Fable Heroes launched at the peak of Fable’s popularity. The Fable franchise had at this point, 10 years ago, become Microsoft Studios’ fantasy faire equivalent to the science-fiction shenanigans of Halo. This is a franchise upon which the publisher was banking. Diversifying the gameplay styles and presenting new titles for every new platform, taking advantage of every new possibility.
Games for Windows, Windows Phone 7, Kinect and even Xbox LIVE’s Games on Demand service were all championed by their own release in the Fable series, along with both Xbox consoles of course. Having already received Fable: Pub Games, the Xbox LIVE Arcade received a second title in Fable Heroes. A brand new expedition in the land of Albion which was all about action.
Fable Heroes – A Hand-Crafted Game
Fable Heroes is as twee in its design as it is simplistic in its mechanics. A revision of the basic side-scrolling beat-‘em-up formula. And that’s ‘revision’ as in given a levelling-up system. Fable Heroes sees the players take on one of twelve characters featured in the three core Fable outings. When chosen, they can journey across the land slashing, shooting or casting spells to repel enemies. Up to four players can play simultaneously either on- or offline. Which is a very good thing as Fable Heroes can feel somewhat soulless in single-player.
As a multiplayer experience, Fable Heroes takes the lessons taught by Too Human and learns from every single one of them. The player is directly responsible for the timing of each of their actions, instead of a prescribed animation series via a single button press. The levelling system can be just as engaging as the action. As it is with some of the best level systems out there, it’s often the case that players will continue to play long past their intended time allotment just to gain an additional ability or strengthen an existing one. This is done simply by collecting coins within the action stages, either by defeating opponents, opening treasure chests or finding them hidden away, and then spending them in a mini-game at the end of each lengthy stage.
Hero Progression is the Best Aspect of the Game
Gold earned within the level (or your share of the collective tally when playing on the easiest difficulty setting, labelled ‘Family’) can be spent on new abilities or upgrades on the end-of-stage mini-game, which is a simplified board game. A roll of the dice will land you on a square offering new attacks, stats or additional gold, amongst others. Each square has a limited amount of bonuses available which can be bought with the collected coins. Each character has their own abilities and upgrades, and as such players must upgrade all twelve individually.
The characters fall into one of a number of categories. Close combat, mage or gunner, each with their own basic moves, special move and strike ability. Additional manoeuvres earned through levelling-up come atop these standard frameworks, allowing players a small amount of customisation with each. However, of course the completionist will aim to unlock every further ability for all characters. Of all those available it could be argued that the range-based mage and gunner are at a disadvantage. Given that they strike from afar, close combat players have the opportunity to snatch the coins dropped from the enemies they defeat.
Fable Welcomes New Heroes
The most interesting aspect of Fable Heroes is arguably its death mechanic, or rather the lack thereof. Each player’s life is determined by a series of hearts. Once depleted, instead of being removed from play or respawning minus a penalty, players continue the action as a ghost. While playing as a ghost you can still attack enemies and open chests, but cannot collect coins. Should you find a heart you’ll return to life. An interesting take on death that chooses not to penalise, but instead add a limitation from that point onwards. Fable Heroes makes its mark on the genre here. Other titles in the genre should take note when considering attempting to onboard newcomers.
Fable Heroes features a small selection of stages, each taking approximately ten to twenty minutes to play through. Each stage offers its own unique mini-game or boss fight, as well as the choice of two possible routes for the final third. Once the game has been completed, players can replay each stage in a ‘Dark Albion’ mode, increasing the replay value significantly.
Comfortable in it’s Woollen Socks
Fable Heroes is hardly a groundbreaking work from a technical point of view. It meets all the expected requirements for a franchise-led multiplayer adventure, but little else. The doll theme is delivered in abundance, with the stages designed as hand-crafted recreations of familiar Albion locales and the enemies presented with the same creativity witnessed in the core series. The soundtrack can quickly become annoying, relying far too heavily on the traditional ‘gamey’ formula of repetitive jingles It’s worth noting that the networking functionality is near-flawless, even after a decade.
As an argument for a digital future, Fable Heroes was well positioned. Arguably presenting just as entertaining an experience as the harshly judged Fairytale Fights, Fable Heroes is enjoyable as a no-brainer multiplayer action videogame. Beyond that there’s little to talk about; a shallow single-player and a lack of innovation. Fable Heroes may have tried to be the Xbox LIVE Arcade answer to New Super Mario Bros., but in reality it feels like an artificial modernisation of Streets of Rage. As a franchise piece Fable Heroes delivers what is expected of it, perfectly in-keeping with the established lore thus far. Replay it today, and eagerly await the forthcoming Fable reboot from Playground Games.