I loved Fable. I loved Fable 2. I loved Fable 3. I even liked Fable The Journey. So Fable Anniversary, the HD remake of Fable and its expansion The Lost Chapters, should make me giddy. Right? Well, in a way it does but that has more to do with my rose-tinted glasses than the quality of this remake. Fable Anniversary captures everything good about the original Fable game and gives it a nice glossy sheen. But dressing a farmer in a tux doesn’t make him ready for the city. It makes him look out of his element. So despite Fable being one of my favorite franchises, I draw reservation recommending it to anyone but the moist diehard of fans.
When Fable was first announced, it was called Project Ego. It was to be the RPG to end all RPGs. With online co-op and a leveling system that increased your skill for a particular action through continued use of said action. Not only that but Fable was to be so in depth that you could watch tree grow and see how stress affects how quickly you age. Needless to say, as a game that was released in 2004, none of this came to be. What was released was a solid action RPG with an interestingly Monty Python-esque world and morality system that further cemented good and evil choices in mainstream gaming.
Fable Anniversary tells the tale of the Hero of Oakvale. In Albion, Heroes are not benevolent do-gooders– they are instead a guild of people that have the ability to use magic, what the Fableverse calls Will. As a Hero, you accept quest cards submitted by citizens to do greatly virtuous and/or villainous things. The core of Fable is an action RPG with some socials elements. In addition to being able to combat using melee weapons, Will and ranged weapons, Fable allows players to befriend Albionians, romance them and potentially marry them. There are even consequences if your two (or three or four or five) spouses meet. Elements like this are what helped make Fable feel like a living, breathing world in 2004. But even then the seams could be seen. Areas in Albion were very small and load screens were plentiful. Both of those remain true.
One of the grandest elements in Fable is its renown system. As you accomplish deeds, your fame will grow amongst the citizens. But about halfway through the game (which is substantial for action game and short for an RPG, clocking in around 15 hour for the main quest) you will be renowned enough so that everyone you meet will already have a heart over their head (indicating they’re in love with you). This ruins the games entire social system. What’s the point in giving you the option to befriend people if they automatically love when you play as a good character?
In addition to the social woes, Fable carries a number of other bugs and design choices that, while present in its original incarnation, did not bother me 10 years ago. For example, there is only one house for sale in each town. You can of course kill people and buy the vacant house, but if you want to play as good character, then you are quite limited in your landlord options. The camera and targeting are undoubtedly the biggest issues with the game, though. 10 year ago, no one had a good camera and lock-on was finicky. Nowadays we shouldn’t have issues where the camera locks onto an enemy you’re not looking at, nor should the game shoot arrows in a direction decidedly not that of the enemy you are locked on to. But alas, these issues prevail.
There is also an issue with the game that Anniversary creates: bugs. Specifically, system crashes. I don’t normally mention such things in reviews, but when it happens nearly a dozen times and continues to happen months after the game’s release, we have a problem.
Fable has always had fun, light combat. For the time, it had a good control scheme that allowed you to do a crazy amount of stuff. Fable 2 streamlined that control scheme and made combat a great deal more fun. In Anniversary there are two control schemes: the original and one inspired by Fable 2 and 3. They’re both terrible. With the origin scheme, magic is the main focal point but melee or ranged combat suffer as you have to manually switch between them. With the new control scheme, melee and range feel much better but magic suffers because you only have one spell accessible at a time. Sadly, the game combat suffers because it’s simply too difficult to easily perform all the actions that make it fun.
The saving grace of Fable (the entire series really, not just Anniversary), is the game’s humor. Albion may very well be a next door neighbor to Monty Python’s Camelot. Quests are often interesting, characters are weird and the game has a fantastic lore behind it all. The writing in Fable has always been top notch and even 10 years later, the original Fable is still better written than many games today.
The biggest feature Fable Anniversary brings to the table is undoubtedly the new graphics. Unlike so many HD remakes Fable Anniversary does not feature the same game with higher resolution textures. Like Halo Anniversary, Fable utilizes a brand new graphics and lightening engine. This makes Fable look…interesting. On the one hand, Fable Anniversary does a great job of representing what your brain remembers Fable looking like. It’s an incredibly faithful recreation of the game. On the other hand, the game just doesn’t look very good, especially concerning people. Characters have deadpan expressions and awkward animation. It’s a problem that existed in the original; it’s simply made all the more obvious with the new visuals.
It took me month to write this review because I didn’t want to. I love the Fable series and I enjoyed my time with Anniversary, but time has not been good to the original Fable. Its world feels small, it’s not great to look at and the controls are antiquated, not to mention the bugs. But Fable remains slightly relevant due to its fantastic wit and charm. Despite its issues, Fable Anniversary is the best way for players to experience the original Fable. Just keep in mind that action RPGs have a come a very long way since then.