• Nie Costa

Fable: The Greatest Game Concept That Never Was


I have always loved the Fable Series. As a young teen, I remember reading my older brothers GAMEStm magazine, namely the article about the original Fable. The concept of player choice being a driving force behind the narrative and the world changing depending upon the players actions, filled my mind with wonder. Reading that you could plant a seed and come back later to a fully grown tree, only further blew me away and I instantly asked my mother to buy me the new Xbox. A few months later, I received the console (along with the original KOTOR and Halo 2, yes, I had taste in games even as a young teen). I completed the original Fable, nine, yes, NINE, Times! Each play-through I tried to play it slightly differently, making different choices and creating different character builds, but came to realise that no matter how much I played the game and how differently I tried to approach each situation, the outcomes were relatively lacking and very much predetermined. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoyed the game, and the fact that you could customise your character by the actions you did (within the games limits of course) was still very impressive at the time. But overall, I feel it fell short, especially when you consider that a number of the promised features were not present.


A few years later and Fable II was announced. The E3 where the first in depth gameplay footage for the game debuted at a time where I was in holiday in Antigua. I managed to convince my mum to allow me to go to a local internet cafe, in order to watch some of the first shown Fable II footage and was once again, absolutely blown away. Once I returned home to England, I made sure to scour the internet (and any magazines) for any news, previews, interviews or discussions about Fable II and, naturally, stumbled upon a number of different interviews with Fable II’s head designer: Peter Molyneux. I had not been this excited for a game since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and I purchased Fable II on release. The game was much better, but a number of the promised features were either absent or greatly exaggerated once again. I spent so much fricking time trying to become the all red demon-man thing that was present on the games box art. I read online that you had to play the game and kill every person you saw and make sure to do every bad deed possible at all times throughout the game in order to unlock the form, but this of course was a lie.


Fable III was then announced and I found myself hesitantly excited. I had been burned twice and was reluctant to believe any of the news surrounding the game. Despite this, I purchased the game upon release, due to my love of the franchise, and although I enjoyed it, was disappointed at how shallow and lacklustre the game felt. It once again put the player in the shoes of a hero and this time they were royalty. The game attempted to make it hard for players to lead, once they actually became King, but once again the game lacked any real depth and always felt casual. This perhaps was what Lionhead, the developers, were going for, but I felt once again like the game had been hyped too much for what it actually was.


The next generation was around the corner and during E3 of 2013, the next fable game was announced! Would it be a massive, real-open world, action RPG, which, due to the power of the new consoles, would expand and be the Fable game the fans have been waiting for? No. Not at all… It was to be a cooperative action title, where you have to choose 1 of 4 heroes to face off against a villain, who can control enemies, traps and bosses in order to hinder the 4 players… Don’t get me wrong, it may have been an excellent game (I say may because it was cancelled) It is not what anyone wants or expects from a Fable title! Imagine Elder Scrolls 6 was a Battle Royale or the next Zelda was a MOBA? It just doesn’t work! This of course would precede a number of questionable first party game decisions done by Microsoft, but at the time I didn’t care. I could not wait for Fable Legends to be released, so they could start working on the next TRUE Fable experience, but it never came… Lionhead Studios was then disbanded and there was no new news about the franchise whatsoever.


Fast-forward some years and we started to hear rumours that a new team at Microsoft had been developing an exclusive Xbox RPG. It is true that a team was making a AAA Open-world RPG first party game for Microsoft but it has not yet been confirmed that it is a new Fable video game. The team working on the AAA RPG project are none other than Playground Games (known for the Forza Horizon titles) and yes, although the original developers of the previous Fable games, Lionhead studios, had been closed, Microsoft still owns the Fable IP. I had also heard that some other studios wanted to buy lionhead before it closed, but Microsoft were unwilling to part with some of the Lionhead IP’s (namely Fable)


The possibility of a new Fable game made me think about everything I would love from a new title. So, I thought we’d make a video about what we want from a new Fable game.


