Chasing the chicken, for old time’s sake

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the first Fable. Like many who played it the first time around, Lionhead’s fantasy RPG has always held a special place in my heart. I loved the idea that your interactions with the world around you could affect your character’s quests and their physical appearance (good characters received a “holy glow,” while bad players would sprout demonic horns) gave the sensation that your choices actually carried some weight—a rarity back then.

The combat was deeply satisfying, and finding the balance between Strength (melee), Skill (ranged), and Will (magic) to fit your playstyle delivered an instant gratification you rarely see in RPGs even today. Plus, the game featured a charming story that may not have been all that original (boy’s parents are murdered, boy becomes hero, boy enacts vengeance on those who wronged him…kind of like Batman), but it was still entertaining, especially since it was garnished with some classic British humor.

So, even though it didn’t redefine the genre (no matter what Peter Molyneux may say) and has been surpassed many times over at this point, Fable still remained a personal favorite of mine. It didn’t do anything spectacularly, but everything it did back in 2004, it did well. But I must admit after all this time that my memory may have been looking at things through Briar Rose–colored glasses.

Fable Anniversary builds off the content of the expanded 2005 re-release, Fable: The Lost Chapters on the original Xbox, providing a much-needed facelift by updating every asset with Xbox 360-caliber graphics. Along with this, Achievements have been added, and a brand-new user interface has been integrated into the game, one that not only allows players to save wherever they want, but also makes navigating store and inventory menus far easier. There’s even some interesting loading screens depicting an ever-growing map of Albion as you explore.

Besides the look, however, Fable Anniversary fails to offer anything new to the game. That’s not to say the game doesn’t benefit from the graphical update, but seeing Fable’s roots—especially with Legends on the horizon and Fable II, III, and Journey all in the rear-view mirror—makes Anniversary reek of a cash-in on the admitted nostalgia gamers like myself feel toward older franchises.

I’m here to warn you that time hasn’t been kind to this one. Compared to everything that’s come since then—even within the Fable series itself, let alone other RPGs—these roots seem shockingly bare. The stark realization that things aren’t as good as you may remember could leave a decidedly sour taste in your mouth. It left me quite sad, actually.

In one way, it’s an interesting exercise in seeing how far the industry has come. Now, you can choose to be a female protagonist in many RPGs. You still can’t make that choice in this Fable, nor can you customize your character to any reasonable extent. If the developers were going to take the time to update the entire look of the game, couldn’t they have afforded a few more in-depth customization options?

And would it have killed Lionhead to add a couple of extra missions and lengthen the game a little bit? Couldn’t they offer players an experience a little different from the one we had back in 2005? My Xbox 360 still plays Fable: The Lost Chapters (remember when systems had backward compatibility?), so there’s really very little incentive for me to go out and buy a whole new game—even with a $39.99 budget price—unless I’m an Achievement hunter or an OCD collector.

Anniversary lacks many of the features we’ve come to expect in modern RPGs, and the passage of time has dulled the punch of those few that the game did tout. The only value now lies in showing players who came to the franchise late the beginnings of this ongoing tale. It still works from a technical point of view, but only the combat remains rewarding—the one element not ravaged by time over these past 10 years.

What hurts Anniversary most of all, though, is coming to the realization that when Fable first came out, it was very good, even if it really didn’t break new ground. Now, it’s borderline irrelevant, since so little work has been done on this re-release to make the experience stand with contemporary RPGs. It was depressing to trudge through an Albion that looked so very different to me, not only due to the new graphics, but because of my sweet memories being shattered and replaced by a harsher reality. The tagline for Fable used to be “For every choice, a consequence.” Well, the consequence of Fable Anniversary is one disappointed reviewer—and the newfound understanding that, sometimes, it’s better to just leave your memories in the past.

Developer: Lionhead Studios • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.04.14
Fable still has some charming elements that have stood the test of time and survive in Fable Anniversary. But most of the game shows its age, so if you played Fable or Fable: The Lost Chapters the first time around, there’s little here to bring you back for more.
The Good Friendlier user interface and a graphical facelift; combat system holds up.
The Bad Everything else is starting to show its age.
The Ugly How entertaining I thought the fart feature once was.
Fable Anniversary is a Xbox 360 exclusive.