*Warning: We will be talking about the story line, which for those who haven’t played through them all may contain spoilers. Spoiler-avoidance is advised.*
The game mechanics in Fable have always been innovative. Fable was the first game to have what you eat, what you grab, who you talk to and what you say all become important factors in the evolution of your hero. Your character can grow tall, be thin, be overweight, look angelic, look demonic, be loved, be hated or be despised, all as a result of choices you make in the game.
In a game with near infinite choices, one choice was taken out of our hands in Fable II and III: The dog. No matter what you do, whether boy or girl, prince or princess, you must always have a faithful companion. This can become annoying at times, but more often than not, the dog is a valuable asset, finding treasure and fighting alongside you. You get to name the dog whatever you want, train it to do tricks and with a few DLCs you can even change its breed.
My hope for our canine friend is that you can simply choose the breed at the beginning of the game, perhaps giving different dog experiences depending on the breed you’ve chosen. Not a bad extra to throw in there.
In Fable II and III, you could marry not only the opposite sex, but the same sex as well. As most of the guys on the streets of Fable look a little iffy to me, I’d choose girls to marry no matter which I’m playing. That’s just me though.
The choice of weapons and outfits has always been big in Fable and Fable III even allows you to dye outfits different colors depending on your particular tastes. I hope this sticks around for Fable IV, as the The Journey didn’t even allow a change of clothes. I have to imagine Gabriel and the horse were both pretty ripe by the end of all that running around
The Journey’s game play was more interactive movie than open-world game. There were few actual choices to make; it was more about the battles to be fought and puzzles to be solved. Fable IV’s return to Open-World will be a very welcome one, I assure you.
Comparing the music between Fables I-III and The Journey is like comparing different songs by your favorite band. They all sound wonderful and songs from The Journey bring back memories of the previous incarnations without necessarily being the same song. A good example of this is the main song from Fable (original) whenever you’re in a town. This same song is later the haunting melody played by the Music Box in Fable II and III (and the ringtone on your reviewer’s cellphone). Its melody is burned into our brains, but where it was originally a full orchestra of sound, the gentle tinkle of the music box makes for a haunting and beautiful rendition of the song we know so well, while bringing it to a new emotional level of reminiscence and memory.
Storyline (**Spoilers Ahead**)
Fable started the player as a young boy and the paths before us were slowly played out in a very gentle but real way. Still as a boy, we were given the opportunity to do tasks to get money to buy our sister a birthday present. With this as the main quest, side quests were given to go about this in different ways, with different results. You could be Good, gaining goodness points and starting you on the path to Heroism, or you could be bad and accumulate Evil points, the path going towards Villainy. The burning of the village, the loss of your family and your adoption into the Heroes’ Guild takes you from childhood quickly into young adulthood. You learn Magic, Melee fighting and archery.
When Fable came out in 2004, it was the first major game to include small and large consequences for everything you do. From the items you steal from someone’s house without them knowing, to getting caught stealing, the changes in how people speak to you and about you, to the very appearance of your character changing to show the goodness or evil within.
The story progresses with you re-encountering your sister, who is now blind and a more powerful Seer, and the eventual revenge on those who killed your parents, destroyed your village and blinded your sister. Whether hero or villain, the end of Fable provides an end to this particular storyline. Sort of.
Fable II brings the player several hundred years into the future, to a young girl (or boy) named Sparrow (at least at the beginning). Sparrow, it turns out, is destined to be a Hero, which is quite lucky for us since, as it took 500 years to get back to Albion it would be terribly dull if we didn’t find a hero when we finally arrived. The young Sparrow is living in poverty, in Bowerstone with his/her sister.
You, as Sparrow, and your sister come across a trader selling a music box that grants wishes. Your sister doesn’t quite believe it, but a mysterious woman tells you and your sister that magic does exist and that you should believe. So, after doing some side quests to get the gold for it, you buy the music box and make a wish for a better life. And it comes true, sort of, kind of, not really…
You and your sister are called to Bowerstone Castle, where she is murdered and you are thrown out a very high window. Luckily, the Hero in you is hard to kill, so Sparrow survives as does his/her faithful dog and both are adopted by the mysterious Theresa. While it is implied that you are a descendant of the original hero from Fable, it’s never confirmed. Fable: The Journey does shed some light on one thing: It confirms that Theresa, the blind seer is in fact the first hero’s sister, still alive for hundreds of years and for hundreds of years to come.
Once Little Sparrow reaches adulthood, you become a full-fledged Hero and begin finding allies to bring together to end the evil that Lucien (the guy who murdered your sister) is trying to bring about. Lucien is rebuilding an ancient Spire that allows those who control it to use magic and grant wishes. It is believed that the last time the Spire was used to grant a wish, it set Albion back hundreds of years and nearly destroyed the world, so Lucien having access: Probably bad.
During Fable II, you have a companion as well. The faithful puppy has become a faithful dog, who can learn tricks and find treasure. While we are now focusing on story, it is still surprising that there is no way to leave the dog behind.
