A while back, I was harping on why Peter Molyneux ruined his own game by over-hyping it, so much so that when players finally got their hands on it, they were disappointed by the final result. This botched bit PR work, though, should not take away from the fact that Fable really is a great game.
Let’s go over why it’s so good. First, I’ve rarely encountered a game that embraced a fairy tale aesthetic and sensibility quite like Fable did. From the the cartoonishly-exaggerated thatched roof homes and shops to the forested roads your hero travels on to even the various magic spells he casts, the enterprise is dripping with rich, folklore-styled design. Set in a medieval period, you do feel becoming more than a man over the course of the game. You become a living legend whose tales and deeds will be written and sung about for centuries to come. (That is, of course, before the revolt against the Heroes’ Guild and the persecution against Heroes wiped out most of the texts from the era, but that happens after Fable, so it doesn’t count here.) When I swung my sword, let slip an arrow, or practiced my magic, it all felt as though it belonged there, and I loved every minute of writing my own tale with my actions.
Second, while the narrative was admittedly pretty short and somewhat railroaded, it did allow for story paths that I hadn’t seen told in video games up to that point in time. Depending on whether you’re trying to be virtuous or villainous, you can play some of the missions from two completely different perspectives. You can select to rescue a group of traders held captive in a bandit enclave, or you can choose a quest to join the bandits in massacring a bazaar filled with traders. You can either protect a quaint farm from a raider assault, or you can join the robbers in their attack and sack the poor family. You can even choose to either claim the souls of powerful heroes or those of your close, still living friends to complete a main story quest. The designers did their best to allow a freedom of choice for your character and their morality, which was something that I hadn’t encountered in video games up to then. They did all of this while still maintaining the legendary feel of the game, which is remarkable.
Lastly, Fable’s soundtrack is one of the best ever made. Robert Shaw composed the vast majority of the tracks, with Danny Elfman making the theme song. That theme drives home the folklore feel with its swelling string section and uplifting horns. The soundtrack breathes life into the scenery by adding whimsy to the Hero’s home town of Oakvale, highlighting the hustle and bustle of the metropolis of Bowerstone, and echoing the sanctity of the Heroes’ Guild. With the music playing, it feels like at any given moment a disembodied voice will start narrating your exploits as they are happening (and not just when they go to a cut-scene), further cementing the game’s ties to fairy tales and folklore.
It may not have been what Molyneux promised us by a long shot, but it doesn’t mean it was a terrible game. By taking him out of the equation, we can assess the game by its own merits. From what I saw and experienced, I would still say it was legendary.