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Fable

Original Preview By: Siou Choy
Updated By: Tim Mitchell

Developer:   Big Blue Box Studios
Publisher:   Microsoft
Genre:   RPG
Est. Release:   9-14-04
Date Posted:  

10-9-03

Date Updated:   9-2-04

Another epic RPG comes to the Xbox later this month, when the hotly anticipated Fable hits the shelves. Headed by development guru Peter Molyneux, this has got to be one of the most ambitious titles ever. It doesn’t present many completely new concepts, but rather it takes all the best concepts from previous RPGs, expanding them to the greatest extent possible. Varied experience gains? Got it. Huge interactive world that reflects your every last action? Check. Detailed personal relationships with NPCs including wives and kids? Yup. Covers your entire life in this world? Indeed. Day/Night cycle followed by all the denizens of the world? It’s there. In short, though I hate to define a game by comparing it to others…Fable aims to be Zelda meets Morrowind meets Harvest Moon. Yeah, it sounds great. I was only able to play it briefly while at PAX 2004, but it certainly seemed to live up to its promises.

At the heart of Fable is the world itself, and the life you lead in it. Even the smallest thing you do can affect the way this life unfolds. The way you fight, the quests you complete, every murder, double cross or good deed, how much time you spend in the sun…everything has a consequence, so no gameplay experience will be exactly alike. For example, the gamer at the console before me had gone on a villager-killing rampage. I assume the demo portion was early in the game, but already as a result of those actions, the character had become pale, ala Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. The number of choices to be good, evil, or just an average guy is, by all accounts, mind blowing.

But beware, the people of Fable are keeping track of your deeds. They’re a lot more friendly toward a world-renowned hero than an infamous villain. That goodwill carries over into all sorts of useful things, such as reduced prices from shop owners (of course, a good threat or two might accomplish the same goal). But the behavior of these citizens is affected by far more than your reputation. They play during the day, and return to their homes at night. Shirk from danger. If you flirt, threaten or even break wind, they’ll all react. Kill their friends, they’ll remember. There might never be a game with a world that lives and grows like Fable’s.

But Fable isn’t just a life simulation, but a life simulation based in a danger-ridden fantasy world. You’ll find yourself in mortal combat with a variety of foes, from bandits to demons. Combat is simple but fun, including melee attacks, ranged attacks and magic. In my particular experience, I was faced with a pixie-like creature that flitted about, which I was only able to damage when it stopped to drop off axe-wielding imps. I had to fight off the creatures on the ground with sword attacks, finished off with special “flourish” moves, then quickly switch to my bow, lock on to aim and shoot the pixie while it was vulnerable. Considering I had only played about ninety seconds, this was all fairly intuitive, easy to figure out and execute. The combat in Fable holds promise, if the options available to you increase as you progress in the game.

Will Fable be the RPG masterpiece it’s purported to be? Or just hype? I can’t honestly say, from merely reading details and playing for a few minutes in a crowded room. But everything seems to be on the right track, and I’ll definitely be watching this title when it comes out. I recommend you do too.

--------------------

Big Blue Box Studios is making you a promise.  That’s right, you, you sweaty palmed, zit faced slave to the cathode ray tube and the virtual opiate fantasylands it slyly offers you in place of physical interaction and the existential principle of being as a function of acting.  They’re talking to you.  And what are they swearing, silvery, honeyed tongues dripping the Hollywood-glitter promises of the seasoned marketplace vendor to the first likely mark espied in passing?  This year’s model: VR as an even closer mirror to the reality you bartered for the dream world they proffer.  Alchemy as misunderstood by the masses: lead into gold.  Fool’s gold.

The hype: an epic RPG.  One of the biggest and most ambitious console games released to date.  You take on the role of a hero (naturally; who’d want to live…I mean, play as a dateless nonentity running from their social failures by locking themselves in their “parents: off limits” sanctum sanctorum of a room, blasting raucous melodies of empowerment and rage while delving into the flickering lights of the virtual mother, the modern religion, the personal-yet-shared pusher the idiot box (or computer screen) has come to represent to a directionless post-millennial generation?).  Which path you choose (you, the hero, for the adulation of all the microdots and strings of binary code) will determine the person you become (a fitting life metaphor, encased in this Matrix-style substitute for living; the Buddhist samsara, life as illusion).  The slightest decision, the most insignificant choice can effect a radical change in the direction you will ultimately go (chaos theory in summation, the butterfly’s wings effecting tidal waves and continental shifts).  The first time through, you may want to play at being hero, the next; you may choose to walk the path of villainy.  This offers a great deal of replay (and role-play) value.  Fable as life.  A metaphor for existence, encased in illusion and strings of code.

