Lionhead’s Fable franchise has been synonymous with the Xbox brand ever since the original’s release in 2004. Beyond the three main entries in the series though, the developer has always looked to expand the Fable universe, first with the XBLA title’s Fable II Pub Games and Fable Heroes, then with the mobile title Fable Coin Golf and then the middling Kinect adventure Fable: the Journey.
Now developing for the Xbox One, Lionhead are returning to the world of Albion, but this time with the co-operative role playing at the heart of Fable Legends, once again marking a new direction for the franchise. The game is set 400 years before the original game during the Age Of Heroes, where heroes are more common, and offering a range of distinct play styles across the different hero classes as well as the chance to take on the role of the villain.
Getting to grips with the game, it’s safe to say that this isn’t the Fable you’re used to. The demo showcased four heroic character classes: Sterling, a foppish Errol Flynn type who utilises a rapier; Winter, a magic user focused on ice attacks; Rook, whose third person ranged crossbow attacks evoke ideas of a medieval Marcus Fenix; and Inga, the tank-based knight class who offers heavy armour alongside a sword and huge shield. Each of the characters look phenomenal, with the distinctive Fable styled character design sitting well within the world. The full release is set to feature a range of character customisation options which we haven’t seen yet, so hopefully this will allow players to take real ownership of their chosen character class, rather than being one of a multitude of identical avatars.
However, the full game will actually feature ten character classes in total, with seven announced so far. The four on show are to be joined by Shroud, a bow-toting assassin, Leech, a barber-surgeon with Shadow-blight powers, and Glory, an explosive magic user. Based on our time with the game it seems like each class will have a distinct play style, and on first impressions it certainly feels like Lionhead have nailed the handling for them all, with Rook playing as well as any of the recent third person shooter games, whilst Inga feels like a tanking MMO character. There’ll certainly be plenty of variety for players to find a class that fits them and their own play style well amongst the ten on offer.
Alongside their standard attacks, each of the classes has a range of special abilities. Some of these recharge over time, such as Inga’s ability to taunt enemies to draw them away from weaker teammates, or others which are single use like Rook’s last stand, which allows him to revive himself and then stay alive as long as he continues to rack up kills. Combat is weighty, with excellent feedback as you dispatch whatever threat the villain is throwing at you.
It’s that role of the villain that has the potential to be one of the game’s most popular modes, with one player plotting the demise of the four player hero team. Playing out like a real-time strategy title with live opponents, your aim is to prevent the heroes from completing their quest by constructing barriers and traps and placing enemies in their way. It’s fantastic stuff, harrying friends and foes alike, and though it requires a more strategic approach to gameplay than the heroic side, I genuinely think villain mode could be Fable Legends’ secret weapon.
The environments on show within the game all looked absolutely fantastic, as did the various enemy types, but it was clear that this was an unfinished build of the game with a few frame-rate issues when the action became hectic and some screen tearing when panning the camera around particularly fast. The smoke effects were also clearly placeholder, though these things will doubtless be ironed out as the game gets closer to release, expected to be some time next year.
After my first taster of the game I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more. Whilst some elements need tweaking, such as the time it takes to revive downed teammates, and the character view felt like it was a bit too close behind your hero’s shoulder, the different classes are shaping up exceptionally well and the level of polish to the world of Albion is fantastic. No matter what, it’s looking extremely promising and with the game’s multiplayer beta set to begin October 14th we won’t have to wait very long at all to sample more.