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Fable: Underrated Greatness
Lionhead Studios has had its fair share of ups and downs. It brought us Black and White, a game for which I am eternally grateful. On the other hand, there’s also Fable 3, a game that often failed to live up to the expectations set by the franchise. The studio itself is known for overpromising on more than one occasion. The original Fable was supposed to come packed with options previously unseen in most RPG titles. For the mundane, players would have been able to chop down trees as a lumber source. On the more extreme side of things, slaughtering a family and sparing a child would cause the child to seek vengeance, once matured. What the first Fable did deliver still turned out to be a fun adventure in a new world. Our Hero’s choices carried physical modifiers, not only changing the public’s perception of him, but his physical appearance in the world. The lore of a new place was entertaining as it carried new enemies, new locations, and new characters along with it. Fable II would come to bring much of what the first game was intended to, but the original holds my affection.
The thing I could never quite figure out is why a game with so many offerings didn’t catch on. The best games become trendsetters. Think about it: Gears of War ushered in a new era of chest-high wall shooter titles because it changed how we approached the genre in third person. Fable had some really great attributes that for some reason or another never really took off within the industry.
One such feature was the quest system. Once free to roam, the Hero picks his or her quests, usually being able to choose to help or attack the related characters as necessary to one’s alignment. This was not considered revolutionary but it was the particulars around the system that added staying power. The majority of the quests allowed players to wager part of of their earnings to score a larger payload. The catch was that the player had to complete the quest under specific conditions in order to complete the challenge. Having existed before the Xbox 360, the mechanic added different ways to approach the game as both side and main missions were eligible for wagers. The Arena in the original Fable was part of the main questline and after a few attempts, I was able to complete it without taking a single hit whilst clad in nothing more than my boxer shorts. The financial rewards justified all of my frustrations throughout the experience.
Such wagers do come at a price. Fable allowed players to save the status of their characters mid-quest, but not the quest progress. In reloading, the Hero would reenter the world of Albion looking slightly less handsome than before. Each hit landed would create a scar on the character model. It was visually apparent that the Hero’s chest and face would come to bear the burden. Because of this, armor had a two fold benefit: equipping it would not only prevent the Hero from taking more damage, but also reduced the chances for getting scars in the heat of battle. It probably didn’t help that my Hero was also overweight at this time in his tale.
As compared to most games in which eating food grants the player health with a few other perks, the world of Albion is one in which you must seriously watch what you eat. In addition to the health gained, red meat and beer added protein experience (the later of which also made the Hero drunk), carrots and fish granted skill, and apple, blueberry, and meat pies bestowed general experience, will, and strength, respectively. I should point out that most of those foods also came with the caveat of making you fat. The game also made it trickier to avoid consuming the heartier meals. Food items were hotkeyed for easy access during battle and with no interruptions in the form of an eating animation. Food spamming meant cramming every last morsel from your inventory into your face, which is a surefire way to pack in the pounds. But unlike the real world, eating fruits and veggies instantly caused instantaneous weight loss.
The journey of the hero in game stories is more commonly measured by the pacing throughout. Antagonists are presented at the beginning of the story and are shown to be indomitable: their villainy often serves as the trigger for the protagonist’s loss and desire to become strong. By the time the game’s story is told, the character, through the efforts of the player, have eliminated the gap between themselves and foe, even going as far as to surpassed them by leaps and bounds. This concept is already present in Fable, but Lionhead takes it a bit further, making the change just as noticeable physically. The Hero of Albion heads out from the Hero’s Guild at in his sprightly 20s. By increasing his abilities through the main tenets of strength, will, and skill, the player would also age for every stat increase. By the time of the endgame against the Jack of Blades, it was possible to be in excess of 40 years older than your young adult counterpart. I wasn’t in love with being in my 60s during the ultimate battle, but still enjoyed the ageing mechanic nonetheless.
I can’t quite understand why some of those features were exclusive to Big Blue Box and Lionhead Studio’s foray into role-playing and adventure. Despite the implementation of the achievement/trophy system, wagers fundamentally change the way players approach quests by adding an in-game incentive to the list of outcomes. In personal narratives, scars give players another topic to talk about in their direct relationship with the content. Weight, while not a necessary component, is still pretty fun. Only in Albion will you be able to say that you gained 25 pounds over the course of a fight.