Fable is an interesting subject, because it’s a series that is both beloved and revered at the same time. Part of that is, of course, Peter Molyneux’s fault, because he’s had a knack for making extravagant promises and then failing to deliver on such things, but there’s surely more to it than that, right? Regardless of why opinions are so mixed, there’s no denying that they are, and that Microsoft’s most notable RPG franchise hasn’t been a complete slam dunk since it first landed on the original Xbox console.
This week, we sat down with Fable Legends at E3 2014 and went hands-on with the series’ in-development Xbox One debut, so as to get an idea of what to expect from it. Unfortunately, though, while the five-player multiplayer demo was relaxing and mildly entertaining, it really didn’t do very much for us.
As a fan of the core franchise, and someone who enjoyed parts of Fable: The Journey, despite its simplicity and occasionally frustrating control issues, I had been hoping that its first next-gen outing would go back to basics. That didn’t end up being the case, though, as Lionhead Studios decided against going back to a traditional RPG format with this instalment, and is instead working on something that mixes the genre’s more basic characteristics with aspects from tower defense titles. Those things are then rolled up into one pretty pedestrian, multiplayer-focused package, which will likely release to underwhelming reviews.
I feel bad saying this about a game that people obviously put a lot of effort into making and one that they surely care about deeply, but Fable Legends just isn’t Fable. Lionhead needs to focus on what made its work so popular, and should look to improve those core facets, instead of trying to over-innovate. Their dedication is appreciated, and so are their creative thoughts, but change isn’t always a good thing.
That’s not to say that the partial quest that we got to play through was boring, or terrible, because that isn’t true. It was simply underwhelming and didn’t do anything to blow us away.
Things were set up in a way that allowed myself and three others to sit along one bank of TVs, while another player positioned himself on a comfortable couch at the other side of the room. We were the good guys — strong and magical warriors who could hack, slash, roll, shoot and freeze our foes — and he was the uber baddie. In this context, that term refers to someone who sees an overview of the battlefield, and gets to both deploy traps and unleash minions, in an attempt to kill us.
He was unsuccessful.
Most of our fifteen minutes of game time was spent working together towards a common cause. We used our character’s strengths to kill enemies, while making sure to hide his weaknesses, and let other players do the same. When that didn’t work so well and heroes started to fall, it was then up to us to stay alive and revive our peers. It’s a pretty familiar design, which doesn’t really think outside of the box and suffers as a result.
In conclusion, Fable Legends feels like a dated and uninspired game running on new hardware. I feel horrible saying that, but it’s true, and I’d be lying if I said otherwise. It’s unfortunate and disappointing to say the least, and I can only hope that I’ll end up being proven wrong.