worse than others, and other times the improvement is noticeably clear, but all in all, it doesn’t hinder the current gameplay and is an overall improvement from the original.

Fable Vs Fable Anniversary Massive upgrades to the resolutions, lighting effects, and animations are great improvements, but may leave you nestled in the Uncanny Valley through much of the playthrough.

Ready to play, Hero?

Fable Anniversary DragonAccording to the development team, the action of the game has been upgraded to feel much more epic and exciting.  The only thing that I was able to notice was that hobbes seem a bit more aggressive.  This was clearly evident while trying to open the combo multiplier Demon Door.  In the original Fable and The Lost Chapters expanded release, I had never had an issue, but this time around in Fable Anniversary I struggled greatly.  This could be because I’m 10 years older and I’ve grown old and feeble, but I loaded up my old copy of TLC for the PC and had no issue whatsoever.  While this does add some excitement to combat, I’ve found that some of the gameplay and levels, which were designed around the original Fable AI and hardware limitations, are now counter-productive.  Combat is fun, but in a lot of ways, you’ll start feeling a bit cramped while fighting the faster, more aggressive enemies.

Gameplay is also hampered by a slight bit of controller lag.  While the original Fable was not even close to being the most responsive of games, now it’s just a pain.  Some actions could take up to a full second between button press and response.  This was most notable while playing the Card-Pairs game when the game token would almost refuse to move and lost me LOTS of money.  I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Lionhead and believe they were just trying to balance a minigame that allowed players to get great sums of gold from the start of the actual free-roaming gameplay, but when dodging/rolling takes nearly a half second before the roll happens, I’ve got to think it’s the game.

Fable Vs Fable Anniversary:  Still the same old game you remember, but it plays like a port with lagging controls and gameplay beginning to become unbalanced.

I’m not fat, I’m just prepped for that Demon Door!

Fable AnniversaryCharacter customization was one of the absolute biggest parts of the original Fable, so when Fable Anniversary was delivered to us for review, I couldn’t wait to see my massively scarred, horned Battle-Behemoth performing evil laughs to scare the children.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Customization and alignment changes look amazing in this HD release.  It is worth noting that while Fable, and now Fable Anniversary, offer players a staggering amount of different looks for a character, maxing out your character skill levels (which takes some planning to get completely maxed) leaves characters looking much the same.  Very tall (Skill tree levels), very thick (Strength tree levels), and very glowy (Will tree levels) will be the mainstay of every grown up Chicken Chaser.  While this was a good idea at first, it didn’t separate the skills trees enough, or cap them appropriately to cause the three branches to cause any sort of unique appearance between heroes of different playstyles – unless the player explicitly avoids the character modifying skills.

Fable AnniversaryWhat this leaves players with is really only 6 customization items – which is still much more than most games allowed.  Hair styles, 2 types of facial hair, fatness, evil/goodness, and attire are enough to still make your tall, hulking glowstick look different.  But then again, all these customization items have an effect on your scariness, attractiveness, and even alignment.  So even then, customization becomes a list of a few pragmatic choices depending on if you want to look and be good or evil.  Sure, you CAN make yourself an evil looking good guy, but if you’re playing good, then you’ll want to look the part and vice versa.

Fable Vs Fable Anniversary:  Pretty much all the same here, except things look MUCH better.  With the ability of DLC, new items and weapons are available to keep things a bit more fresh.

SmartGlass

One of the truest additions to the Fable Anniversary, that is completely unique to this release, is the support of Microsoft’s mobile and tablet SmartGlass app.  While playing the game, you can have an interactive map at your fingertips, showing item locations, Player position, and even view screenshots of the original Fable so that you can see how the graphics were updated.  You can also read character bios which have also been revamped to increase the lore of Albion.

While this all sounds great and useful, the app was a bit unwieldy and the SmartGlass bottom border used too much of the viewport to make the map viewable or even usable.  While it’s the SmartGlass application that is causing this issues, Lionhead could have designed the app to work a little more cleanly.  The app itself is a pretty large resource hog, and was EXTREMELY slow on my Galaxy Tab 10.1 (which is notorious for horrible resource management anyways).  I also tried it on my Galaxy SII, and it was much better, but was still fairly slow.  Hopefully newer devices will make this application much more usable.  Lionhead has said that they are working on updating the SmartGlass app, but I’m not sure how much better the app can be.

Hero or Villain?

Fable Anniversary SnowspireWhile sometimes an HD update to a game is not always the best, Fable Anniversary is one of the few that actually deserved one, if only to get a full release on the newer platforms with The Lost Chapters content included.  The updated character models will either fill you with awe or terror, but you’ll get used to it – and you’ll appreciate having spouses that actually look halfway attractive this time around.  Even the sound is much cleaner and sounds much more vibrant.  So the game is a good buy.  And since its release MSRP is only $40, this isn’t necessarily an expensive item to put on your shelf if you’ve ever wanted to download that Xbox Arcade release, but chose not to because it didn’t have the TLC expansion.

Nerd Rating: 8 of 10 for better graphics, for including all the TLC content.

Written by Variand

Variand

Agree or Disagree with something? Want to request a review a specific game? Just want to troll? Leave a comment, Twitter @Variand, or email me at Variand@NerdBacon.com. Or feel free to find and frag me on Xbox Live (GT: Rukhan), PSN (Variand), or Steam(Variand99).

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