Microsoft has made a name for itself in recent years when it comes to canceling exclusives, and sometimes those cancellations come with studio closures. Perhaps the biggest victim of this is the Fable series and its longtime developer Lionhead Studios. While it’s no secret that each successive Fable game was not as well received as the one that came before it, it still had a very dedicated fanbase that loved its world, its characters, its unique sense of humor, and its morality system. Fable was Microsofts big RPG series, weighed down by unfulfilled promises. The specific developer behind those problems, Peter Molyneaux, left the studio after they released Fable: The Journey. This would have been the perfect time to put someone new at the helm and begin work on either a Fable IV, a prequel of some kind, or a reboot. Did Lionhead do any of those things? Well, they were technically making a prequel, but it really didn’t have anything to do with the story of the main series and it wasn’t a singleplayer RPG. It was a 4v1 dungeon master game that sat in development hell for a few years before finally getting axed. Many fans, myself included, rejoiced because we didn’t want that game, we wanted a true Fable game. Others were sad to see it go for various reasons. What we were all collectively sad about was the subsequent closure of Lionhead Studios. And that in turn led to a big discussion as to whether or not Fable would live on. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, recently stated that Fable is still in the cards and they have some ideas. Whether or not they actually have something in development, and who it is being developed by, is unknown and I’ll be honest, I don’t expect to see anything, not even a trailer, until E3 2019 at the earliest.
Having said all of that, I’ve been playing Fable Anniversary lately and it reminded me of how much I love this series. So here’s what I want to see from the next Fable game.
Lets face it, the story pretty much wrote itself into a corner and the further we go into the future, the further we get from part of what makes Fable great: It’s setting. Fable III dropped us in the midst of Albion’s industrial revolution. After that it’s only a matter of time before we have automobiles, machine guns, etc. The sword becomes outdated and magic becomes irrelevant in the face of a sniper. A Fable game set in this worlds version of World War I or II just doesn’t strike me as a setting that fits Fable, a tale of mythical heroes who have the eyes of a hawk, the strength of a god, and magic that puts even the greatest sorcerer to shame.
Fable is at home in fantastical settings. It managed to work in Fable II because while time had advanced 500 years and society evolved, it still came down to swords, muskets, and magic. Moving to the industrial revolution 50 years later made sense and tech hadn’t advanced enough to negate the presence of swords and magic.
Of course, that isn’t to say that a modern future is the only reason a Fable IV probably wouldn’t work. The main numbered series revolved around the Archon’s bloodline and how, while it persevered into the era of Fable III, it had gotten to the point where protagonist had to use special gauntlets to even wield magic, something his father, the previous protagonist, didn’t need in the slightest. Before long the descendants of the Archon would be powerless and no more than regular people. So really Fable III can be considered the end of the Archon’s bloodline. So at that point you either need to introduce another character can take their place, or you don’t and just start over.... or you could advance time, but for some reason stagnate technology and retcon the dwindling powers of the bloodline to make it still work and strand Albion in the early industrial era.
I’m gonna go with just reboot the franchise. Leave Lionhead’s saga behind and start a new Fable.
Part of the greatness of the Fable games was being able to make even the tiniest of decisions and have that effect, not only your characters behavior and appearance, but also the world around you. If performed good deeds your character would glow brightly, get a halo, grow a glorious white Gandalf beard, or spread angel wings. Go down the path of evil and you might grow horns and appear demonic. Choose to revive all those that dead, choose to revive your family, or choose money over all else. So many decisions you could make that defined the kind of person your character was. In Fable III, everyone could die and leave Albion completely empty. In Fable II, you could choose to resurrect your family over the thousands, if not millions of people that died while constructing the Spire. Or even more evil, you could just choose to become extremely wealthy, forsaking the people of Albion and your deceased loved ones. Those decisions would in fact change the world because you could keep playing. More people would be missing from the world if you chose not to resurrect them. And lets not forget the heart-wrenching decision at the end of the original Fable(Pre-Lost Chapters) where you had to decide whether to kill your sister and claim the Sword of Aeon’s, or spare her and forsake the most powerful weapon in the world. Once Lost Chapters came around that point became a little moot because there was an alternative powerful weapon that you could get instead, but still.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the two temples in the original Fable. At one temple, other than pulling a sword out of a stone, you could donate money to the temple and gain Good points. But there was another temple in the game where you could have NPC’s follow you too, and then sacrifice them for Evil points and probably other benefits that I’m not remembering right this second. The point being that Fable let you be whoever you wanted to be. Every action had some sort of effect no matter how small or large. In Fable II, depending on your choices at the beginning of the game, one part of Bowerstone could either become prosperous in the years since you left, or it could become even more of a disease-ridden back alley, and that would be visually reflected.
