Fable has always been that most British of games, a charmingly foppish riposte to the broad grizzled shoulders of Microsoft’s US-centric Xbox lineup. Yet the series’ Xbox One debut has seemingly been made with an outsider’s view of the Sceptred Isle. Its clumsily animated cast – Sterling, the posho swordsman; Winter, the Home Counties ice maiden; Rook, the Scottish ranger; and Inga, the West Country tank – spout context-sensitive witticisms as they battle across Albion’s fields and townships, but it’s hard to imagine a born-and-bred Brit signing off on these accents. The final game will, we’re told, feature many more playable fighters than the slender selection on offer on the show floor; here’s hoping the end product sports less jarring voice work.
Yet Lionhead has more fundamental issues on its plate. Perhaps the biggest of all is that one person in this fiveplayer game has much more fun than the others. Fable Legends is at its best when you’re the villain, laying traps, raising gates and spawning beasts to thwart the gang of four. The associated RTS controls have been smartly mapped to the Xbox One controller, which was the only way to play the game at E3 – presumably to counter the assumption following Legends’ unveiling that villainy would be for SmartGlass players only.
On the battlefield, things are more messy, and we don’t just mean Lionhead’s signature wonky animation. The heroes might have all the requisite tools for the task at hand – Inga, for example, has a dodge roll, a right-trigger melee move, a shield for blocking and bashing, a spell that protects the group from ranged attacks, and a taunt to draw aggro – but using them is woolly and unsatisfying. There’s no hitstun, so enemies wind up attacks while you’re hammering away at them. That would be fine if you could only see what was going on, but it’s hard to pick out movements when the screen is full of artillery and support spells. Communication is of paramount importance, but even the most organised teams suffer from all the clutter.
Combat has never been the best thing about Fable, yet for 80 per cent of players, it’s all
Legends has to offer. The series’ trademark morality system has been relegated to a menu option, and, worse, has as good as been made for you by a design team that has combined a serviceable singleplayer RTS with a clunky fourplayer dungeon crawler. A multiplayer beta is due later this year: expect lengthy waits as everyone queues up to be the bad guy.
Fable Legends is unique among Microsoft’s Xbox One lineup in Lionhead’s use of a thirdparty engine. While 343, Turn 10 and Rare have their own bespoke tools, Lionhead favours Unreal Engine 4