Thursday, 29 May 2008

Tourist of Albion

I've spent about a week playing through Fable: The Lost Chapters and I just can't decide about it. It's certainly good looking, and the attention to detail in places is lovely but there is something missing.

Ah yes, that's it. A challenge.

So I've hacked my way through the monsters populating the unbelievably weak plot (some generic nonsense about a masked man who looks like a reject from a Shredder convention trying to Destroy The World because He Is Evil) and valiantly managed to ignore the temptation to vaporise the airheads populating the world until I finally faced off against EvilDude himself. I slapped about the supporting minions as you do, charged up my sword with the MultiSlap spell and let fly. And he died. Not took damage, not swore revenge whilst retreating to a new corner. No, he died. Cue rolling credits, me saving the world and then a trip into the expanded areas - something like 3 more hours of happy hacking before a second encounter with EvilDude except now, inexplicably, he's a dragon. Wonderful.

Admittedly this second fight, to finish The Lost Chapters (as opposed to the original Fable) is a bit tougher - I had to hit him maybe 20 times and use a couple of potions - but the main reason it's hard is because the swine flies above your head where you cannot hit him with your sword or even see him because of the restricted camera views and rains fiery doom on you. Ok, so you can shoot him with your bow but for reasons unexplained you don't appear to be able to lock in on him (you can on literally every other badguy in the game) so you're reduced to using the manual aiming on a moving target. Good luck there. Anyway he lands eventually so it's back to MultiSlap with DoomSword and you've won. Cue more credits and everyone lives happily ever after.

So why am I undecided? Well I think I had fun playing Fable. Trouble is, it doesn't seem to know what it's trying to be. Sometimes it's a light hearted rpg, such as when a Demon Door (hiding secret treasures) wishes he was a chest instead. But sometimes it gets very dark, such as when you discover your mother alive and well then spend years in prison being tortured. It moves between these ends of the spectrum with shocking regularity and this really stopped me engaging with the plot or world at any level higher than simply hanging on and wondering what madness would appear next. Such as communing with an oracle by doing the YMCA. I kid you not.

Another barrier comes in the form of the game's bizarre morality. Lionhead have clearly attempted to design a world where you can behave however you like letting you choose your alignment as you go on. However this means you have a Hero Guild happily handing out missions such as "Slaughter The Traders" alongside "Save The Picnic Area From Wasps" and this Hero Guild is central to everyone's life - the residents of Albion seem to exist purly as fodder for these people to chop their way through or around and then massage their ego afterwards. There is no sense that the world operates without you in it which seriously strains any credibility. And why does everyone have a painfully jarring stereotypical west-country accent?

Overall though Fable is good fun. Combat is reasonably intuitive, you have freedom to wander round beating monsters / traders / children / chickens / guards to death with your sword and it requires no brainpower or particular skill to enjoy or progress. A good way to spend an evening unwinding, as long as you're not expecting a game which requires any brains or skill to progress...

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