Earlier I mentioned that Fable has a unique sense of humor, and that is entirely because it was a game developed in Britain, it is a British game. Characters would call each other ugly in their traditional English way, they’d wear powdered wigs or elaborate get-ups, it was just different. You don’t get a game with this sort of natural European flair from just anyone. You need a developer native to that region, that grew up with it rather than just studying it. Handing Fable to an American developer probably wouldn’t turn out the same way and in turn not feel like Fable. The only developer Microsoft has in its stable that fits the bill is Rare, but I don’t see them making a Fable game so I would expect Microsoft to found a new studio. That isn’t to say that Rare would make a bad Fable game, I just expect them to focus all their attention on Sea of Thieves and probably a follow-up to that rather than sticking themselves with an IP that they’ll be forced to work on for all of eternity, just like how Turn 10 makes Forza games, 343 Industries makes Halo games, and The Coalition makes Gears of War games. I just don’t see Rare swinging that way.
Nine times out of ten I will not advocate for cartoony graphics, but in this one instance I will make an exception. Fable has had this sort of charm since the first game and that charm partially comes from the graphics. It’s whimsical, yet the amount of detail and realism that is also packed into makes it equally serious looking. The world and characters look like regular people, but with some embellished details like big hands and feet or glorious facial hair. The shaders that were applied to the game also gives everything, from the characters and weapons to the environment this sort of aetherial glow and the colors are made rich and vibrant. It’s a brilliant blend of the two styles.
The country of Albion has become synonymous with the Fable series to the point where exploring other continents or countries doesn’t really interest me. I mean, for all I know the new developers could give it an entirely new setting, but it just wouldn’t feel the same without it being Albion. Part of the problem, however, is that Fable never seemed to be able to make up its mind with regards to how players traversed its world. The original game connected every location so that you could walk if you didn’t feel like fast traveling, but it was never really wide open, you were always on some sort of linear path with the occasional deviation. Fable II on the other hand opened up significantly and made it feel like you were walking around the countryside. There were still some linear paths, but you venture off the beaten path a lot more and there was so much to discover. Fable III then rolled it back so much that fast travel was pretty much necessary to get anywhere. For the next game they need to bring it back to an open world, this time potentially with no loading screens. That would be wondrous.
Fable was a series built on promises. Many, many promises. Ultimately, a lot of those promises were not kept and each game released to some semblance of criticism for it. You gotta give the developers credit for wanting to be ambitious, when best to keep things to yourself until you know you can actually accomplish them. I’m still sore from being told I get to rule Albion in Fable III, but have that portion of the game be extremely linear and end in less than 20 minutes with no further kingly duties to attend too. Sure, if everyone dies you don’t have much of a kingdom to rule, but what if everyone lives? Absolutely nothing apparently. That doesn’t sound like what I was promised. Or at least, I guess I got a truncated version of that. I’m sure you can look up a list of unkept promises somewhere.
So my advice to the new developers: Don’t promise something unless you are 100% certain you can do it. Because if you can’t? You’ll likely be right back where Lionhead was under Peter Molyneaux.
But anyway, that’s all my requests off the top of my head. I’m sure if I sat on it for a while longer and played some more Fable Anniversary I’d have a lot more to add, but I’m sure you will all add(Or subtract) from this in the comments below.
Oh, and before I go, have some music: