Saturday, December 23, 2006

Fable: The Lost Chapters (Xbox) Review

I can not believe I passed up this title for so long. Years ago I rented Fable and sadly I experienced an issue with my Controller S (had a permanent target lock) and I also found the Hero Save system to be most frustrating. For those reasons, the latter in particular, I chalked Fable up as an overrated, over-hyped piece of junk.

A few months ago I felt in need of a great RPG, so I decided to try Fable again and borrowed it from the Staff, and though the Hero Save still annoyed me I decided to use a Future Shop gift card I had lying around to purchase Fable: The Lost Chapters (Xbox), the Platinum Hits version that features additional content over the original release.

Simply put, Fable: The Lost Chapters is one of the best RPGs I have ever played, hands down. I find it difficult to judge whether it's the best RPG I've ever played, as that honour is presently held by Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords (Xbox), which of course is a different style of RPG and has a very different feel from Fable: The Lost Chapters. Fable: The Lost Chapters is an action RPG with a lot of open ended gameplay, and unlike BioWare's story driven and character heavy RPGs, Fable: The Lost Chapters reminds me of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition, or rather, what The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition should have been.

As some of you may recall, while I found the open ended gameplay of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition to be an amazingly addictive experience at first, the game ultimately was too open ended for it's own good with no real focus or semblance of a story to keep my interest. Fable: The Lost Chapters, on the other hand, provides a healthy balance of both.

In Fable: The Lost Chapters, you start out as a young boy living in the town of Oakvale. Your first quest is to find a way to earn enough money to buy a birthday present for your older sister, and this introduces the player to the game's Morality system. You can earn the Gold by performing good deeds around town, which you're father will reward you for, or you can steal the money and thereby perform bad deeds. Like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, your actions will affect your alignment, or your Morality as it's called in this game, which will ultimately alter your appearance and affect the way that people will react to you around the world.

Oakvale is soon attacked by Bandits (the world of Albion is full of them), and almost everyone is killed including your father. Just as you're about to die, however, you're rescued by a great Hero who goes by the name of Maze. He teleports you to the Guild of Heroes where you begin your new life, training to become a Hero.

An important point to note here is that "Hero" is a general term used to describe characters of might and legend in Albion, and therefore a Hero can be either good or evil. This is also where you begin to see your character age as you pass from childhood into young adulthood. Your training at the Guild takes roughly 10 to 20 minutes, and serves as the game's general tutorial. This is also where you're introduced to the Hero Save feature that annoys me so much. In Fable: The Lost Chapters, while a core Quest is active, you can not save your overall progress, called a World Save, and instead can only save your character's stats and items, the aforementioned Hero Save. I didn't understand this concept at first and ended up having to repeat the Guild training about half a dozen times over.

Once I got around and got used to the Hero Save system, I was able to immerse myself in the wonderful world of Albion, as once you're training is complete you can begin accepting Quests and exploring the open world; and what a world of options it is.

While the main story and character development of Fable: The Lost Chapters is rather weak, the game's true strength is in it's many gameplay options. Instead of pursuing the main Quest, you can explore the country side, dig for treasure, go fishing, play the market and sell goods, drink in a Tavern until you get drunk and hurl, play bar games, get a haircut, attract a partner (of either sex) and get married, own a house and live in it or rent it out, etc. The amount of things you can do in Fable: The Lost Chapters is staggering yet not overwhelming.

Unlike The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition, Fable: The Lost Chapters keeps a complete record of all your Quests, area maps, gameplay instructions, stats, etc. You're never stuck not knowing what to do (should you want to do something specific that is), and the game can be driven forward as fast or as slow as you want.

As you Quest and gain Experience and Renown, you can level up your Hero at the Guild increasing basic stats like Strength, Health, and Will (Mana), as well as learn a wide variety of spells. You can find or purchase Swords, Axes, Bows, Crossbows, and all different sorts of Armour and Clothes to really customize how you're Hero looks and fights. You can also get tattoos, haircuts, beards, and mustaches to suit your mood and personality.

From a technical standpoint, the game looks very beautiful. The world of Albion is a comical fantasy setting that doesn't take itself too seriously (read many of the item's descriptions at shops, for example) and as such the characters have a very cartoony look that matches the game's dry sarcastic whit very well. Audio wise all the sounds and voices are great, with people sounding as smart or slow-witted as needed, and the sound track is simply gorgeous with the main theme being created by Danny Elfman himself.

All this praise, however, is not to say that Fable: The Lost Chapters is without its flaws. As enjoyable as the game is, I find the slogan of "For every choice a consequence" to be a bit of a false statement. Why? Because if you fail at a Quest, instead of accepting that failure and moving on the game requires you to repeat it or load a save game until you achieve victory. Essentially, the only consequence for failure is having to repeat a Quest again. Not that this is a major as issue as Fable: The Lost Chapters is not a difficult game. Unless you're very careless, you'll always have enough Health and Will Potions on hand, as well as Resurrection Potions, to bail you out from any encounter. The game is so easy, in fact, that if you just pursued the main Quest you can probably win the game in about 10 to 15 hours. The core Quests were very easy, and the ones I found to be the most challenging were most of the optional Silver Quests, mostly 'cause you have to protect someone and they accidentally die or something.

I also encountered some minor bugs from both a technical and gameplay standpoint. I found that there was a good bit of audio popping and some of the game's shadowing effects, mostly with leaves, cast choppy shadows on character models, which looked rather poor. I also had some minor Quest bugs, such as escorting a wandering Trader to a certain area without it registering as an official Quest, and days later having the same Trader pop up again looking to be escorted, this time registering as an official Quest, however with the Quest being uncompletable.

Still, given how much fun Fable: The Lost Chapters is and how rich the world of Albion is, this is all minor problems with such a great game.

I could simply go on and on about all the great things that Fable: The Lost Chapters is, however I suppose I must end this review at some point. Being a Platinum Hits Xbox title, the game is now very cheap to purchase, so I strongly recommend that you go and pick it up if you have a taste for great RPGs. Fable: The Lost Chapters is also backward compatible with the Xbox 360 and looks even better at 720p with full screen anti-aliasing. Don't pass this title up as I did for so long.

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