Preview: Fable: The Journey
Fable is one of the big Xbox franchises that no doubt everyone has played, myself included, in fact I’ve been a fan of the whole series. Thats right even Peter Molyneux, with his insistence on making huge promises on each sequel before almost immediately stating just how naff they were compared to the next in the pipeline, couldn’t turn me away from such a great set of games full to the brim with character, british humour and amazingly addictive gameplay. Fable 3 was easily one of the most controversial in the series with a lot of fans disappointed by how stripped back it felt but for me it was one of best games in the series with such a huge single player experience, yes the fighting system was simplified and certain elements were removed but for me it felt like an all round better experience.
After Fable 3 however things changed, Molyneux departed Lionhead Studios in search of new horizons leaving a lot of questions unanswered along with Milo, Lionheads big Kinect game, left on the shelf. A short while after all of this upheaval Fable: The Journey was announced as the next big game in the series, but this time it was to be an on-the-rails Kinect shooter… I know, I know, images of a steampunk Time Crisis flashed before my eyes along with some awful controls and I shuddered at the thought.
Fear not however, as after a really quiet period from Lionhead, I was lucky enough to have some serious hands on time with The Journey and I can confirm, it’s amazing. It seems regardless of Molyneuxs departure, Fable has retained everything we know and love with its British edged humour, classic comic book visual style and epic quest to find a new hero of the fates.
The Journey starts off introducing you to Gabriel, a young lad who lives with a tribe of travellers but often has trouble dealing with his responsibilities, normally because 40-winks seems much more attractive than work. It’s during Gabriels much loved sleep that all his problems begin as he wakes up in the middle of a storm miles from his tribe. After this short introduction the reins are handed over, literally.
You’ll immediately notice that yes Fable: the journey can be played sitting down! Rejoice Fable fans as you won’t have to stand up, dancing around like a weirdo to get your Fable fix. Tasked with taking your horse and cart down a stream to catch up with your tribe, you’ll need to learn the basics though, holding the reins is as simple as keeping your arms rested on your legs in a comfortable sitting position then when you need to steer around obstacles simply pull one arm back and push the other forward to lead your horse casually around any curves that come your way and if you need some speed simply lift your arms up and whip down to give your horse some motivation.
This may sound silly but when you’re playing it feels 100% natural and it’s clear that Lionhead have spent a lot of time and care working out a control system that’s easy enough to use while feeling authentic and not robbing you of your dignity in the process. (all other Kinect titles need to take note of the last point) Fighting controls are just as smooth, with spells split between your right and left hands. In the demo I had my right hand was in charge of a basic lighting bolt and my left was a pull/block spell, however this can be switched around depending on your dominant hand preference, when I was ready to attack it was a simple case of holding your hand up to shoulder height for a few seconds before pushing it forward to release the spell.
I was skeptical at first that the aiming and overall execution would be awful but I was completely surprised, I used my index finger as a cross hair and never missed once showing just how impressive the controls were. Within seconds I was ready to start combining spells using my pull/block spell to swipe enemies across the screen before hitting them with a bolt. If any got too close I simply held my block arm across my chest to counter their attack.
With controls that felt so smooth, Lionhead have clearly done a great job, but I wondered just how daunting a task it must have been for them to take up. Luckily I managed to grab a few moments with Jennifer Clixby, Producer at Lionhead Studios who has had some serious involvement with every title of the Fable series, to hear what she thought about the series new direction.
At first designing a Kinect based Fable title was daunting, luckily half the team had been working on Milo, so we already had our heads around the technology and we were just focused on making a game that felt natural. For example, there is fighting but the idea of using a sword was cumbersome, I mean you’re not really holding a sword, but casting spells with your hands, it felt right, you can imagine building it up in your hands [laughs] I just love casting spells. Even transport with the horse and cart, it feels natural to the series and control system. Yes it’s a seated experience as Fable is such a big game standing for hours just wouldn’t be right, so it was a daunting task but I think it feels natural to the series.”
So after my time with Fable: The Journey, I have a lot of faith in just where the series is heading and it’s definitely made my list of must have titles!
The demo is available now so give it a crack, if you’re in love with the series like me, you’ll probably lay your notes down to get it on October 12th.