Platform: Xbox Kinect
Release Date: 12/10/12
Fable: The Journey Review
When I first heard about a new take on one of my favourite game series’, Fable… and that it was solely on Kinect, to be honest I was a bit worried. First of all, Fable as a franchise has primarily been about role-playing and adventuring, which just doesn’t seem like a feasible genre for the motion sensing peripheral to undertake. Secondly the series, in my eyes at least, has slowly started to deteriorate – the first game, Fable (plus The Lost Chapters) is by far up there as one of my all time favourite games; the second was to a reasonable standard, but the third lacked the spark that made the previous games special. Could a fresh adventure style in the land of Albion be the saviour Lionhead were hoping for, or is it just too far in the wrong direction for fans and every-day gamers alike to enjoy?
Now that Fable’s creator, Peter Molyneux, has moved on to pastures ‘indie’, Lionhead have a fair bit to live up to with Fable: The Journey without him. I grabbed the chance to play several hours of the game previously and had a good time with it… however I still had my doubts. Would this game be able to sustain my Hero appetite, while keeping me entertained with the Kinect enough to see it through to the end? Motion-sensor gaming is still fairly new to a lot of developers, and to the home of the average gamer also, so it’s probably fair to say that up until now the games produced for the technology have been in what I would claim to be the ‘testing’ stage. Basically, they haven’t been brilliant; there’s nothing wrong with a sports game or two, but when nearly the whole release charter for Kinect is of this genre, it starts to get rather ridiculous.
I haven’t seen a title that really does the tech justice outside of Kinect Sports (especially the bowling), and let’s be honest, we were all hoping for a little more than being lost by the sensor every time the light in the living room slightly changes when we ran out to buy our Kinects. Lionhead have pushed the peripheral further, however, by creating a game where you don’t have to stand up (as far away from your TV as your regular-person sized living room will allow) – you can actually sit on your sofa. For me, this is a revelation; not because I’m lazy (I’m not debating that) but because one of my fears with this game was that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience of being a ‘Hero’ because I was too busy flailing around. My TV is maybe 2m at a push from my sofa, and it worked pretty well, aside from the occasional targeting issue when it went cloudy outside. This fast-approaching winter does Kinect no favours. I wouldn’t say this is the game’s fault, but rather the sensor’s, and although it was infuriating at times I can’t hold it against Lionhead – they didn’t make the Kinect personally…
So, once you’re sitting comfortably and your Kinect can see you waving, you’re transported into Albion. It looks and sounds pretty much how you would expect if you’ve played one of the previous games. Saying that though, this is the first game in the series that hasn’t had it’s own graphics engine created for it – instead Fable: The Journey utilises the Unreal Engine, so in a way the developers have had more time for actual game development, rather than an engine to boot.
You take the role of Gabriel, an unassuming kind of guy, who is part of a caravan. While traveling he gets separated from his tribe, and begins his attempt to meet up with them, taking the long (and dangerous) way round. In a first-person position on his cart, you instruct Gabriel’s horse, Seren, by using various arm signals, holding the reigns out in front of you to steer or change speed. As you progress through wooded areas, or cliff edges, you collect experience orbs, which are coloured in correspondence to the speed you should be going to attain them – blue is for walking, green is for a trot, and red to go at Seren’s fastest speed, which depletes the stamina bar.
Lionhead have added in several RPG elements to aid the feeling that you are still playing a Fable game, regardless of arm movements. Chests found along the way reveal trading cards, and dolls found in your Fable: Heroes arcade game can be attached to your wagon. You collect experience points from orbs (as mentioned), fighting, and interacting with the environment and Seren. These points can be used to level-up your health or mana, Seren’s stamina, or your various powers, which I will come to in a moment.
Pretty soon Gabriel runs into Theresa, a ‘Seeress’ who is the only reoccurring character in every Fable game to date. Voiced again by Zoe Wannamaker, she was the sister of the Hero in the original game, and has lived for over 500 years. There has always been some mystery surrounding Theresa and her reason for being, but Fable: The Journey brings to light some of her back-story, such as why she claimed the Spire for herself, and what her plans have been leading up to this point. She is currently being pursued by a darkness named The Corruption, which is taking over Albion. The only way to destroy it is to take Theresa to the Spire to restore her power.
Although Gabriel is not in the long bloodline of the previous Hero’s, he is however chosen to wield magical gauntlets, which emit different powers depending on the gesture the player gives during combat. The first abilities you will be able to fight with are an electrical charge from a right hand – thrust forward, while a force push is the same gesture but with the left hand. Gabriel acquires other powers throughout his journey, and I have to say when the targeting works well I had a lot of fun raining fire and glass-like shards on corrupted Hobbes. I felt totally bad-ass…
Not only do you have to protect Theresa as she slowly weakens, Gabriel also battles with the idea that maybe he’s not really a hero at all. I also gained a slight attachment to my horse, Seren, which is probably something (if he were still a part of the development) Molyneux would have wanted. The dog you look after in previous games caused me some sadness, but Seren… I just didn’t want to see the poor thing hurt. She needs a careful hand when travelling so not to run into debris or fall off a cliff, which depletes her health bar, and rest stops along the way give you time to heal, clean and feed her. She has a personality of her own, which I was quite surprised to find.
I managed to finish Fable: The Journey in roughly 10 hours, which is pretty much spot on to the time Creative Director, Gary Carr, suggested. There are slightly alternate routes I could have taken, but 99% of the game is on-rails, so there isn’t much more I can really achieve if I play it again. Saying that, even though you are constantly led down a set path, there are times where this really wasn’t apparent, or indeed mattered at all. The fighting was fast, and the pace of some of the travelling sections were exciting and at times even relaxing. After finishing the game I can understand why it is a fairly short adventure – my arms are still killing me. Short stints are needed to play The Journey; no more than 2-3 hours at a time, which means it can be spread out over several sessions. I on the other hand played about twice as much as that per-gaming session, so understandably I’m feeling it.
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised – for starters I actually wanted to play The Journey to completion; something I wasn’t to sure about when the game was first teased. Secondly, the Kinect adaptation does work – I didn’t mind using my arms rather than a controller for once, and it meets players in the middle for those who don’t want to lose their relaxation time with a controller and those who want to flail around. For using a technology that is still fairly new, and while doing so making a game utilising RPG/adventure ideals rather than the typical sports titles, I have to hand it to Lionhead. They have tried really hard to make this work, and I think they have. This won’t be for everyone, and some die-hard Fable fans will probably turn their noses up in disgust, but I consider it a brave move that has paid off. It has it’s faults, but for what it is I enjoyed it, and that’s what games are all about.
Fable: The Journey is a pretty good addition to the series, while at the same time creating a new experience using the Kinect as it’s sole control mechanism. I had a lot of fun with it, and with the added connection I felt with Seren, the horse, I managed to feel like I was a part of the world. For those who liked the series, but fancy a different approach this could be a game for you.
Feeling like you’re a part of Albion
The connection with Seren, the horse
Seated Kinect play
Some targeting issues
Short gaming sessions needed
I was planning on giving this a 6 at times, mostly when the targeting went to shit, but that wouldn’t be fair. In the right conditions Fable: The Journey worked perfectly with Kinect. It’s not Lionhead’s fault if the technology is a bit finicky about lighting. This is a solid game, and I commend their bravery for trying something different with the Fable series.
Jenn chats to the Creative Director at Lionhead, Gary Carr, about Fable: The Journey; how Theresa as a character has been fully utilised, the challenges behind creating a sit-down Kinect game, how Albion has changed and much more.Fable: The Journey Review,