Developer: Lionhead Studios / Publisher: Microsoft Studios / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MSP ($10) / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Fantasy Violence]
When thinking of the Fable series a few elements come to mind: your actions having a great impact on the story; a beautiful, changing world for you to explore and live in; and a satisfying feeling once you’ve completed your epic journey. Unfortunately these features are noticeably absent from Fable Heroes, a spinoff hack-and-slash downloadable title for the Xbox 360.
What Fable Heroes does offer is an accessible multiplayer driven experience that any gamer can pick up and play.
Fable Heroes is a side-scrolling beat-em up much in the vein of 2008’s Xbox Live Arcade brawler Castle Crashers, but all comparisons to the two games stops there, as Fable Heroes takes a much different approach to gameplay. At the start of each game you choose a distinct persona from the Fable universe to play (such as Reaver, Hammer, Garth, and eventually the likes of Sir Walter and the Jack of Blades).
You always travel with a party of four, so if you are playing by yourself the computer will round out your group of adventurers. Regardless of choice the gameplay handles all the same. Each character has a basic attack, a stronger “flourish” attack, and an area attack to dish out damage to foes. Though there is a bit of variety here, none of the moves feel more devastating than the others. And since the flourish attack takes longer to pull off and the area attack uses a bit of health to perform, you’ll likely be mashing the same button throughout the game.
Speaking of health, you are given a handful of hearts to designate your life total, but once you lose all your life you return to the field as a ghost until you pick up an extra health heart. While in this ghost form you can still attack as you normally could (sans the attack that require health), but you cannot pick up any gold coins that fall from enemies (more on that later).
As you progress through the game you’ll visit your old stomping grounds from past Fable games, such as Bowerstone and The Cloud, all the while fighting familiar enemies like Balverines and Hobbes. In a note borrowed from just about every other action title out there, most scenarios have you clearing out a screen full of enemies before advancing further and repeating. It’s a very basic formula that’s easy to grasp but extremely limited when compared to the intricacies of combat in proper Fable titles.
Each enemy you slay, barrel you break open, and object you smash erupts in a fountain of gold that you can collect. The more gold you gather the more upgrades you can purchase for your character. The upgrade system is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game.
Rather than spend your gold on skills given to you in a list, you are presented with a board game at the end of a stage that you travel across to access each upgrade. Some of the spaces on the game board give bonuses to attack, others to your speed, and some give you upgrades to your weapon. I thought this was a neat way to implement character progression but it relies heavily on luck. I was able to get all upgrade spots fairly quickly with my character, but a friend I was playing with took nearly twice as long because of unlucky dice rolls. Every character has the same upgrades to gain, giving little incentive to play as any other character once you’ve mastered one.
Replay value is something that is sorely missed in Fable Heroes. There is no reason to play the game (which can be finished in under five hours) once you’ve finished the story. The extra characters, even the unlockable ones, do not provide any distinct gameplay variance either.
On top of that, every stage becomes a mad dash for coins and the sometimes frustrating board game upgrade system can be a big downside to some. The game doesn’t feel like Fable: if you take away the locations and characters you’re left with a bland action game that doesn’t include anything that Fable is known for (choice system, character development, story).
At best the game will provide you with a weekend of entertainment, at worst it’ll be something you can complete entirely in one sitting that will leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
A big highlight for the game would have to be the visual presentation. Characters are puppet versions of their former selves, complete with stubby arms and button eyes. Backgrounds and levels are bright, colorful environments that are pretty damn good looking for a downloadable title.
Weather effects like heavy snow in Mistpeak add visual flair to an already good looking game. The cutesy design of the characters and levels contrasts with the violence that is happening on screen much in the same way as the rest of the Fable games. The overall presentation for the game is quite well done and is most enduring aspect of Fable Heroes.
Fable Heroes is at its best when you have company to play with. Up to four players can play together on one screen, and online multiplayer with drop-in/drop-out support means you never have to play alone. Since the game is simple to pick up and play, it is also a good game for the younglings to try their hands at as well, making for a fun family title.
Also worth noting is the computer AIs ineptitude. If they need health they won’t pick it up, if there is gold in front of them they won’t grab it, and if they are lagging behind (and thus holding up the progress of the game), they will casually walk forward. Playing with buddies is how Fable Heroes should be enjoyed.
Fable Heroes is a hard recommendation because it requires very specific tastes. Replay value is a real issue because, well, there really isn’t any. The attacks are varied but there is no reason to use anything other than a basic strike. Level progression is done in a unique way but luck plays a huge role in said advancement.
An overall completion time of around five hours doesn’t help the game either. Only if you’re fanatical about your Fable and you’ve got a group of buddies that want something new for the weekend, then I say give this one a shot.