My only real experience in the past with Lionhead Studios’ Fable franchise was the last iteration – which didn’t really impress me all that much. So it should come as no surprise that when I was presented with the chance to check out a demo of Fable: The Journey during the X-Series holiday preview, I was somewhat skeptical. The demo, though, piqued my curiosity – enough to review the final game; and here I sit, writing about how much fun I had playing it.
Your adventure begins with your character, Gabriel, driving a small cart as an escort for a convoy. Gabriel is a Dweller (a gypsy-like race residing in Albion), and rides at the back of the convoy more due to the fact that he is a daydreaming slowpoke. Fables and legends dance across his imagination, and he wishes more than anything to become a hero. In the distance, a storm is brewing, and Katlan, his mentor of sorts, has to constantly pull his charge back to reality with stern (but kind) words. Gabriel ends up falling asleep (again), and becomes separated when the storm lashes out and destroys a bridge that the convoy has already passed over. Gabriel has to take the long way around, and on his journey he rescues someone that changes his life forever. I have to be clear, though, that the only changes that occure are pre-written into the story – gone are the good/evil choices from previous games.
Fable: The Journey is split into distinct parts: driving, on-rails exploration, camp and spell casting. It does a great job familiarizing the player with each aspect of the game in an immersive way, allowing them to become accustomed to the control scheme at a decent pace. The interface is intuitive (kudos to Lionhead for this), and both the intro and load screens do a good job of reminding the player how to play properly. Fable: The Journey is interesting as a Kinect game because it is played sitting down. I found that my couch was a bit too far away from the television, so I set up a folding chair about 8 feet from the television and had little difficulty after that.
They look harmless – but in great numbers they are a pain in the ascot.
The driving portions of your adventure involve steering and controlling your speed by using “reins”. By holding and moving your arms in certain ways, you can make your horse, Seren, speed up and slow down (trot, canter, gallop). Along the way, there are obstacles to avoid and rewards to collect. Dealing with the obstacles improperly will result in damage to Seren (and eventually death); the rewards are in the form of gems and grant you experience – while challenging your driving skills with interesting placement and requirements for collection (certain colours can only be picked up while driving at a certain speed). I found the driving portion quite fun, and it really allowed me to lose myself in the game; this was aided by the movement, which is almost one-to-one, with very little latency.
Along the way will be various places that allow you to stop. These little “side quests” sometimes present information through conversations with wandering characters; at other times they can lead to treasure chests via a set path which may include enemies to fight. Camps, on the other hand, are stops that allow you to heal, groom, feed and water Seren. You can move about (usually in a circle) and interact with the campsite at various “stations”. Many of the activities in the camp will contribute to your experience; and more often than not, there will be a chest that contains some kind of treasure.
Spell casting can occur during battle or in puzzle-solving scenarios (some doors, for instance, can only be opened using a certain sequence of spells). The spell casting system feels natural and is very smooth. Once you have configured the motions, the spells are simply an extension of you. There are not a lot of them to learn – but they can be used in combination with each other and are very powerful in these combinations. One of my favourite ones is to use one spell to grip your enemy and hurl him into the air while pelting him with magical bolts. Being able to use both hands to cast different spells really makes you, the player, feel very powerful. As with camp and driving, there are opportunities to amass experience points during battles.
The vistas are quite beautiful.
Experience points contribute to your overall level; the higher your level, the more perks you unlock. There are not a lot of decisions to make when it comes to picking what you wish to enhance with your bonus skill credits – however, you have to make choices that are right for you, as it is not possible to choose every single perk. At the very beginning you have the choice between improving your health and improving Seren’s abilities – these choices get tougher to make as you play through the game.
The visuals in Fable: The Journey are simply gorgeous; everything looks like it has been pulled out of a beautifully painted story book. The character and creature animations are well implemented and the lighting is spectacular. It is certainly not the most realistic-looking game in the world – but it doesn’t have to be. Everything is good enough to make you suspend your disbelief and become immersed in the story. Spell effects are colourful and bright and give the impression of other-worldly power. The fact that you are using your movements to control them just makes the experience all the more surreal.
As magnificent as they are, though, the visuals are nothing without the audio. A haunting score and great sound effects are only the beginning of your experience. What really makes the game is the voice acting. Even the bit-parts are voiced really convincingly. The excellent casting and script are two of the reasons that I really fell in love with this game – they are what makes this game an adventure above all else; they more than compensate for some of the repetitiveness of the driving and battle sequences. The story is what drives you through all of the things you may be bored of – just so you can find out what happens next.
The IRS is starting to hire some pretty weird-looking people.
I never set out to like this game at all. I approached the demo with an open mind, though, and I was rewarded with the opportunity to try out the game. It is moments like these that make me feel really lucky to be running this site. I’m sure many people will roll their eyes and refuse to try this game, based on the fact that it might be more geared toward a casual audience – but they will be missing out. Fable: The Journey is a game that makes great use of the Kinect and is entertaining beyond all else – an adventure waiting for you in your living room.