Fable Legends Hands-On
Fable Legends isn't even set to launch for a couple more months and I already have a complicated relationship with it. That relationship began at its announcement really - I was never sure, and still aren't, that a multiplayer, co-operative focused Fable experience is what I wanted from the franchise, one I've typically praised in the past - but going hands-on certainly helped to alleviate some of my concerns.
The guys from Lionhead that give me the demo seem already aware of the concerns, likely made well aware of that concern by many fans in the months since the game's announcement. I'm told that the game is still story focused, can be played alone, and is designed to be everything the previous Fable titles were.
The demo, however, is co-operative - and that's a good thing. Sceptical as I am, the best way to see if those concerns have founding in reality is to get on and experience it.
The biggest change instilled by the game's co-operative nature ends up being in characters - where previous Fable games cast you as a simple cipher character the player could then adjust Fable Heroes has a diverse set of titular characters - over 12 was the number given at the time - each with their own skills and abilities in combat.
To cut a long story short, this is basically your typical RPG class-based system, and a well-balanced party of four will use characters that suit each other.
Those who liked the open-ended nature of Fable's character progression may find this frustrating, but it is nice to be able to jump in with different class characters depending on the match in question, and that makes up for a great deal. There's also another bonus - Fable's fun writing now extends to playable characters, each of the heroes with their own unique personality that's often quirky and British in a very Fable way.
While it's unclear which team came up with the concept first - and it doesn't really matter - Fable Legends actually shares quite a bit in common with Evolve, Turtle Rock & 2K's asynchronous multiplayer shooting experience designed as a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead.
In both games four players take on class-based roles to take on evil - except evil can now be controlled by a player character with a nefarious will and a real time strategy game style overview of the entire are you're playing in.
Taking up the role of Shroud, a hooded, arrow-firing assassin type with an invisibility move, I and the rest of the team battle against the enemy, who are being manipulated by another journalist. The job for the villain is simple - they want to try to divide and conquer, triggering things in the world to block off certain paths and split the heroes up, as they're always stronger together than apart. The heroes want to do the opposite, of course - stay together and smash anything the villain throws at them.
This design leads us to an interesting thing about Fable Heroes - its mission-based structure that feels more like a multiplayer game than a typical RPG. The average quest is around 30 minutes long, I'm told, and the traditional Fable open world is gone. In theory, you can in fact jump into a mission further along in the game's narrative than you actually are by joining the game of somebody who has made more progress than you - it's that open-ended.
Being that open ended requires rethought character progression, and that too has been contracted. Lion estimate a difference of around 30% in power between a level 1 character and somebody at the level cap, and more important than level is playing your class well.
Despite this, the little I see of character progression feels interesting, and there's still plenty of non-open-world story intact. The string of story missions can also be played solo, and the narrative of a younger world of Albion prior to even the events of the first Fable is an appealing one.
Combat is fun and engaging, with things getting pretty hectic when the villain can line up a set of suitably nefarious traps for your team to wander into. When playing co-op communication is key - this is a game you'll want to play with people you know and with headsets on. I later hear it compared to the fast-paced action in a MOBA, and that isn't inaccurate - at times, Fable Legends feels like a third person take on the League of Legends formula, but with creeps, towers and other elements such as environmental hazards controlled by another player.
I had a lot of fun with Fable Legends. I walked out of my session with it with a smile on my face, and yet my concerns remain. The things that to me made Fable what it was aren't entirely present, and something does feel to have been lost with the switch to asynchronous multiplayer even if the team at Lionhead have clearly tried very hard to keep everything intact.
Colour me still a sceptic, then. After my hands-on time, I'm far more confident that Fable Legends is going to be a good game. Is it what Fable fans want from the franchise, though? That may be another question entirely.
Fable Legends is coming to Xbox One in 2015. A closed beta is set to begin later this week. It's available for pre-order now.