Preview Fable Legends Preview + New Screens

Rocky Jul 14, 2014

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    Rocky Guest

    In some ways, Fable Legends feels more true to Fable than any previous Fable game since the original. Freed of Peter Molyneux's overpowering genius, Lionhead seems able to luxuriate in the fantasy it has put together over the course of five games, dwelling on the playful, swashbuckling aspects of the fiction rather than those grumpy old hobbyhorses, "moral choice" and "emotional interaction".

    The cast has benefited from this the most. Legends is set in Albion's age of heroes, a simpler and more savage time in which charismatic adventurers were ten a penny - with a few hundred goblins thrown in free of charge. Rather than a single, utterly protean character, able to swing from one ethical pole to the other, you'll choose from a selection of preset personalities who are basically RPG classes (in addition to a currently anonymous Villain character who takes top-down command of the enemy forces in multiplayer).


    Gruff Yorkshire lass Inga is a no-nonsense tank, equipped with an AI-maddening taunt and the ability to throw up a dome of magic to protect the party against arrows and explosives. The foppish Sterling, meanwhile, is all about damage and disruption - his short-ranged dagger volleys and delightfully theatrical wrist-flick of a stun move are good for softening targets up while allies move in. Characters are customisable - hair colour and outfit can be altered, abilities acquired and weapons replaced or upgraded - but not, it seems, to the same extent as in the numbered Fables. Most pressingly, heroes no longer have the option of becoming evil, though certain of the decisions you'll make while following each character's plotline may be more self-interested than others. Sleeping with the barmaid at Brightlodge? That qualifies.

    This is a bit of a departure, obviously, and many Fable fans have taken umbrage. I think the ire is misplaced. If the class-based approach offered by Legends is a "betrayal", it feels like the well-meaning kind of betrayal championed by Gears of War guru Rod Fergusson, the sort of creative departure that gently nudges a long-running franchise and its fans out of their comfort zones.

    Besides, playing down the idea of an entirely player-created character means that Lionhead can play up another of Fable's historic strengths - gorgeous visual design. If the heroes of Legends are served up to us on a platter, this at least means that each hero is a hand-tailored, subtle accentuated creation rather than the usual user-generated abomination, made up of violent hair dye and clashing accessories. I've already fallen in love with Winter, a tattooed sorceress in tribal regalia who leaves a trail of icy footprints. A set of figurines doesn't seem out of the question, though I'm not sure my girlfriend would see the point of this.


    The use of rigid character presets also, of course, pays into the game's asymmetrical team-based co-op, where four heroes try to reach the end of a map a Villain character (AI or player-controlled) has filled with explosive traps, pop-up barriers and a variety of evil creatures. The characters we've gotten to grips with seem to compliment each other nicely, and the Villain's various powers are intelligently balanced, though the execution isn't, right now, as captivating as that of Turtle Rock's similarly structured Evolve.

    During the OXM team's most recent hands-on at last week's community event, a valiant Aoife stampeded into plumes of magical mist while I tried to fend off ogres and leaping satyr creatures. Sterling, it turns out, is very squishy. Abilities chime together in logical ways - Winter can freeze a large enemy, allowing Inga to shatter it with a shield bash - and teams that refuse to coordinate generally don't last long. There's the makings here of a really gripping co-op dungeon crawler, garnished with lovely Unreal-powered lighting and environmental props.

    I'm not sold on everything, however. Above all else, I'm dismayed by the apparent loss of Fable's open world. Pending further info from Lionhead, Legends appears to be a series of (generous) multiplayer maps arranged around one or more hub areas: once you choose a quest, you'll be warped to the location on setting foot out the door. This might be less aggravating if Legends weren't being billed as a chapter from Albion's Dark Ages - set hundreds of years prior to Fable 3's industrial revolution, when towns stood alone against a vast, colourful wilderness.


    "We want to take you back to a time when Albion was young and full of magic," lead content designer Ben Brooks observed in a blog from January. "To a world that's dangerous, wild and ripe for adventure." Sounds excellent - but is adventuring really possible, when areas are linked by loading screens rather than actual geography? And what if all the people I'm playing with are random Xbox Live idiots or braindead AI? Won't that spoil the ambience somewhat? While we're chatting, won't series fans get bored of the combat eventually? There's talk of mini-games within Legends and you can look forward to sidequests, but it's hard to imagine these making up for the absence of a full-blown overworld, littered with trinkets and threats.

    Which is why I'd be tickled pink if Lionhead came to E3 next year with a brand new "proper" Fable, if not a brand new IP. Legends feels more like a brilliant, sociable side-story than the primordial epic suggested by the premise, a beautiful experiment that will surely feed back into the numbered series. Hopefully, the developer will announce something that convinces me otherwise in the months to come.

    Source - OXM

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