Fable Anniversary – Review


2014 marks only the 10 year anniversary of the original release of Fable, easily one of the most recognisable franchises in the Xbox pantheon. With over 2 million copies sold, the original Fable helped prove that the Xbox was more than just a home for shooters and third-party ports. To celebrate the occasion, Lionhead Studios have remastered and re-released the game and its pseudo-expansion, The Lost Chapters, under the title “Fable Anniversary”. Though the mechanics may seem slightly dated by today’s tastes, Fable Anniversary is still as charming, witty and enjoyable as Fable ever was.


Re-releases are hard. There is a delicate balance to strike between dogged adherence to the original work and the desire to modernise and streamline dated mechanics. As far as re-releases go, Fable Anniversary is fairly stock standard. Lionhead have avoided altering too much of the core mechanics, instead focusing on making the playing experience as enjoyable as possible. Strong improvements to visual design, control schemes and altering the way saving works all combines together to give a modern polish to an aging title.


Players take control of the Hero, a mute, nameless boy from the village of Oakvale. After his family is murdered by marauding bandits, the Hero is taken by a powerful mage, Maze, for training at The Guild, an academy for heroes. Upon graduation, the Hero is released upon the world of Albion to complete quest cards, requests set by the various inhabitants of the land requiring assistance from a hero. Along the way, the true nature of his family’s demise is revealed, setting into motion a series of events that could drastically scar Albion forever.  As far as core stories for an RPG go, it’s relatively innovative and interesting twist on the traditional quest structure that still stands up today. Though the story is light and the final choice seems completely incongruous with your previous actions, there is still fun to be had enjoying the simplistic tale of a man and his quest.

How good or evil you want to be is entirely in your hands.
How good or evil you want to be is entirely in your hands.


Even today, Fable still shines as an excellent example of what a modern RPG can be. Strong, varied combat, coupled with a rich open world and deep customization options allow for almost every aspect of the game to be somewhat customized to the players liking. The action of the player influences the world around them, as well as altering the stats of their own character. Stealing, murdering and being mean to townsfolk over time will lead to individuals cowering in fear or screaming as you approach, whilst doing good things means the hero is met with cheers and congratulations. As your alignment changes, so too does your appearance. Whilst this is a pretty standard feature in the games of today, this was a relatively unexpected novelty at the initial release. Some additional depth to the system would have helped to add purpose to the mechanic, but purely as a visual motif, it adds some welcomed diversity to the world of Albion over the course of the game.


Lionhead Studios have clearly spent a great deal of time updating the visuals of the title, to great effect. The world maintains the cartoonish nature of the original title, but is much clearer in its vision. From the bright, small village of Oakvale to the Dark, horror-themed Chapel of Skorm, the sheer variety of different visual styles present is impressive. It’s not perfect, as there were a number of issues with lighting and shadows flickering in especially high density areas, but they were rare. The video sequences throughout the title could have used an update, however. Blurry, heavily artifacted remnants of the original Xbox do not belong in a title being released in 2014. The sound design appears to have had little alteration, which is somewhat of a shame. Depending on your individual perspective the soundtrack could appear dated and dull, or classic and fitting. Ultimately, your mileage may vary.


The sheer level of detail crammed into every screen is mind boggling when compared with the original.
The sheer level of detail crammed into every screen is mind boggling when compared with the original.


Customisation is key in Fable Anniversary, with the player able to purchase and change their outfits, weaponry and communication techniques with others on the fly. With well over a dozen types of melee and ranged weapons, as well as a wide variety of armour and clothing types, players can easily customize their Hero to their whims. Unfortunately, this system doesn’t go as deep as one would expect from a title in 2014, leading to a disappointing lack of decision making to be undertaken. Despite both armour and weaponry each having five or six distinct statistics to compare against one another, they are all basically meaningless outside of damage and damage reduction. Heavier armours carry no penalty for use, whilst wearing mage’s robes offers no combat advantage. Similarly, larger weapons carry a much harder punch, but as there is no attack speed changes, meaning there is no reason to use smaller weaponry. This leads to a simple outcome – even though there is a huge breadth of weaponry and armour available to use, there is no incentive to experiment. There are some light visual customisation options available in regards to changing hairstyles, tattoos and facial hair, but these don’t make up for the lack of incentive in the clothing and armour. Once this reveals itself to players, the customisation may as well have not existed.


Combat is relatively breezy at its core, but the potential for variance creates an engaging set of mechanics. Using the X, Y and B buttons in combat respectively, the player can utilise their melee weapons, ranged attacks and magic abilities to dispatch foes. Successfully striking enemies whilst avoiding damage grows a multiplier, which in turn increases the experience rewards being doled out. Experience is awarded across four separate pools: three unique pools for each type of attack, and a generic, catch-all experience which can be used in tandem with any of the other pools. As experience is accrued, it can be cashed in to progress along one of three tech trees: Strength, for melee attacks and health; Skill, for ranged weaponry and speed; and Will, for magic powers.


Creating the ultimate warrior or your dreams sounds good on paper, but the limited customization options hampers your choices.
Creating the ultimate warrior or your dreams sounds good on paper, but the limited customization options hampers your choices.


Levelling up different abilities has a distinct visual effect on the players Hero over time. Heavy increase to Will abilities leads to blue, tattoo-like runes appearing all over the Hero’s body, whilst strength engorges muscle mass. Overall, the experience system is a novel idea and is well implemented for the most part; however, it is not without fault. There is a disappointing lack of depth in the Strength and Skill trees, whilst the Will tree has such variety is can be difficult to know what to focus on. Levelling the wrong spell can be an extremely costly waste of time, leading to difficult combat encounters and frequent deaths. Furthermore, a specific ability on the Skill tree fundamentally breaks the varying in-game economy, one of the most interesting aspects of the title. A strong degree of caution must be undertaken when levelling to ensure the most satisfaction will be gained from Fable Anniversary.


Perhaps the two biggest additions to the gameplay were thanks not to Lionhead’s imaginative abilities, but rather to the modern features available thanks to the Xbox 360. The Achievements in Fable Anniversary are perhaps some of the best since the original Dead Rising, actively encouraging players to seek new and bizarre parts of Albion out for themselves. Not to rest on their laurels, however, Lionhead extended their innovative streak to the way the achievements themselves are doled out. Rather than simply having you achieve a set task regardless of player alignment or play style, many achievements have two, strongly disparate methods of completion. Don’t want to win the chicken kicking competition? Then try your hand at the fighting ring instead and unlock the achievement all the same. It’s a truly forward thinking approach that hopefully more developers will embrace with time. Smartglass functionality has also been added to Fable Anniversary, but sadly, it was not functioning properly during the review process.


Fable Anniversary is a fun retelling of an ageing RPG, complete with some of the creaks and strains that old age brings. The animations aren’t quite crisp enough for modern standards, there are a few too many bugs and there were over a half dozen hard locks encountered during the review process. Still, these few niggles don’t take away from what was once undoubtedly a good-to-great title still being a trifle to play through again a decade later. It’s a fun way for existing fans to replay a game they enjoyed without having to dig their Xbox out of cold storage, whilst new players will be able to appreciate the humour and novelty of the world. Though the combat and RPG mechanics might not be as deep or as rewarding as Fable II, getting back to basics reveals the best parts of Albion: a thriving world, a pervasive sense of dark humour and some solid core mechanics.


Rating: 7/10