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Fable
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Oh man.  Talk about hype killing what greatness there could've been.  Fable was one of the most anticipated games of all time.  It was supposed to be an epic masterpiece, where anything that could happen did happen, where you lived your own life, aged, had children and died, where you crafted your own story and could be whatever it was you wanted to be.  Maybe we were all fools for actually believing all that could be achieved in a video game, but even without all that hype, Fable has a few annoying flaws to overcome.  First off, let's start with the story, the element that often makes or breaks RPGs.  To put it bluntly, the story sucks.  You start life as a quiet little boy living in a quiet little village.  A band of cliched brigands come along and torches your town and kills your family.  A kind and powerful wizard saves your butt, but instead of finding you a new family, he takes you to the stupefyingly named Guild of Heroes to train you and gain skills needed to kick butt and seek revenge.  Lord knows why.  The fact that you're a silent noname with only one eighth of the personality of Link only further aggravates things.  Instead of a coherent and cohesive narrative, your world is instead nothing but a string of quests that hopefully lead you up to your inevitable revenge.  Thankfully the quests are all wholly competent and range from escort duty to arena battles.  The side quests are also interesting and some of the most special ones appear in the form of living gates that only open when certain conditions are met.  You can even make your quests more interesting by taking certain boasts.  And let's get one thing out of the way.  Fable IS a visually beautiful game.  The land sparkles and characters come to life, if only on the surface.  The game also features Grand Theft Auto level of "sandbox" style play where you could do anything you wanted if you were sick of questing.  You could get drunk at the bar.  You could steal if you were so inclined to follow the path of darkness.  You could change your appearance.  You could even marry the favorite nondescript girl of your dreams and buy a wedding house.  Fable also incorporates a neat RPG system where you invested points earned in battle into three areas--might, guile, and will.  Might determines how buff your character is, how much damage you do with bows, swords, and axes, and what quality weapon you can wield(sorta like what Diablo does).  Guile helps your merchant skills by allowing you to buy items below suggested retail price and then selling them to saps at a much higher price.  You could take your act on the road or buy a house to rent out to merchants.  Guile also helps with your sneaking skills, but in this game it's quite useless unless you want to be an evil thief(there are no good thieves in this game).  Will determines how adept you are with magic.  You also use your experience points to buy new spells or increase the levels of old ones.  One problem.  Every time you level up, you grow older.  Meanwhile, everyone around you looks the same.  What the hey?  You can tell that Fable wanted to be like a super polished Dungeons and Dragons game, and for the most part it succeeds.  Combat is mostly button mashing, but it's high style button mashing.  You can block, sidestep, and increase your combo meter by fighting well.  Your style of fighting is all up to you.  Swordsman, axe warrior, bowman, wizard, ninja, or a spell knight.  Find out your identity.  Fable makes it happen.  You can also build up a reputation among commoners and have people cheering your name and hailing your deeds or cowering in fear if you're a bad guy.  Unfortunately, the good and evil and aspect is nowhere near as developed as in the RPG masterpiece Knights of the Old Republic, and it's confusing at worst.  Alignment is represented by positive and negative numbers.  Which way is which?  And why is eating a baby chick evil?  The world also feels very confining.  In drastic contrast to games with wide open spaces like The Legend of Zelda or Knights of the Old Republic, Fable's "stages" are all corridors and alleys.  This feels natural in the city but not in the wilderness.  One area that is actually competent is a dark woods section that really gives you a sense of dread.  Other problems abound in this game, but they're minor.  One issue is the control.  Button mashing aside, it's very easy to accidently target NPC characters, characters you're protecting, and everyday items.  Another thing is the very useless "expression" system, which is oddly placed on the digital pad.  Watch in aggravation as you move your thumb off the control stick to access "flirt" while the person you're trying to interact with walks away from you.  And don't even get my started on trying to "micromanage" people while there are whole crowds in the area.  Second of all, Fable is terribly easy.  Lack of difficulty posed no problem in Panzer Dragoon Saga because that game was masterfully crafted.  Here it's a tragedy.  It's very easy to amass scores of "resurrection vials" like being revived numerous times was something that heroes are entitled to.  Even fighting the annoying stone giants, which try to bury you in mountains of rock, are relatively easy to fight if you could just weather the attacks long enough to inch in close.  The only battle that grabbed my attention was the cooperative battle against a giant scorpion in the arena.  The final insult is that Fable is short.  You could probably blow through it in ten or so hours.  Again, shortness posed no problem for some games like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Ico, or Nights into Dreams.  But Fable was supposed to be a huge game, and the shortness only reminds you of the lack of a good story.  However don't get me wrong and think that Fable is a terrible game.  It's not.  If you play it as an RPG, you're bound to be disappointed.  If you play it as an action game with sandbox elements, it's quite fun.  At any rate, it's the best and probably only "let's pretend we're this and that in a fantasy world" game ever made.

Grade: Flawed

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