I have always been a big fan of the Fable series. In fact, up until Oblivion was released, I thought Fable was the only real RPG worth playing. I have poured hundreds of hours into the series and enjoyed ever minute of it. One of the things that I really liked about the series was the XBLA title, Fable Pub Games – a series of highly addictive mini-games that came out a few months before the realise of Fable 2, but that actually influenced and had some impact on your life in Fable 2. The tie-in was great – the more you played the better off you would be financially when the full game came out.
Just like with Fable Pub Games, Lionhead Studios and Microsoft have given us something to get excited about with the forthcoming release of it’s fifth title in the Fable series, Fable: The Journey (ETA August 2012), with this month’s release of Fable Heroes on the Xbox Live Arcade – an action arcade title that will again help you earn gold to give you that little kick-start at the beginning of your new full-sized Fable adventure when Fable: The Journey is released.
Fable Heroes takes you back to the world of Albion in the form of cartoon-like a hack & slash platformer game. With all the familiarities of the Mistpeak, Bowerstone and other cities and locations seen in previous Fable games, along with the Heroes and Villains of the Fable franchise that we know and love, you are immersed into a vibrate and stylised world that is a caricature of the Fable world.
Fable Heroes is nothing like the previous Fable Pub Games in practice, only in concept. In Fable Heroes, the world is a puppet and cartoon version of Albion in which you run around fighting all the baddies previously known to haunt Albion – such as Balverines and Hobbes – on a 2.5 dimensional plane. There is no real purpose or story attached to the game, just hack your way through each level, collect gold and set yourself up financially for Fable: The Journey.
The Heroes puppets are all characters from previous Fable games – with the addition of an unlockable from the upcoming Fable: The Journey. At the start of the game you are restricted by who you can play with, however as you progress through the game you will unlock new puppets.
Each player has a Hero-specific weapon including both ranged and close combat weapons. Each puppet is also enabled with two primary attack modes, as well as a third power-draining super move. As you battle your way though the level, you earn xp of sort, which increases your multiplier, resulting in more gold for your kills.
I didn’t find there to be any real skill involved in this game, however it still had a way of making you want to play more. Essentially, you can get away with button mashing. Finding the balance between killing and gold-collecting was really the main challenge and even then not really difficult to do both. The variety of foes was location-specific and kept the game interesting enough.
At the end of each level, you must choose one of two paths, which was often a choice between one path leading to a boss-fight and the other to fun a mini-game. The mini-games are pretty fun and in true Fable style several involve kicking chickens.
One feature the game includes is the ability to beef up the difficulty – by making the enemies only slightly more difficulty and starting each level with less health. Even with this, the game was still quite straight forward and didn’t require too much effort. I think from this end, it will make it a lot more accessible to younger gamers.
Probably the best part of the game for me was the Monopoly style Abilities Board that you get to play in at the completion of each game. Depending on how much gold you earn in a level you will unlock a certain level of dice. When you go into the Abilities Board, you roll dice and travel around a game board in which the various tiles have different upgrades available for your player – enhancing their skills and abilities. This applies to all puppets that play each level.
Additionally, there is an inner layer to the Abilities Board that unlocks for fully levelled up a character and in which the tiles only become available when you reach certain landmarks in the game and unlock achievements. The inner circle gives you even better Hero enhancements, however they are only useful for the next level that puppet plays, leaving an ongoing need for fully level Heroes to keep playing. It kept the game interesting and definitely kept me playing level after level to earn more coin and more dice to level my little dudes up.
A great little feature is the ability to play with modifiers – such as big heads or no HUD or even playing with heads that explode when you collect heaps of gold. This adds some excitement to the limited number of levels and gives them a fresh look. I also found the no HUD leave you a little bit more on-edge and is a great modifier for multiplayer games.
On my first play through, I played each level twice – unlocking both end zones for each level and found that I still finished the entire game in under 4 hours. Initially, the happiness I felt over the original and creative final level, The Credits, was zapped thinking – that’s it? Then I realised, by completing the map unlocked Dark Albion, a repetition of all of the levels, however allegedly slightly harder and with night-like enemies instead of the day time enemies. You can switch between Dark Albion and Albion as much as you like once you complete The Credits. It was fun enough, but not overly exciting to play it all through again with the same layout and format, just different baddies.
Fable Heroes also includes online coop play and I think this is where Fable Heroes will gain some returning players. Each time you play, even if it is offline and single player, you still take three other AI Heroes into the game with you. The various online modes allow you to just play your game publicly so that other Xbox live players can jump into your game when they like, or through lobbies that allow you to play games as a group of two to four players.
If achievements are your thing, this is where the extra bit of challenge is added to the game is seen. Things like getting gold medal completion on all levels, pulling manoeuvres such as kicking a goblet into the air and shooting it mid-air or finishing the mini games in certain time frames require a slight bit more skill and dedication. After several hours of game play I found myself essentially achievement hunting and using the achievements to guide what I would do next.
Graphically, this game is simple, but incredibly adorable. Who knew Albion could be so cute? I have always been a fan of the art-style in the Fable series and I have been totally won-over by the adorable big-eyes and cartoonised version of what is a very familiar world to me. Only a few times in online mode did I find any glitches in the graphics, but generally it is a very smooth and visually pleasing ride. The music is uplifting and very suited to the Heroes theme. Likewise the sound effects are polished and well suited, although slightly repetitive.
There have been many comparisons made between Fable Heroes and Little Big Planet and Castle Crashers, however I haven’t played either game to be able to make a call as to how similar they really are. It is a game that younger players will love and older gamers will find themselves wanting to finish just for the sake of it and to put themselves on the front foot in the coins sake for the main game. Fable Heroes is not a game that will change lives, however it is a cute and fun little time waster whilst we keenly wait for the soon to be released Fable: The Journey.