Fable, the big exclusive game for the original Xbox, is now 15-years-old. Made by Lionhead Studios and legendary developer, Peter Molyneux, the game was a huge hit for Microsoft and started a franchise that would continue to thrive into the next generation. With the advent of a new console on the horizon and fans of the series and Xbox alike clamoring for a return to the franchise, now seems like the best time to resurrect Fable.
In honor of its 15th anniversary, let's take a fun look back at the action-RPG classic.
Fable was made by Big Blue Box, a satellite studio within Lionhead Studios. Codenamed Project Ego, development started in 1999, and lasted four years. Back then, the game was intended to be on the Sega Dreamcast as Microsoft and Sega had a strong working relationship, but after the failure of the Dreamcast, it was brought on as an Xbox title. Through the working relationship Lionhead Studios had with Microsoft through their previous effort, Black & White, the company was eventually bought to be part of the Xbox team.
This being Big Blue Box's first game, it had a lot to undertake. It wanted to make a game that would have an expansive world with beautiful locales and interesting characters, all brimming with personality. Similarly, your own character would change and evolve with the world and to your own whim. You would age, get scars after battles, look and dress the way you wanted them to. These features were heavily promoted by Molyneux, even claiming the game would be the "best game ever." This was the beginning of Molyneux's reputation to over-promise in his games.
STORY & CHARACTERS
The story of Fable follows the created character's adventures. While a child, his hometown is completely ransacked by bandits. Rescued by the Hero Maze, he is recruited into the Heroes' Guild, where he trains his entire childhood to become a hero himself. Once reaching adulthood and accomplishing the status of hero, he finds out why his village was attacked and what became of his sister and mother. Along the way, he'll have to decide whether to be a benefactor to the world of Albion or a villain.
Fable's tone, despite being based on a traditional medieval setting like many other RPGs, has a distinct whimsical and funny edge to it. Despite the sometimes macabre situations, many fans remember the dry and distinctly British humor of the whole area. Most of the characters are given memorable voices and personalities, even if some actors and character models are reused. Unlike many other RPGs, especially Japanese RPGs which were popular at the time, many of the NPCs had more than just one line of dialog and would move about town, going on about their day, meaning some characters, and by extension, quests, could only be talked to and accomplished at certain times of the day.
Graphically, the game had an individual art style that gave characters distinct features by way of exaggeration -- almost like caricatures. The world is colorful yet still retains a sense of realism thanks to a slightly muted palette. While not as expansive as the developers probably wanted, the world does have a variety of locations, including snowy mountains and swamps. The soundtrack was composed by Russell Shaw, who also worked on Lionhead Studios' Black & White. However, for the game's main theme, famous composer Danny Elfman was brought in to assist. It was a big production as he required the use of a small orchestra.
The gameplay is action-RPG from a third-person perspective. Unlike most RPGs where you have a party and each of those party members have a unique power that they can do, your created character has the ability to learn and perform everything themselves. Your player can use melee weapons, ranged weapons, and a variety of magical spells, with each being switched back and forth with relative ease. The more you use these skills, the more you'll gain experience for each discipline. This allows you to customize your character to specify which abilities it wants to prioritize. In Fable, you are a one-man-army!
You typically receive quests from the Heroes' Guild and much of your gameplay revolves around completing these quests. They range from missions that progress the story to requests that citizens of Albion post assistance with. Along with these quests however, there are always things to do around the towns. Shopping, mini-games and relationships can all be done with each having benefits and detriments to them. These all allow you to customize your hero to your liking, making them your own. All of this can essentially be done at your pace and at your leisure, making for a very non-linear experience.
Most important of all is the alignment system. Things you do will determine your standing as a good or bad person. This was meant to shape the game in a significant way but it ultimately falls flat as much of the missions and activities you do continue regardless of which you choose. Still, it does offer some character building and features that wouldn't be available if you took the opposite alignment.
Fable, for what it is, is a good game. However, it's likely recognized more for Peter Molyneux promising features that would never make it into the game, not even in later sequels. While it's not anything extraordinary, it did introduce a more Western style of RPG to a wider audience and a style that hadn't been seen before.
While never as open-ended, customizable, or morality-driven as it was promised, it was still ahead of its time. Peter Molyneux is no longer at Lionhead Studios and the developer themselves were shut down after Fable Legends, a free to play team-based version of the game, was canceled after being in development hell for years.
However, Microsoft still owns the IP, and with the power of the new consoles, a new Fable game might be able to reach its lofty promises given the right developer. Time will tell, and hope springs eternal but for now: happy anniversary Fable. May you return to shine once again.