After its release in 2004, I quickly developed a love/hate relationship with Lionhead Studios’ ambitious action-RPG. On the one hand I loved its charming presentation but hated that many of Peter Molyneux’s promises fell short–stupid acorns. Fast-forward 10 years, two sequels and a pair of spin-offs later and while much has changed with the updated Fable Anniversary, a handful of noticeable problems remain intact.
Fable is a simple and recognizable heroic tale at heart – you transition from a young boy to famed warrior, leaving your impression on the land of Albion, and eventually avenging your family – but the lovely art, silly British humor and whimsical good and evil mechanic makes it a much more endearing experience. The game’s narrative may not be the most interesting out there, but what made it stand out amongst every other RPG was the level of character development and customization that was unheard of at the time. From altering your hairstyle or your clothes, covering your body with tattoos, or assisting the townsfolk or benefiting from their misfortune–the choice is yours.
Now rendered by the Unreal Engine 3, Fable Anniversary looks leagues better than the original Xbox version with beautiful new textures, updated character models and lighting effects. But this fresh coat of visual paint can’t mask that the game’s improvements were slapped on top of the original code. Even after downloading the required patch you’ll run into a bevy of weird graphical abnormalities. Hair and shadows shift back and forth between two different frames of animation, character’s mouth movements are not in sync with their words, there is a copious amount of texture pop-in and characters sometimes float or appear wildly out of frame during cutscenes. These are obviously issues that should have been ironed out, especially since this is a ramped up version of a 10 year old game based on 8 year old hardware.
But don’t be fooled by the visual polish as the rhythmic, yet clumsy combat composed of melee, ranged, and magic attacks – save for a few minor control tweaks – works exactly as it did nearly a decade ago. You can switch between the original’s control scheme and the more recent layout from Fable 2 and 3, but both feel ill-equipped for the challenges at hand as they can’t accommodate the game’s more expansive magic selection. An assortment of three spells can be equipped at any time, with each one mapped to a face button under the original scheme but under the new scheme, one button is assigned for magic use and another for cycling through the three spells, making switching between two different spells consecutively almost impossible during intense combat. This is, however, a relatively small complaint compared to the targeting, which remains hugely frustrating.
But while Fable Anniversary occasionally stumbles it also manages to alleviate some of the headaches found in the original by adding some very welcome new features like a newly designed interface that streamlines many of the menus and UI issues. Expanding upon the main quest, you’ll get The Lost Chapters, Achievements, and SmartGlass support, which gives you real-time map updates, as well as the location of treasure chests, Demon Doors, character bios and other important information that is integrated with Prima’s official strategy guide. Most importantly, a complete overhaul of the save system adds checkpoints and the ability to actually save during quests–something that was surprisingly absent from the original Fable.
Even if some of its mechanics haven’t held up over the years, the upgraded graphics, coherent interface and a more merciful save system makes Fable Anniversary a decent update to one of the gems in the original Xbox’s library.