Setting


The world needs to be constantly evolving. Previous Fable titles have all mainly been set in Albion with the third game also having sections in Aurora. The latest leaks have said that the game is set on multiple planets and will involve time travel… I, for one, do not think this is necessary. When you look at the way Rockstar updated GTA V’s map from San Andreas, it felt natural and new but at the same time familiar. A similar approach could definitely benefit Albion and Aurora. A completely new map (or even maps) could be done well, however, I feel Albion and definitely Aurora were never done justice. Breath of the Wild, GTA V and Dark Souls are three titles which had amazing maps. The maps in these titles almost work as characters in and of themselves. Albion, in comparison, has always felt more like multiple corridors and small open spaces weaved together to give the illusion of an open-world. Of course, this was probably due to the available hardware at the time, but I would love to see Albion become a fully realised open-world map with multiple different biomes and terrains, with specific enemies, creatures, animals and monsters exclusive to each.





The cities and towns present could also benefit from being larger and more expansive. The Fable franchise has always had a number of systems that fell short such as; the ability to buy and customise properties. On a macro level, Players should be able to design their own cities and towns, moving around buildings, creating new buildings, setting up districts and so on. This in turn could have an impact on the NPC’s lives in the game, causing them to do things such as; set up groups to revolt or conversely join you depending on how your choices have impacted them. A real economy should be present, which can be directly affected by the players actions. On a micro level, the player should also be able to FULLY customise interiors allowing for overall vastly different buildings and establishments. The game should have more realised and varied interiors which could be completely revamped or destroyed by the player. Previous Fable titles allowed this, but only specific areas inside certain buildings could be changed. Fable III allowed you to change the aesthetic of your castle, but this was, too black and white with the only options being the ‘good’ look or the ‘bad’ one.



Gameplay


The Fable instalments have always held the players hands. Whereas a game like Skyrim will introduce the player to its world, put them through a tutorial and then leave them to it; The Fable titles (especially the third), are constantly guiding the player and holding their hand. Due to this the games can feel, for lack of a better word, claustrophobic.


Fables combat has always been basic but serviceable with a sprinkle of Jankiness. Lionhead have tried to go for a simplistic but deep combat system and in my opinion, have once again fallen short. The combat is alright, I guess but it never reaches any level of depth. The latest titles gave the player unlimited magic and ammunition, which conceptually may have made sense, but practically results in the player spamming spells or bullets/arrows/bolts. If they kept the magic and ammo infinite, I think there should be a limitation; if the player is spamming fireballs, they may catch alight or sustain damage as their hands would begin to be burn, if they keep shooting arrows, their shots become weaker as fatigue kicks in and a stamina bar needs to be implemented.


The Fable series has always had 3 combat specialities:

· Strength; which is everything melee. This is how hard a character can hit and governs the player characters physical attributes.


· Skill; which is everything ranged and stealthy. This is how adept the player character is with bows, crossbows or guns (depending on the game) as well as any other dexterity-based attributes.


· Will; which is everything magic based. This is solely about magic. A character with high will, will be able to cast spells faster and stronger.


Lionhead opted to link each of these specialities to a single button. Which I feel has always limited the scope of the combat. The single button combat does work, but I feel it’s just too simple. In a new instalment, I would love to see slower more methodical combat like Dark Souls, albeit not as strict and more forgiving. Character stats should matter more than simply the amount of damage the player deals with the equipped weapon. Lionhead touched on this in the original fable by limiting the weapons you could use depending on player stats, but after the requirements to wield said weapon were met, the stats had no other effects on how the weapon was wielded (other than perhaps the speed in which the weapon was swung). They should also make the characters alignment impact how they fight, if the player chooses to be a mass murderer, then their strikes should be more savage and brutal, whereas if they are good perhaps their strikes could be more precise and deliberate.

I have always wondered why you were never able to combine two combat specialities as well, being able to infuse your weapons or arrows with elemental magic on the fly or use your magical abilities to control the weapons in the environment etc. Stealth was also a missed opportunity, as the skill build allowed you to wield ranged weapons more effectively (and by effectively, I mean doing more damage) but other than that, the games had very shallow stealth systems (if you could even call them that). It always felt like, no matter how you played the game, you always ended up being proficient in all 3 combat specialities. The next game should limit this or at least make it so it takes a very long time to max all 3. To conclude, Fable has always lacked diverse builds.


