Fable: Anniversary – Impressions 1

            While being a remaster in a different, newer engine, graphically Fable Anniversary seems inconsistent – while universally improved graphically over its antiquated predecessor, it still suffers from some technical shortcomings; it is not truly, impressively, modern. The faces and character models are decent at best, though the environments fare better; trees in their beautiful autumnal hues line forest pathways, alongside more atmospheric areas; there is a foggy, cemetery like area with dead trees and crooked branches which still looks appealing precisely because of how unique it is. There are some decent water effects, though the environment overall still suffers from poor texturing – it is easy to look past at times, but other times it is intrusive, serving to break immersion. So technically, it is nothing special. Creatively, though, the game excels greatly.

            Beyond aesthetics, sound and music play a vital role in establishing setting and place. The voice acting can at times be obnoxious, and is stereotypically British, but overall, it is done well enough, even though the player character does not have a voice or even written dialogue all his own – he is a silent protagonist. Beyond this potential stumbling, the chirping birds, buzzing beetles, and snarling bandits stick out, while the music is quite spectacular, really evoking this fairy tale aesthetic, which fits in well with those more creative environments. The story is furthered largely by cutscenes, which aren’t cinematic or even riveting, serving only to highlight the poor facial animations – or relative lack thereof. In other instances, though, the story is developed through these beautiful cut-outs, with rich coloration and impressive narration. These are far more enjoyable than traditional cutscenes because they are more original, and act as the wondrous culmination of charming voice acting and visual creativity.

            Story-wise, I haven’t progressed too far, but I definitely see potential here; I doubt it will surprise in any real way, but still I am happy to take the journey. At the beginning, the soon-to-be hero is left stranded, his entire village and place of childhood brutally razed to the ground. While this destruction is ostensibly caused by greedy, ravenous bandits, there is likely some more intrigue at work here. We feel instantly for the hero because he has undergone such great trials; while he never speaks, there is some kind of connection there, between player and protagonist. He grows and matures fairly rapidly, becoming an older adolescent over the span of a couple hours or so, in the game’s brief tutorial. Saved from the desolation, he arrives at the Hero’s Guild, to learn the ways of strength, skill, and will, the trio of pillars vital to the hero’s success. It is a good tutorial overall, with the Guild’s design being interesting and rather sprawling. Interesting, too, are the more major characters who inhabit it. Whisper, a young, rival hero to our protagonist, is quickly introduced as his primary competitor. There is also a balding, mustached man who acts as guide, overseeing personally the hero’s training, encouraging him, showing real concern, aware of the Hero’s fate. At the end of this section, I felt as though I had a decent grasping on the game’s controls, having performed to the highest rating the various challenge missions, like shooting moving targets at an archery range. It was fun overall, though it seems to show that while some people have a predisposition towards heroism, having inherent strength in their blood, ultimately heroes are made and not born.

            The gameplay has largely been enjoyable, too. As was mentioned, the abilities and options of the player fall essentially into three areas: ranged attacks, represented by skill; melee damage, which falls under strength; and finally, magic capabilities, which belong to will. There is a fair bit of flexibility here, with a large variety of melee weapons, ranging from axes and maces through to cleavers and katanas. Melee combat overall is fun and engaging, and the balancing so far has been spot on; while numerically the number of foes at any one time are not objectively large – in comparison to other games – they pose a great challenge due to their massive, somewhat unfair, amount of health points. Hobbes are especially notorious and threatening, as they can withstand blow after blow, even as an escalation in the quality of weapons increases naturally over time; they can very easily overwhelm the player, and while I have not yet died in combat, I have fallen into certain scenarios where I burn through my stock of health potions. But if all the game offered was melee combat, things would become boring and quickly stale. The other two branches of combat enliven things and bring more depth to the combat.

            The ranged weaponry on offer to the player is far less diverse than the large variety of melee weapons to be found in the game world. While ranged combat can be very fun, the limitations are so great that the only real choice to be made is between a bow and a crossbow. The crossbow does greater damage, though suffering from a low fire rate. The regular bows have more flexibility, as arrows can be fired both rapidly – with increased fire rate – or more slowly, pulling the arrow back to a greater degree and consequently inflicting greater damage. Beyond this choice, there is no real depth present in the skill branch of combat. There is a zoom feature, which helps things somewhat; lining up a shot on a bandit from some great distance away, notching an arrow and then letting it fly towards his head, all the while remaining undetected – it can be quite exhilarating. Arrows may be intended for these longer-range engagements, though the bows and crossbows do not fully lose their effectiveness in shorter range encounters. The targeting system is spot on, and they are always there as a backup, with infinite ammo.

            There is perhaps the greatest depth to be found on the magic end; there is almost a dizzying amount of spells on offer, all of which can be upgraded multiple times. So far, I have experimented with but a small number of these, like the default lightning power, as well as a technique which slows time to a crawl, or a force push which blasts away nearby enemies. Looking at the upgrade screen, there are also healing spells, summonable swords, and even a technique which increases the number of arrows fired at any one time. Of the three major pillars, I am most excited to mess around with the will tree. The game is at its best when these three things come together; there is a great deal of synergy here. Peering off into the distance and seeing an enemy, then promptly weakening him with arrows serves as the first step. They will naturally rush in, into melee range. They can be whittled down further, blow by blow, until magic abilities are employed, to further turn the tables. It can be very riveting stuff, tense at times, and while easier at other moments, it has so far never devolved into the laughable in terms of difficulty.

            One final thing to note is related to the character morphing, which has long been a hallmark of this series. There is great freedom and player choice to be found in some superficial areas of character customization, with various clothing and armor options available, as well as more minor things such as tattoos or hair styles. It is fun to outfit the hero according to one’s visual preferences, armor values also taken into consideration. Necessarily considered, too, are the attractiveness values attached to each item. But there is somewhat of a limitation here, which really goes against these freedoms – the flawed, exact minutia to be found in the character morphing systems proper. There are apparently a lot of variables at work here, with alignments altering skin, hair, and eye color, and even more dramatic things – being more sinister in nature might manifest itself in the emerge of horns, or some other such disfiguration. This is good. This is how the series as always been, later games building firmly upon this concept, and I like it. It is basic in comparison to the later titles, but this is understandable considering these ideas originated here, long before they would be perfected. Still, it can be frustrating. My hero after but six hours looks middle aged and physically exhausted, aging apparently being attached to the number of experience points allocated. Having no direct control here, the freedom of customization which abounds elsewhere is here somewhat limited. I can understand and appreciate greatly the organic growth present here, but this aging aspect really irks me greatly. Hopefully, as my hero morphs further, he can become visually more appealing. Overall, though, I have had great fun playing the game so far. The world of Albion is beautiful at times, and almost whimsical in terms of design. The music establishes a sense of place, while the clever voice acting also creates immersion. The gameplay is solid, with many freedoms afforded to the player. I am already intrigued by the game’s narrative, basic as it is so far. I’m excited to dive back in, see in my hero the manifestation of all of my various actions.   

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