Published on April 30th, 2012 | by Ben Gray


Review: Fable Heroes

Review: Fable Heroes Ben Gray
Art Direction

Summary: Lionhead has taken a bizarre direction with the next game in the Fable franchise, but will their experimentation and dive into a more casual games market be a worthwhile effort?


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Lionhead’s direction with the Fable franchise has come as a nerving surprise for many fans, fearing that the experiments being taken with the series (not to mention Molyneux’s departure from the studio upon the completion of The Journey) will destroy what they loved most about the fantasy world and characters they have come to love. Their latest venture, Heroes, targets a family, albeit casual demographic (yet some may argue that the Fable games were casual role-playing titles in themselves), but the developers have assured that this will not define Fable’s future. Despite these reassurances, Heroes is a game that very much carries the Fable prefix, and is still worth paying attention to regardless. The cartoonist visuals and puppet-show environments certainly let us view Albion in a different light; as if each town was condensed down and the world itself was mere in comparison to that of the trilogy, which takes a much bigger scope than seen in Heroes. Whilst the art style breathes life into the setting and appeals to the family-centric gameplay, some areas seem lazy or slightly ugly – take for instance, the stripe pattern in the sky, that deteriorates what is a fitting backdrop to the hills and villages, and makes it murky and stale. However, this and some occasional plain textures do not detract massively from the setting, as the centre of attention is hardly ever what occurs in the distance; it’s the puppet characters and immediate play area that proves most captivating to the players, which becomes increasingly evident having played the previous two games – Heroes acts as a homage to the franchise’s past.

The various characters playable will be instantly recognizable for those who have played the second and third instalments; characters such as Hammer and Reaver make appearances alongside several others, and these marionettes won’t be the only aspects of previous games fans will be accustomed with. Locations from all across the world of Albion appear in set-like form such as Bowerstone, Millfields and Mistpeak – even landmarks from these settings serve as backdrops to the action. Enemies from past games are present, and even behave in similar fashions; the Balverines will still charge, and jump behind you once attacked. The ways in which Heroes acts as a reflection or even, through certain eyes, a chance to revisit those titles in a refreshing take is clever and invaluable. The multiplayer aspects that the game centres around are well-implemented, offering both offline and online play, and bots for those of us lacking friends, as well as drop-in drop-out functionality, which is always convenient. Hardcore players, who are seeking a brawler with a plethora of combo attacks and deep gameplay mechanics, are in the wrong place. As I mentioned earlier, Heroes is very much a casual game (as if the visual style did not give that away already), yet its focus on playing as a group and its simplistic button-bashing combat makes it feel inspired by the XBLA classic Castle Crashers – yet that was a much gorier, comical game in contrast. Your choice of offense doesn’t extend past a light, strong and special attack, and you’d be surprised if you used all three regularly. It’s all hack and slash; most foes will go down in several hits, barrels and crates are dotted around waiting to be destroyed. Whilst perhaps the implementation of a combo system would have been preferable, one must not forget the target audience for the game. The camera that follows you around is usually reliable, yet sometimes can get a little too close to the action, finding yourself with nothing but a screen of sand furries. Continuing with the Castle Crashers similarities, Heroes places a heavy emphasis on loot, booty, swag, whatever you may refer to it as, and you’ll find yourself breaking every last barrel to get every last coin. It can become quite tiresome, and will no doubt induce some anger online when one’s well-earned cash has been nabbed by their fellow players, but does not go too far to waste – said money can be spent on an abilities board where you earn dice throws through the amount of money earned in a level, to navigate around a board and use it to earn abilities dependant on which tile you land on. Some abilities seem wasteful and moreso placeholders (a bigger sword? Facial expressions?) yet this gimmick once again ties in well with the themes, and you can’t blame the developers for trying something other than straight-up menus. Luckily, abilities are saved onto each character, meaning once you have achieved everything on one, you can move onto the next (which you have likely also been upgrading but not to a massive degree) and work your way through. Sadly, unless you don’t mind it, Fable Heroes suffers a similar problem to Brink. The game has, at most, seven or so levels, and that’s including the Credits “level”. These levels are essentially recycled in an alternate realm known as Dark Albion, and all that does it make the levels look grim and perhaps change a few enemy encounters. Maxing out the abilities of each character will require many run-throughs of these same levels, and most take a linear path, so unless players enjoy the game enough to commit themselves to this feat, Heroes will be a short-lived experience. Replay value doesn’t just come in this form however, aside from the thirty achievements on offer, the climax of each level offers players a choice between a traditional boss fight (which, once again, are mostly re-skinned each time) and a minigame or survival, which allows for some friendly competition. Still, I didn’t think that would be enough to grip players for more than the first two playthroughs.

Through all its charm and fun, sometimes I feel as if Lionhead purely want to use Heroes as a marketing tool for their upcoming Kinect instalment for Fable, The Journey. Gold earned in Heroes can be transferred over to The Journey, and characters in Heroes can only be unlocked by playing The Journey. It seems that it would have been more appropriate for Heroes to release alongside The Journey in September, instead of the game feeling somewhat incomplete now. Given that extra time, not only would it have made sense, it would have perhaps given them more time to flesh out the game and create more levels instead of “instagram-ing” others. Fable Heroes is a charming, and versatile entry in the franchise that fulfils its aim to reach a more casual audience and an experience to be shared by others, but that experience is short lived and will become repetitive in due course. Whilst many of the game’s gimmicks contribute to its themes and joyous approach, some feel like wasting space. In the end, this is a game which will tilt the opinion scales, and despite its clear problems, it donated enough enjoyment into my playtime to justify its price tag, but not enough to devote endless hours to it.

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