Just before E3, Guilford based Games Company Lionhead Studios made some waves. They announced that a full HD remake of the original Fable called Fable Anniversary is coming to Xbox 360 in time for the holidays. Fans of the long term franchise were delighted by the announcement, including myself.
The Fable franchise is the mainstay staple of Lionhead Studios, and personally, as a fan of the franchise, I have seen it take a lot of criticism over the years, not least for the most recent entries into the series – Fable: The Journey, which was a Kinect exclusive on the rails journey through Albion.
Whilst Fable has never really been seen as a serious RPG franchise for most gamers, it has a relatively dedicated base of fans who enjoy the series for its Monty Python-esque British humour (Accentuated, of course, by casting John Cleese in a main voice role in Fable III playing the Hero or Heroine’s faithful butler Jasper) and the colourful and fun world of Albion, in which the games are set.
Could this mean that Lionhead and indeed Microsoft are taking the future of the franchise seriously? I and its fans can but only hope that is true. The series has always shown glimmers and sparks of promise as a serious RPG franchise, and there are, of course, things that I think could be done to address this. Here are five things that I think would help make the Fable franchise into a serious RPG series contender.
I) A Larger Gaming World
The land of Albion has always felt a little bit small, especially with the loading times of previous titles in the series. Visually, Fable III had a beautiful world. The factories in Bowerstone spewing out smog into the sky, the slightly Dickensian style townhouses and streets of Bowerstone Industrial, the snowy peaks of Mist Peak. It was all really well crafted, but I can’t help but feel that there is so much potential to make it larger and even more open world and streaming. If the Xbox 360 can handle the huge open world of Skyrim, I am quite sure that Lionhead, with newer technologies and Unreal Engine 4, can create a much larger and more open world for the player to explore.
The combat of the series has always been a bone of contention to people, having been simplified with each game. There have been some neat touches, like morphing weapons and dual spell casting, combining the spells to create a more powerful punch to your enemies, however it is very simplistic and not much of a challenge. Making the combat more of a challenge and far more intricate, and feeling like you are in some real peril would certainly peak interest in gamers.
III) The Antagonist
For a lot of fans, the Antagonists of the games have always been one of the biggest problems. The Antagonist of the first game, Jack of Blades, is clearly a fan favourite. There was a real sense of danger with Jack, and a proper battle with him at the end of the game. In Fable II and Fable III there was a distinct lack of a real Antagonist. In II we had Lucien Fairfax, and whilst being a sympathetic bad guy, there was no real huge threat or battle at the end, and in Fable III there was your brother, Logan (Who, as it turned out was manipulated into being a tyrant) and a being known as The Creeper, who just crept in halfway through the game, to pop up at the end with no real build up or character development. Having a proper antagonist would help the gamer feel more attached to the overall experience, and placing a proper, nasty, menacing threat over Albion would really add to the story of Fable IV and indeed future titles. Also, we have a well developed and morally ambiguous character called Reaver (Voiced by the ever delightful Stephen Fry) who seems to go to waste in the titles. Perhaps try utilising him as a real threat to Albion?
IV) The Death System
In Fable and Fable: The Lost Chapters, they had a proper death system, and in Fable II they took that out of it, to replace it with a system whereby if you get knocked out, there is no real punishment barring losing a few XP points. To me, this felt like a cheap way of making the game easier, as did a lot of the fans of the original. Please Lionhead, pop a proper death system back in, so as we feel like there is actually some danger to the game, and actual punishment for losing to your enemies.
V) NPC Interaction
Interaction with the NPC’s of the world has always been a hugely important part of the franchise. Having people like you and be on your side is an important function of the games, to help the player feel more emotionally involved. However, in Fable III, they took out the wheel system of emotions and actions that you could use to make people love or hate you, and replaced it with a really simple, and in my eyes, bad interaction system of shaking and holding hands, and random gestures that you really had no control over. If you want your players to feel emotionally attached to people in the world, to their spouses that they marry, and indeed to the children that they have in game, they need to expand upon the wheel menu from Fable II, and add more personalised emotive moves to interact with people. You can’t feel attached to someone with a simple handshake or by dancing with the, it takes a lot more than that for people to emotionally invest in your characters. So please, vastly improve upon this from Fable III. And those are things that I think would help make the Fable franchise into a more heavyweight contender in the RPG world. I am sure there are more, but to me these seem the most urgent things to address to genuinely involve the players back into the land of Albion.