In 2004 Lionhead Studios released Fable, a new type of RPG that it promised would change the genre forever. Fable didn’t quite payoff on that promise, but it did introduce the focus on morality in player choice that many games have since employed.
To celebrate Fable’s 10th anniversary, Lionhead spruced up its visuals and overhauled the game’s user interface to bring it into the HD era. This project resulted in Fable Anniversary, which is the HD version of Fable and The Lost Chapters expansion on the Xbox 360. Considering that Fable Anniversary features the same tale as the original, I will forgo any critiques on its narrative to focus on what is new – the visuals, UI, and the companion app.
First and foremost, the visual upgrade is strikingly clear when compared to the original version that released on the Xbox. It’s easy to see that Lionhead leveraged the power of the Xbox 360 to amplify the visual aspects of Fable Anniversary to a more modern level. Textures are more defined, the lighting is more dynamic, and the clarity is amped up a notch.
Unfortunately, the HD improvements didn’t address other design aspects of the game such as character voice animations during dialogue scenes. Each NPC you interact with may have a new coat of paint, but they still physically behave like an animatronic puppet you’d see in a Chuck E Cheese variety show. This results in Fable Anniversary feeling more like a 2005 Xbox 360 title, than a 2014 entry.
Fable Anniversary’s new user interface on the other hand is a definite improvement, and more in line with a modern RPG of this nature. The screen isn’t nearly as cluttered with icons and pointers as it used to be, and if you really hate a packed HUD, you can get rid of the in-game map to leave just the status indicators of your hero in view.
The UI is even further improved upon once you bring up the in-game menu. Finding your quests is easy, and so is traveling to them thanks to the new arrow indicators and improved map. You’ll need it too, because there’s plenty to do in Albion that doesn’t involve the main quest. In fact, there’s so much to do that earning XP and money is cheapened thanks to the plethora of no name NPC enemies to butcher on your way to each side quest. I also found that getting around the world of Albion to be a much simpler affair thanks to the faster load times after taking a ride in the portal.
One of the only drawbacks of Fable Anniversary’s new UI is that the controls still stink. Lionhead did revamp them to offer a similar setup to Fable 2 and Fable 3, but Fable 1’s use of all sorts of magic makes the new setup nearly unusable if you want to focus on spell casting. To switch spells you must hold RT and then hit the “B” button over and over until you cycle to the spell you want to use. This effectively makes it impossible to quickly and efficiently cast two different spells during the heat of battle. It’s much easier to just pick one spell and focus on it using this control scheme, which takes a bit of the fun out of experimenting with different kill tactics in battle. Although, if you prefer, you can employ the original Fable control scheme to experience the full nostalgic feeling of playing Fable Anniversary ten years after the original.
Regardless of which control scheme you go with don’t expect tight responses to your inputs. Targeting with the LT button is a crapshoot when it comes to which enemy it chooses. I encountered more than a few frustrating moments where my focused attacks would zoom in on a character behind me, when the character I wanted to focus on was standing right in front of my face. This loopy targeting gets even more brutal when you’re in a skirmish with multiple enemy types, some of which need to be dispatched ASAP thanks to their impressive long range attacks. There just doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason as to which enemy target the lock on system will latch on to, which cheapens the battle experience slightly.
Fable Anniversary’s last improvement is the inclusion of a Smart Glass app. When it works it’s one of the more useful Smart Glass game companion apps on the market. It can be used to pull up a detailed map of your immediate vicinity, or the zoomed out world map, so you don’t have to do so in game. Using the Smart Glass app’s map also allows you to click on photos to see what the game looked like back in 2004 while you’re playing the HD version in 2014. The best feature is the inclusion of Prima Strategy tips built into the app itself. If you need to dig up some secret silver keys, or get tips for other hidden items, then all you need to do is consult the Smart Glass app, which will offer tips based on the area your character is in.
The downside to using the Fable Anniversary Smart Glass app is its stability. I tested it on an Android phone, an iPhone, and an iPad, all fairly current models, and each device experienced multiple crashes of the app. It would either crash while using it, not load at all, or refuse to move past the main screen. It’s disappointing that it isn’t more reliable, because in concept Lionhead made a killer, and very useful companion app, but it just doesn’t have the reliability factor to be considered a must use item while playing Fable Anniversary.
Fable Anniversary offers the same great tale as the original, complete with the extended adventure thanks to the inclusion of The Lost Chapters in a shiny new HD package. The visual improvements are a treat even if the animations still feel outdated, and the new UI is much more functional than before. Unfortunately, Fable Anniversary is still plagued by some of the issues from the original, so it will frustrate you at times, especially when it comes to the controls during battles. With that being said Fable Anniversary is still the best way to enjoy Lionhead’s first foray into the Fable franchise, so if you haven’t played it in 10 years, or never at all, this package is by far the best way to return to the original Fable.
Review Statement: The author of this review received a copy of the game for review purposes from the publisher.
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