Almost ten years ago original Xbox users got a chance to play a light-hearted action RPG by the often over-promising and charming Peter Molyneux. Fable Anniversary puts a fresh coat of paint on a decade-old game where you can kick chickens and sport a snazzy halo.
Fable Anniversary starts off like most fantasy adventures — with a wide eyed youth and his sister enjoying the serenity of life in a peaceful village. Beating up bullies and finding lost dolls takes up most of your days until vicious bandits show up and lay waste to your village. Luckily you get rescued by super wizard Maze, leader of the Heroes’ Guild (a group of heroes-for-hire) who end up taking you in.
Once you receive the proper training and become a full-fledged hero yourself, you’ll venture out in the world to find your sister while performing acts of heroism or villainy. As far as the hero business is concerned, the world of Albion is ripe with monsters, bandits and general evildoers that you need to lay the smackdown to.
The game revisits the morality system that the series is known for. Throughout your journey you’ll be given good or evil choices. Some are simple, like whether you should expose a cheating husband’s affair to his wife. Bigger choices have long standing ramifications in the world of Albion, however. In this case, your deeds will be remembered and enemies will be made.
Whatever actions you take is reflected on how you look and how the citizens of Albion treat you. Play like a Saint and people will call your name while applauding your arrival. If you look the part of a devil horned monster, which you can achieve by committing evil deeds and being a jerk, people will cower in fear at the sight of you.
Completing quests will earn you trophies that you can use to show off to earn you renown. Go to a town square and whip out your Wasp Queen’s head, and the villagers will notice how much of a boss you are. More renown unlocks more difficult and dangerous jobs at the Heroes’ Guild. Boasts are quest modifiers that you can wager in order to gain more bonuses. One boast would be completing a job naked or not using magic. There’s big money to be had, especially when you stack multiple boasts.
Let’s talk about how visually impressive Fable Anniversary looks. The original Fable had an almost playful art style that translates well into the HD-era. Towns and villages are rich in color and full of vibrancy. The visually evolution of your Hero throughout is still my favorite thing about Fable Anniversary.
My character, nicknamed Hood, was covered in nasty scars after a battle with a pack of balverines (Fable’s version of werewolves). The scars were permanent and a constant reminder of Hood’s early Hero days as someone who thought blocking was for chumps.
Your Hero can put experience points into three disciplines: Strength, Skill, and Will. Using the attack of one discipline grants you more exp in that category. Want to be an unstoppable magical god? Use Spells. Feeling like a klepto? Putting points into Skill, which will get you past most locks.
It’s best to put your efforts into one of the disciplines at the start and then become a hybrid toward the latter half of the game. At some point you end up getting so much experience that you sort of have to dip your toes into other fields of adventuring.
Putting points into each discipline not only affects your combat stats but also your Hero’s physical appearance. Will users will have bright magical tattoos that cover their body, while those who dabble in Strength will be giant hairy warriors with barrel chests.
Regrettably, Fable Anniversary’s combat doesn’t get the same upgrade treatment as its visuals. At first I liked the idea of building up my melee attacks into flashy flourish strikes that break through an enemy’s guard but the targeting system made the rhythmic combat a frustrating affair. Attempting to target enemies with magic usually ends up with me flicking to the wrong target.
This is especially infuriating during early escort missions when you up electrifying the people you’re trying to protect. Last I checked, that’s some bad Hero-ing. Trying to target an enemy in a crowd with a bow or spell in a crowd will make the camera whip around, forcing me to just stick to melee weapons.
Lionhead Studios went as far as improving the save/checkpoint system and also cleaned up the interface and made it a bit more user-friendly. Its still feel likes one too many click in order to change out your gear. Equipping and then trying to hot swap spells in midst of battle often will leave you face down in the dirt.
The camera isn’t the only thing that’s flat out broken. The game itself has locked up on me a handful of times. Sometimes it was during a cutscene and other times it would be a never ending load screen. The frame-rate also tends to dip at weird times. Character faces also have a tendency of not loading fully during a cutscene, making quest givers look like lifeless blurry-faced automatons.
Playing this game reminded me that the best of the franchise came in the moments between killing trolls and dungeon-crawling. This was when you could marry a man or a woman. You could own real-estate or businesses and become obscenely rich. Managing all your property to maximize profit as a horrible landlord is a great distraction. You could eat cake and get fat. Anniversary is full of distractions and secrets to discover. Demon Doors will have performing odd tasks in hopes of getting them to open for awesomely sweet rewards.
I should mention that Anniversary also includes “The Lost Chapters,” which continues your story into the Northern Wastes. It’s a great epilogue to the main quest and ends with you fighting a giant dragon.
As it turns out, revisiting old memories isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Fable Anniversary, with all it’s updated visuals and clever innovations that made it a must play ten years ago, suffers from an overall lack of polish and performance issues that’ll plague your journey. The sad truth is that certain aspects of Fable Anniversary just doesn’t hold up after all this time. Unfortunately outdated combat, weird technical hiccups and overall lack of polish overshadow a game with great visuals, some quirky humor and tons to do.