Fable and I have a history together. Ever since I learned of its existence in an official Xbox Magazine under the codename "Project Ego," I was enthralled by the promises of Peter Molyneux. Back then, he basically could do no wrong, creating masterpiece after masterpiece at Bullfrog Productions.
But in 1997 he left and founded Lionhead Studios, eventually crafting the very first game in the Fable franchise. The first entry didn't really follow up with any of the promises Molyneux made, but despite that fact, it ended up being a serviceable little action-adventure romp.
Not much has changed with the updated Fable Anniversary, for better or for worse.
Fable Anniversary (Xbox 360)
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: February 4, 2014
By and large this is the exact same Fable you played back in 2004 with a new coat of paint. The voicework and dialog are the same, the story is the exact same, and gameplay-wise, it's pretty much identical barring a control scheme update. Although the music is said to be remastered I couldn't really discern any major differences between the original score -- which is perhaps a testament to how superb it was the first time around.
Visually the game has received an upgrade inline with the later games in the series. It's an odd juxtaposition, as many of the Fable cast members looked right at home with their original freakishly big heads and cartoony designs -- so it took some getting used to with the newer, more realistic Anniversary models. It was especially weird adapting to the early-game manchild teen hero character design, which looks half real and half cartoon. Whereas in the original you'd be able to laugh something like that off, some of the models can feel a bit strange in Anniversary.
In essence, I'm a bit torn on the updated sheen. On one hand I really like the updated models for serious characters like Maze and the Guildmaster, who were more or less always meant to be more "real" looking. Other goofy characters like random townsfolk and traders look a bit more off, but not in a way that ruins the experience. Weapons and spell effects in particular are a massive improvement, however, as are the beautiful landscapes which feel completely new due to the Anniversary update.
But all that glitters isn't gold, as there are some framerate issues (mostly in areas with lots of enemies) and noticeable pop-in during cutscenes, which is a shame. Then there's the odd decision to rip one element directly from the original, which doesn't quite fit when everything else around it feels new. Specifically, the narrated "stained glass" interludes that often move the story along are also in the same style as the original Xbox game, which looks noticeably old and jarring.
The story is still the same, which has its ups and downs, as well as its mix of memorable and forgettable characters. However, the original Fable succeeds where others in the series have failed, in its ability to deliver a cohesive, easy-to-follow tale that doesn't ever get ahead of itself. There's a clear big bad villain, an obvious motivation, and a relatively simple goal to achieve -- thus earning the moniker of "fable" quite appropriately. The Fable games later added the ability to play as male or female, but the first title is strictly from a male perspective -- which hasn't changed in Anniversary.
Thankfully, the controls have been updated to allow for Fable 2/3 mechanics, which are mainly centered around dedicated attack buttons for magic, ranged, and melee attacks. The original had a scheme that revolved around manually switching weapon types out which is a bit cumbersome, but if you prefer that method it is there as a "legacy" control option. Everything is relatively easy to perform, as a simple button press will instantly queue up the appropriate attack.
Having said that, a few of the same faults have crept up in Anniversary, most notably the occasionally broken lock-on system. By holding the left trigger your hero will lock on to the closest enemy, allowing you to quickly tap it to change targets. The problem is, not only is this system inaccurate (d-pad switching would be preferable), but it also goes haywire from time to time, locking on a random piece of scenery and causing you to outright miss with ranged attacks.
Beyond those issues though combat is relatively straightforward and fun, allowing you a degree of freedom with tons of spells, close-combat options, and bow attacks. Your hero can also block and roll as well as employ just about every type of spell you desire, allowing you to play the way you want to play, since it's feasible to beat the game with any combination of the three combat disciplines.
The game is still incredibly easy though, as you can carry over 50 health potions, 100 pieces of health-restoring food (with no time limitations on use), and nine "resurrection phials" that let you instantly revive yourself. It's an odd design choice that still creeps its way into the Anniversary edition, as there is never really any sense of danger or tension when you can just pop one of your hundreds of healing options, with a backup system should you fail to press a button.
While the core tenets of the experience are identical, there are a few noticeable differences with the update which lead to mixed results. The menus have been updated, but they're big and clunky with a number of pointless tabs, so it's hard to locate anything in particular. Thankfully, you can now save anywhere, and there are a ton of added auto-saves and checkpoints, so you'll hardly ever lose any progress at any time. SmartGlass functionality has also been added, which lets you view the world map and backstories on various characters. It's not essential, but it's a nice little touch.
In terms of content, worry not, as the Lost Chapters expansion is fully intact in Anniversary, which adds a few more hours of (fun) quests as well as a new town, items, and a new ending. I'm especially a fan of Lost Chapters as it's relatively to the point, and delivers constant action with moral quandaries that don't feel ham-fisted or forced. You'll also get to earn Achievements for the first time ever in the original Fable, which have some rather clever naming conventions (one is titled "Definitely Not On Rails") and requirements (most of them have multiple unlock options).
Fable Anniversary may not blow you away, but it's still a good action game that everyone should experience at some point or another, and I'd consider it vastly superior to Fable 2 and 3. If you've never played a Fable game before this is a great place to start, but at full price, it's hard to wholly recommend over picking up the original Xbox Lost Chapters edition on the cheap.
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