Fable Heroes is a spinoff of Microsoft and Lionhead‘s popular Xbox fantasy role-playing series, but the connection is loose at best. Several locations and enemy types in this come from the three original games, but unlike those, there is no sweeping narrative, or good vs. evil morality choices to shape your character. What is here is an extremely basic multiplayer brawler of sorts, and unfortunately, it’s not an engaging or enjoyable one.
As mentioned, there is no story of any kind. You pick from among a group of cutesy living dolls, who, despite cosmetic differences, boil down to either using melee weapons or projectiles in battle. After that, you’re thrown onto the map to pick a level. Immediately, a lack of personality and charm will become apparent. The doll and enemy designs are bland and generic, there is no spoken dialogue, and while some of the environments look relatively nice, elements too often blend together while fighting. Regardless of whether you play the game solo or with friends, you’ll have 3 companions with you at all times. As a result, it can be difficult to keep track of your character during hectic battles. That is, unless you select to have a number shown above its head.
The multiplayer supports up to four players, either online or locally. One thing that the game can be commended for is that the drop-in and drop-out system works without any hitches. Players can take over one of the CPU characters by joining a game quickly. Unfortunately, multiplayer still doesn’t add anything special to the game. You’re still just walking forward, bashing some objects and enemies, and continuing on for the rest of the campaign.
The combat that makes up the bulk of the gameplay feels stock, routine, and bland. You have three moves: a light attack, a slower heavy attack, and a super-strong attack that partially drains your health, making it a last resort in a way. However, there are no special moves or combos that you can master, and the difference in the amount of damage the two normal attacks do seems small. It doesn’t help that enemies are a cakewalk. Outside of the occasional boss, they repeat the same standard attacks over and over, and the game’s only way to spice things up is throwing more of them at you at once. Even the bosses are very simple and pattern-based, with life bars that are frustratingly slow to drain despite the lack of challenge.
You collect coins from enemies and smashed background objects as you progress, and these can be used to upgrade your character, but in a very unorthodox way. At the end of each level, all four players end up standing on a giant board game, each getting to roll a virtual die with the push of a button. Whatever space they land on offers different types of rewards and unlockables. While Lionhead was probably just trying to make standard upgrade mechanics a little more interesting, the final result is a system that doesn’t let you upgrade your character the way you want to. Because the categories are selected by chance, you can be forced to choose from items you have no interest in. A traditional upgrade menu would have worked much better.
Various items come into play in the form of treasure chests, which are scattered throughout each level. Some will benefit the player who opens it by supplying extra coins or slowing enemies down, while others have negative effects, such as sapping coins from that player’s purse. These generally don’t have a noticeable effect on the main gameplay mechanics. They might give you slight advantages in battle, but things are already so easy that they feel pointless and insignificant.
One of the other only notable features is that each level contains a branching path, which will typically lead to a boss or a unique minigame, such as riding mine carts or avoiding exploding chickens. These minigames feel like half-baked rejects from something like Mario Party, and while they were probably added to inject some much-needed variety, they just aren’t engaging or fun to play.
Fable Heroes feels unneeded on every level. Its monotonous gameplay and cutesy style will turn away older gamers who like the original games, and kids who play it will probably still become bored by the lack of any sort of challenge or variety. Everything about it feels misguided and dull. Considering the pedigree the games in the main series have, this feels like a serious misstep, and hopefully future entries can regain the momentum for this now-tarnished franchise.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.