Story/ Narrative


Fables story sucks. This is of course my opinion, but Fable has always tried to have a grand story filled with high stakes that, quite frankly, always fell flat on its face. I have always felt that Fable’s narrative has actually been a hindrance. Fable has always been a game about choice and consequence (well at least that’s what it’s supposed to be), by having a set narrative with very few options and choices; the narrative design, goes against the games core design philosophy, which is, choice. The main character is always a ‘Hero’ which seems to be the equivalent of being born with super powers; but the title ‘Hero’ stifles the player and makes it seem as though no matter how evil you are in the games, the narrative funnels you into being a hero.

I feel that the story could greatly benefit if it was created by the players actions, for example; let’s say the player has a child with their partner and they then abandon said partner and/or treat them badly. They then go on to be a renowned hero or villain. The child should then grow up disliking the player and could maybe become the antithesis of what their parent is, studying them in order to one day defeat them. This is one example of a way that storylines can be created by the player, which would result in a more tailored and personal experience for each player.

Developers are quick to claim that the NPC’s in their titles live “real lives” in “real worlds”, but I personally, have yet to see a game where the NPC’s feel alive (the closest game to live NPC’s arguably being Red Dead Redemption II).


The next fable game should have real feeling NPCs, with their own storylines that concurrently occur. These should progress regardless of the players presence and interaction, but allow the player to intervene in or join at any point in order to affect the outcome, similar to say the Westworld television series.


Each player would have vastly different experiences based on where they went and what they did. Now I know this is a lot easier said than done, I know this would take substantial development time and effort, but a man can dream right?


It has always felt weird that you can be a mass murderer butchering every single person you lay your eyes on, yet are at the same time supposedly a “Hero”. There should be other people in the world who are heroes or villains, who can become allies or enemies for the player dependant on their actions and alignment. Possibly even a Dark Souls styled invasion system, where bounties are put on the heads of players and other players can invade their worlds to collect said bounties.


Since Fable III, storytelling in video games has come a long way, even an approach similar to the Witcher series would make the narrative feel a lot richer and diverse but whichever option the developers do take, the way that the narrative has historically been approached definitely needs to change.


Character


The most interesting and unique aspect of any fable game! The character morphing in Fable is one of the main systems that I, and many fans, play Fable titles for. Like climbing enemies in Shadow of the Colossus, it is a mechanic or gameplay design choice that I wish was a lot more common in modern video games. I always felt like the morphing system could be greatly expanded upon, but Lionhead struck gold by including this into the fable franchise. It was a little too black and white and often due to this could often dictate the actions and choices of the player. Players would mostly play the games with the intention of creating a good or evil character. If the system were more complex and more choices had real consequences, it could make the actions the player did matter more and make them think twice before acting, instead of simply going for maximum good or evil. The way it affected the characters looks was impressive, but once again, was too black or white. Fable 2 added corruption and purity, which worked as a way to further modify your characters physical appearance and I think the next instalment should add a number of different modifiers that are in play to further change how characters look. The modifiers themselves should also be hidden, so players are not simply trying to reach the end of a bar. The character modifiers should be more of a spectrum than a bar. The characters skillset should also work in tandem with their morality, as an example; a character with high will should have different ‘devil horns’ than a character with high strength. The character with high will should have more ethereal looking horns, whereas the character with high strength should have bigger more imposing ones. Influence should also be added allowing characters to gain a following based on their actions in the world and alignment. This influence system could dictate how a number of other things in the world react to you, similar to how the players dog would change depending on the characters alignment.


I loved the weapon morphing in Fable III but, and I’m starting to sound like a broken record, once again it needs to be expanded on. It should not happen whenever the player levels up one of the 3 combat specialities but instead should occur naturally as the player does actions throughout the game.


Fable 2 added different experience pools which rewarded the player with different types of experience based on whether they used strength (melee), skill (ranged) or will (magic) abilities in combat. Fable III removed this idea, but I think Lionhead were on the right track with Fable II. The players character should naturally change depending on the way they fight; meaning if they go into a battle with a Warhammer, they should become more muscular or when using a bow or sneaking they should become lither.


This should be organic and the characters’ appearance should change and they should become more proficient in each combat speciality as they do more in each.


All in all, we are extremely excited for a new Fable entry. The Xbox Series X first-party exclusive game showcase is on the 23rd of July and we are hoping and praying to see the next Fable unveiled during the event.

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