Fable: The Journey is a weird game. Let’s just get that out of the way. On the one hand, it tells the best story yet seen in a Fable game, a series not known for its storylines. On the other hand, it’s for Kinect, a device known for unresponsive controls and shallow casual games. This puts the game in an odd spot because it’s target audience is people that care about Albion (the pseudo-England kingdom of the series) and who also have not yet lost faith in Kinect. Those circles don’t tend to overlap. Neither are they the largest of circles.
In the game, you play a Gabriel, a head-in-the-clouds-sort-of-fellow who comes across the blinder seer, Theresa, after being separated from his caravan. Theresa is being chased but the Destroyer and you must help her get to the Spire, the only place you can fight the Corruption.Unlike others in the series, The Journey is played from the firs-person perspective and it uses only motion controls. Furthermore, it is no more an action-RPG than Call of Duty’s multiplayer is. But despite Kinect’s problems and the Fable series’ history of over-promising, what’s we’re left with is a game that is potentially the most ambitious in the series and the only one to truly deliver one its promises.
Unlike other Fable games, there are no moral decisions. There are no bows, no guns and no swords. In many ways, The Journey is less of a “game” and more of an interactive story. I think it’s important to keep that in mind not because it has major downfalls but because of its inherent design decisions. The Journey is split into roughly two equal parts. Half of the game you will spend your time sitting behind you trusty steed, Seren, as she pulls your cart and the other half you’ll trudge through dungeons to find the Will Stones.
In the horse riding sections, you simply extend your hands as if you are holding reins. To steer left, you pull your left arm back and push your right forward. To turn right, you do the opposite. It’s important to note here that unlike most Kinect games, you play The Journey sitting down as if you were actually riding in a carriage. During the horse riding sections, you have complete control over steering and speed. The exclusion to your controls is the fact that you cannot turn around. You steer, you can choose your path and you can stop to explore pre-designated areas. While the notion of not being able to turn around may sound bad, I never once thought about doing it. Like a racing game, you always want to move forward.
Once Gabriel steps off the cart things become completely on-rails. You do not control your movement forward whatsoever. Again, this may sound like a bad thing, but it works well because, especially in later sections, you will be multitasking quite a bit when dealing with enemies. You attack with your dominant hand while blocking and flinging enemies around with your left. I would hate to have to control Gabriel’s movement while trying to blast enemies out of the sky; otherwise, we might have another Rise of Nightmares on our hands.
Generally, I dread having several powers at my disposal. That may sound odd but in games in which I must choose abilities for my character, I like to only have as many as I can access at one time. When a game requires me to access a radial wheel or menu to access what power I want, I find one(s) that I like and use them repeatedly because I hate going back to that menu. I want them at my fingertips or not at all. Surprisingly, Fable: The Journey has one of the best “control schemes” I’ve seen. All of your powers are always at your fingertips and you can easily cast each one on the fly. You gain six abilities on your journey: Counter, Bolt, Push, Fireball, Magic Shards and Light. Your dominant hand controls Bolt, Fireball and Magic Shards while your other hand controls Push, Counter and Light. Each of the dominant hand powers also have alternate form called Aftertouch . With Aftertouch you can redirect your shots in case you miss or in order to hit multiple enemies by swiping your hand in the direction of the enemy. For example, Magic Shards is normally a large spear that hits one enemy. If you use Aftertouch it breaks apart and several smaller spears fly in different directions.
In addition to The Journey’s campaign, there is also an arcade mode where you can replay the on-foot/rails sections to obtain high scores. Each level had its own leaderboard so that you can score yourself against others. The Journey also supports voice commands to switch between powers but I found them to be slow, unresponsive or both.
There is one thing that I want to mention about the gameplay: in my experience, it actually worked. Steering Seren is easy and casting magical bolts is accurate but I did find one thing that helped both of these scenarios quite a bit. Each time I started the game I would recalibrate. It only takes a minute and the result meant the different between hitting most everything and nothing. It’s the difference between fun and frustration.
Like other games in the series, Fable: The Journey features a stylized art direction. It is different from previous games though because the game utilizes the Unreal Engine 3 as opposed to the in-house graphics engine previously used. While no one is going to mistake it for The Witcher 2, it is still an aesthetically pleasing game with some really fantastic views. My biggest gripe with the visuals is the persistent texture fade-in that is present in so many games that utilize UE3. Overall, the visuals are nice and the character design is great if technically lacking, just like every other Fable game.
The Journey has hands down the best story of the series and some of the best character progression I have seen in games to date. Since about half of your time will be spent riding with Theresa, there is a great deal of time for exposition, something sorely lacking from previous games. Both Fable II and III have almost completely ignored the Old Kingdom, a time period in Albion that has greatly interested me. The Journey answers quite a few questions. Not only does the game tell a fun tale with all the wit and charm of previous Fables, the story leaves Albion in the most exciting place that it has been in since the first game.
Fable: The Journey is by no means for everyone. It has many of the same faults of previous games in the series despite being so different. Somehow the story and the simplistic gameplay come together and work. Fable games have never been known for their challenge level or their complex systems and The Journey is no different. Like the games before it, Fable: The Journey stands strong on its accessibility, its sense of charm and wonder and because it, more than any other game, makes you feel like the hero of a fairytale.