Fable Heroes Review
- Fable Heroes
Made2Game Fable Heroes Review Score: 7/10
Format: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Reviewer: Mick Fraser
The majority of Xbox-owning action adventure fans will likely have a soft spot for at least one of Lionhead's Fable titles, whether it's for the last-gen original and its individual take on all our favourite fairytales, the sequel and its decades-spanning tale of revenge or Fable III, that not only asked you to save the kingdom but to rule it afterwards.
It's fair to say that the right honourable Sir Peter Lord Molyneux hasn't always delivered on the promises made during the development cycles of the aforementioned trilogy, but it’s equally fair to say that while we've occasionally felt short-changed, we've never felt deliberately over-charged either. Fable as a franchise has always been a victim if its own ambition, always over-reaching and often falling short – and so it's actually refreshing to see a game bearing the infamous name and logo that’s as knowingly simplified and confidently unpretentious as Fable Heroes.
This the puppet theatre, where you choose between your unlocked characters
It’s a puppet!
The brainchild of Lionhead employees Ted Timmins and Jon Eckersley, this little co-op hack ‘n’ slasher initially struck us as something of a curio, and at first it was almost hard to see the point in it. In fact, it's all incredibly relaxed and jovial. Those who played through the main trilogy will remember the collectible Hero Dolls scattered around the various towns and haunts of the kingdom of Albion, and these cutesy, colourful characters are the stars of Fable Heroes.
There's no story to follow at all, and to begin a game either online or off you simply select your puppet from the available roster and dive into the world map. With levels based on famous Fable locales like Millfields, Bowerstone, Mistpeak and the Hobbe Caves, fans will feel immediately comfortable and catered for in a way that only fan service can manage. The objective in each stage is to kill whatever Fable Heroes throws at you using a combination of standard attacks and flourishes, whilst collecting as many gold coins as possible – it's as pure and simple as that. Levels end either with a straightforward boss fight or a light-hearted minigame like quick-time mine-cart racing or chicken kicking, but essentially Heroes is concerned with collecting lots and lots of gold – and so should you be.
It can occasionally be hard to track your position on the screen. When in doubt, hammer X like a madman
Everything is based around the money you pick up, from your end-of-level rank to how many new abilities you can unlock for your chosen puppet. After each stage your little cotton-sewn fella will be transported into a boardgame, where a roll of the die will land you on squares containing various power-ups and unlocks. Ranging from damage against a certain enemy type and faster attacks, to new puppets or weapons, these abilities are all useful rewards that make a real difference to your efficiency.
As a result, Fable Heroes becomes a hugely competitive cooperative experience, as you'll constantly have one eye on everyone's gold counter, trying to pick up as much as possible to guarantee yourself extra dice rolls on the abilities board. To compound the competition element, Lionhead have placed several pairs of chests throughout the various stages, one of which bestows a blessing upon a random teammate, and the other of which curses them. You may choose to work for the good of the team, or attempt to sabotage someone else's chances to help your own cause.
The abilities board is a nice touch, and an incredibly "Fable" way of doing things
This dynamic also extends to the life/death system. Once all your little hearts are depleted, you'll die and be resurrected as a transparent ghost, unable to collect money. The only way to restore yourself is to nab one of the heart-shaped icons dropped by nasties, but there's a good chance your so-called compatriots will intentionally scupper your chances by collecting it themselves, thus ensuring a bigger cut of the spoils.
Once upon a dime
Although it adds a necessary dash of skulduggery (necessary to Fable Heroes' parent universe as much as to the gameplay itself), there is an element of irritating ninja-like behaviour whereby a lot of players will run around hoovering up the gold while you do all the work. Also, there is an imbalance amongst the puppets themselves. Split into four categories comprising heavy (Hammer) and light (the Hero of Albion) melee attackers, ranged fighters (Reaver or Garth) and hybrids (Jack of Blades), the puppets work well as a team regardless of your choices, but the melee characters almost always get the lion's share of cash because they're standing right where it falls. Obviously their danger is more immediate, which readdresses things slightly, but it can feel as though you're being punished for picking the ranged puppets. It's far easier (and totally unpunished) to simply farm gold in the single player mode, aided by bots that barely bother to pick anything up but are perfectly capable of cutting twinkly swathes through the waves of balverines, Hobbes and sand furies.
If they hadn't included Jack of Blades in the line-up, the fans would have rioted for sure
Slight balancing issues aside, there's not a great deal to criticise in Fable Heroes, purely because of how deliberately simple it is. Unfortunately, that also means there's not much to jump up and down about, either. At times it's hard to understand what kind of position Heroes is aiming for in regards to the franchise as a whole, as its paradoxical not-quite-Fableness shows it up as the tongue-in-cheek "we made it because we could" experiment that it possibly is.
That being said, there's more to like than not. For starters, the visual style is at once wholly Fable and entirely unique; the bright, vibrant colours evoke memories of Dungeon Defenders' twee leanings, but the level design and enemy animations scream Fable throughout, whether in the miniature recreation of Bowerstone City or the seesaw gait of an advancing hollow-man. But the immediate and distinct lack of a dry British voiceover feels glaring; no Zoe Wannamaker or Stephen Fry to make us feel at home, just a theme tune that manages to sound Fable-esque without the haunting heroics of Elfman's trademark score.
A mix of different character-types is hardly essential for success, but why be boring?
A crossover with the upcoming Kinect adventure, Fable: The Journey, necessitates earning and saving money to transfer over, and somewhat unfairly locks two puppets to all those who don't own Microsoft's hit and miss movement-tracker. That being said, the omission of certain characters like Twinblade, King Logan and Scarlet Robe hints at potential DLC – and there's certainly room for it as it's possible to sample every level and minigame in under 4 hours (including the "Dark Albion" levels unlocked by beating every stage once). Obviously that's not the point of a co-op hack ‘n’ slash adventure, but it's fair to say that although having so many unlockable abilities ensures replays, there isn't a huge amount of content to replay.
In closing, Fable Heroes is both Fable and not Fable all at once. There's a distinction in the visuals, a certain charm to the animation and enough nods to the series to guarantee you never forget which universe you're in (particularly during the rather brilliant playable Credits stage), but in terms of core gameplay it's as far from Lionhead's regional-accented fantasy hero-sim as you can get without involving guns and robots. While the Challenging difficulty mode makes for a more balanced co-op mode, the Family setting ensures that even a blind, one-armed monkey is able to complete the game and, as a result, this is an obvious recommendation for anyone looking for a little light multiplayer action. However, Fable Heroes is harder to prescribe to lovers of everything that makes Fable, well, Fable. Approach by all means, Lionhead fans, but do so with some caution.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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