Fable II ends with Theresa taking custody of the Spire and Lucien being defeated. We are not told why Theresa wants to take control of the Spire, but we apparently think that’s just fine and leave her to it. When the end comes, you’re given a choice of a single wish from the Spire. You can choose one of three: you can bring your sister back to life, you can become endlessly rich or you can bring back all the people Lucien killed in his quest for the Spire. The three options dictate the way people will treat you afterwards if you want to continue questing, and there’s a good vs. evil points factor as well. But here, we have a doubt: Why isn’t your sister included in the people he killed in his quest for the Spire? That is exactly why he killed her! But no, it is a show of Sacrifice, sacrificing your own happiness for the rest of Albion.
Fable III takes place about 50 years after the end of Fable II and opens with a chicken running away from captivity. We have to hand it to the authors here – the chicken is one of the most unusual, hilarious and fun ways to open a Fable game so far and we hope Fable IV has something similarly unique and fun in store for us. With Theresa giving a speech in the background about Albion’s current state of affairs, the chicken’s escape and attempt at a normal, uncooked, chicken life is a perfect metaphor for the revolution that Albion currently requires.
You start as a prince or princess. Your brother Logan is currently on the throne and, while no one knows exactly why, he has turned from beloved ruler to tyrant over the last couple of years. The story quickly takes a downward turn as your brother makes you choose between three strangers who protested outside the castle or the love of your young life. Worse still, if you don’t choose one or the other, both die. It is a very dramatic start and a perfect example of why your heroics are needed.
While you never see her in person, Theresa is your guide again, speaking to you in the dreamlike Road to Rule, where you level up your skills and magic, as well as unlocking certain abilities, such as the ability to buy and rent real-estate, emotional expressions, etc. Theresa explains that Logan is simply not the right ruler for this place and time and the majority of the game is spent conspiring to and finally deposing him and placing you as the rightful ruler of Albion. While the good vs. evil is a bit more subtle in some places of the game, good and evil, selflessness and selfishness are still gravities that pull you towards them with the decisions you make. Once King Logan is deposed, you find out the truth from Theresa: Logan isn’t the real issue she is worried about. A great darkness is coming and you are the only one strong enough, both heroically and charismatically, to stop it by bringing everyone in Albion together to fight it.
In the end, the darkness is defeated but not destroyed. And the defeat comes at a great price: Sir Walter, your mentor and guide, passes away. The darkness had possessed him and, unfortunately, you were the only one strong enough to stop the possessed Sir Walter. He gave his life willingly though, knowing that the darkness must be defeated. He is revered as a Hero and a statue is erected of him in the palace garden.
This brings us to the latest of the Fables, The Journey.
The Journey is aptly named, not only because it all takes place in a very short amount of time but, as we said earlier, it is more interactive movie than game. Many centuries after Fable III took place, Albion knows nothing of magic or heroes anymore, and they’re just stories and myths to them now. Gabriel, a dreamer with a knack for getting in trouble, stumbles across a certain blind Seer named Theresa and with her help he becomes the first Hero in centuries.
In Fable III they changed the mechanics of magic so that it was focused through some gauntlets. The Journey takes advantage of this and Gabriel is endowed with Will using similar gauntlets. This is why Gabriel is able to use magic and also why Gabriel doesn’t use any other form of fighting. He simply never learned how, so as you fumble with Kinect and firing fireballs and blocking spells, Gabriel has the same learning curve you do. Innovative and a heck of a lot of fun.
During The Journey, we hear several tales from Theresa explaining her origins, reminding us and confirming that she is the sister of the original hero from Fable and also filling in some parts of knowledge that were heretofore lacking. For instance, Theresa was the reason Lucien knew as much as he did about the Spire. She was trying to get his help to rebuild the Spire when his family died and he became obsessed with it and turned over ‘to the dark side’.
It is unclear if she was the one who had them killed, or if it was coincidence, but I think it implies that she did, which makes her directly and indirectly responsible for everything Lucien did afterwards. She has carried that guilt for centuries at this point. Lastly, we hear about the darkness, how it was let in originally by the first Spire, how the heroes of that age gave their lives destroying the Spire and how, once it was rebuilt by Lucien, it was inevitable that the darkness would try to return. The consequences being that the events from Fable III were also directly caused by Theresa’s quest to rebuild the Spire.
The Journey ends with one final sacrifice: the only way to defeat the darkness is to channel your will powers and the power of the Spire through Theresa to close the break in reality where the darkness is coming through. With the Spire destroyed, Theresa leaves Gabriel with one final gift and curse: Gabriel is the new Seer, his eyes white and blinded by the destruction of the Spire. We see him (like Theresa before him) able to find Theresa’s blindfold and walk away from the beach where he washed up by Seeing rather than by using his eyes to see.
So what does the future hold?
Fable IV promises to go back to the controller-based game we all know and love, The Journey gave us an end to the tale that started so long ago. So with Gabriel as Seer, with magic back in the world, the darkness locked away, the Spire destroyed, what will await us in Albion the next time we visit? And how many years will have passed?
Only time, or some sneaky ninjas breaking into the development area of Fable IV, will tell.