You return again and again to the same point, ever spiraling outwards.  The Hero’s Guild is your locus, your focal point, where you must venture and return to receive new missions, and thereby earn experience and money.  Said missions may be for good of the community (offering your services for the benefit of a village); others, for evil (working with the bandits to raid these very villages you once aided – government and authority, as explored in microcosm).  Shades of Ecclesiastes: before heading out on the mission you choose, you can exercise your ego in vainglorious boasting (which somehow earns you extra money and experience, while simultaneously making said mission more difficult).  Should you choose to ‘pray as the heathen do’, so to speak, to your own personal glory among your fellowmen, you’d best have the skills to pay the bills.  Failure to complete such a mission successfully will lower your status with the townspeople, resulting in derision and shame.  Choosing to perform a heroic mission will result in cheers from the crowd, with the ultimate ego boost not far behind - some villagers may decide they look up to you so much as to adopt your own look and demeanor (the fan club, the lure of birthing children).  Deciding on a more nefarious endeavor (or losing face as mentioned above) wins you nothing but taunts and jeers.

This virtual playground, much like those outside your self-imposed exile in a personalized four–walled “safe zone”, is interactive.  You’ll soon discover that you may not be the only hero in the land, the only kid on the block, the only game in town.  Other would-be heroes (whether fellow physical presences journeying into the virtual wastelands alongside yourself, or the virtually generated sort) may well take part in the very mission that so caught your eye and inflamed your spirit.  So if you don’t complete that mission before your rivals do, you lose out on the fame and fortune (a metaphor for the singles scene, if there ever was one).

Much as in real life, you acquire new skills by learning from others.  Fable offers you the chance to learn such important life abilities as rude gestures and belching (no, I’m not kidding).  Once mastered, you can perform these necessities at any point in the game by assigning them to your D-pad.

Magic(k), to paraphrase Crowley, is the art (or science) of causing change to occur in conformity to (the application of) will.   In acknowledgment of this axiom, the designers of the Fable “idea space” paradigm have labeled the acquisition and use of magic(k) as that of “Will”.   In a moralistic nod of the hat to Dorian Grey, each usage of “Will” results in the instantaneous aging of your character (the degree of aging relative to the “strength” of the spell in question).  Should the intrepid dare to do so, there will be over 20 such applications of “Will” available for usage in the course of the Fable experience.

More applications of incidental details in the interest of approximating “realism”: a scar received during combat may become permanent (or longstanding) depending on the severity of the wound.  Clothes contribute to and influence others’ perception of you.  Even something so basic as the time of day can affect your character’s appearance: venturing out during the daylight hours may result in a healthy golden glow, while restricting your activities to the moonlit shade will leave you with that pasty gothic look.

On the flipside of all this neo-realism, the ironically named “real-time combat” is performed not with sweat, blood, and sore knuckles, but at the mere push of a button.   That single button can also (quite magically, it seems) effect a variety of moves, depending on the number of times you press it or how hard - no training, effort, skill or bruising involved.

One amusing application of the hominid-as-distinguished-by-his-capacity-to-make-tools evolutionary theorem is how Fable allows literally anything and everything to be forged into a weapon.  Just a visit or two to your local blacksmith for an upgrade, and you may have yourself the world’s deadliest frying pan.  Makes you wonder what could be done with a cigarette lighter…

Up to four people will be able to take part in the world of Fable.  That said only one person gets to play hero - all other players get stuck as the sidekicks.  But before your little circle of friends turns heel and runs, dangle this American-style carrot in front of their noses: with a touch of a button (and some “hard work and ingenuity”, as the fable goes), these roles can be reversed, and the underdog can come up on top (and the guy in the mailroom can become CEO, and you can build yourself a tower to the heavens from nothing at all, and all those other myths and lures of the American Oneiric).  The reality of the situation (as most intelligent persons know all too well) is rather more cynical, of course: players can’t actually achieve such lofty goals and dreams, but they can import their own character from their own Fable game (yes! Another marketing triumph! Why sell one game to share, when you can sell four, by creating a little competition?).  Which, with a little spin doctoring, can sound like the same thing to the unwashed masses that never learned the fine art of reading between the lines.

Fable is expected to be released on the Xbox early next year.   These philosophical musings on the absurdity of vicarious existence through virtual reality are yours to mull over, till then.

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