E3 2013: Fable Anniversary Hands-On

It’s no secret that the original Fable title was a bit of a flawed game. Prior to release its development team, especially project boss Peter Molyneux, over-promised what they swore would be the RPG to end all RPGs, a revolution for the genre - and ultimately, they under-delivered.

For a lot of people, then, the original Fable’s legacy is one of unfulfilled promises - of acorns they claimed you’d be able to witness grow into a tree over the course of the game, and of character growth and development the likes of which we’d never seen before - but put simply, it wasn’t.

Even so, I still remember the game fondly, especially its ‘Lost Chapters’ director’s cut edition, which in the region of a third more content to the game, including some things promised and absent from the original release. Because of that I was glad to hear that Lionhead were working on a high definition rerelease of the classic title - just as the game begins to approach its ninth birthday.

Going hands-on with Fable Anniversary at E3 was something of a blast from the past. The game looks completely different, now running on Unreal Engine 3 as Fable III and Fable: The Journey did - but the actual game engine beneath that - the bit that makes the actual game part tick - is identical.

The result is a little strange for somebody familiar with the original Fable - the gameplay systems feel identical and characters control and move with exactly the same intricacies of precision and speed of that game - but everything just looks better. There’s dynamic lighting from things like bonfires and magical attacks, higher-quality textures and character models with an increased polygon count.

The visual upgrade is significant to say the least.

The game runs in 1080p, offering an impressive visual leap, and is also running in widescreen for the first time. It looks good, even if in places the geometry betrays that this is a graphical patach atop an older game.

Fable Anniversary certainly looks nice, and does fairly well to match the visuals of Fable III - especially when you consider the game is ten years old! It looks better than last year’s Fable: The Journey, which had some of its graphical performance drained from it by pushing processing power to the Kinect.

The game’s voice acting remains untouched, but other areas of its sound have been improved on. The title’s brilliant soundtrack has been completely remastered, and we’re also told that the game also boasts improved sound and a full 5.1 surround sound mix - though this is particularly difficult to test on the noisy E3 show floor!

The UI has been rejigged to feel a little more modern, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is the same. It’s a strange feeling to return to this game’s more complex UI-reliant combat after the ‘one button’ rhythm-driven combat of Fable II and III, but it still feels pretty good. There are new control options for those more familiar and comfortable with a feel closer to more recent titles in the series. All told, it’s a little more obviously sluggish than modern games, but again, one has to remember that this game is a decade old.

The save system has also been made more forgiving to match Fable II and III, and will allow players to save at anytime from anywhere in the game - even during quests.

The game unfortunately still features load-times, the architecture of the game such that it would likely be impossible to turn it into a flowing open world - but Lionhead has reduced them significantly. The developer describes them as ‘Lightning Fast,’ and they certainly zipped by during our time storming Twinblade’s camp at E3.

Beyond the graphically remastered classic, Lionhead are also building in some additional features making use of things the Xbox 360 has that its predecessor didn’t. There’s a full 1000 points of achievements attached to the game and, more interesting, a slew of SmartGlass features.

Combat is the same, though new Fable II & III style control schemes are available.

These will give you the ability to view and browse your map on a tablet or smart phone, but it goes deeper than that. Lost? Click your hero for a tip on where to head next. Want information on a major character? Find where they are and click them on the map for biographical information.

You can even find buttons on the map that, when pressed, reveal screenshots and videos of the original version to compare against as well as concept artwork and behind-the-scenes information.

There’s even the ability to take screenshots through SmartGlass and push them through to the web, lest you want to show off your customized hero.

It’s intended, Lionhead say, as a strategy guide, map and behind-the-scenes device all-in-one - and it’s built into the game free, so long as you’ve downloaded the free SmartGlass app. It seemed fairly responsive when we played with it briefly at E3 - but seems a novelty more than anything else.

The real draw, then, is the chance to play Fable: The Lost Chapters again but with modern visuals. The short demo we played of the assault on Twinblade’s camp felt good - but how well the game will hold up in a full-length play through remains to be seen. We’ll find out how that fares later this year - Fable Anniversary lands for Xbox 360 at some point before the end of the year.

You can view our interview with Lionhead’s Ted Timmins on the game through this link.