The Fable games have always let you be good or evil (or somewhere in between), and while your actions in those games affected your appearance, the world’s appearance, and how characters reacted to your presence, there was no great difference in how the game played when choosing one direction of the moral compass over another. You were still a hero on an adventure. You still did quests, fought hobbes, and farted on passersby. (What? Didn’t you do that too?)
Fable Legends takes a very different approach. If you choose to be villainous, you play this multiplayer-focused game from an overhead view, setting traps and setting evil beasts upon the goody two-shoes intruding on your beautiful evilness. If you prefer to be a goody two-shoes, you set off to rid the land of those same evil beasts. My colleague Mark Walton played as the villain earlier in the week, and he loved it. My time with Fable Legends was on the ground as a heroic mage called Winter, whose specialty was slowing foes by spraying ice on them. I wasn’t on my own, however. When you play as a hero, you are always accompanied by three others, whether they be actual players or AI-controlled characters. You can play Fable Legends as a single-player experience, but you’ll never be lonely.
Winter isn’t the only available hero, of course; the demo I played also allowed fellow players to join in as melee or ranged characters. As we prepared to play, developers from Lionhead were quick to point out that health does not regenerate in Fable Legends, and there were no healers on hand. Fable Legends is a war of attrition: the villain tries to separate heroes from each other using traps and other methods of map control, while heroes play their chosen roles with as much skill as possible. If the team of heroes falls before it defeats the final boss, the villain wins. And the world doesn’t need more successful villains as far as I’m concerned.
Alas, my fellow heroes and I were not successful in holding off this particular villain’s evil. The four of us moved through the forest corridors towards our mission goal, fighting off creatures as they appeared, navigating around gates that would halt us in our tracks, and unveiling invisible enemies that we happened upon. This is where my character, Winter, came in: by spraying the area with snow, I could uncover the invisible creature. I could also throw spikes of ice, though I could never tell if my projectiles were connecting with the enemy, and could also summon a great snowstorm to envelop the surrounding area, slowing and damaging approaching foes. I felt like my support abilities were valuable, but I didn’t find much joy in performing them. The game played fine, but the combat and locomotion in Fable games have never been very snappy. That's fine in a game in which combat is not the main focus. In Fable Legends, however, the lack of surrounding context made battles feel rather stale. I’m not sure that these mechanics can carry a combat-focused dungeon crawler like this.
That’s not to say that battles won’t have context, only that one part of one mission makes it hard to get a handle on what the game will ultimately be like. Lead content designer Ben Brooks told me that the team wants to make sure Fable Legends possesses the same charm that made the first two Fable games so delightful. Said Brooks, “One of the things we were looking at is where we set this in order to achieve that Fable tone. What I wanted to do from the narrative side is to recapture all the dark fairy-tale stuff from Fable 1. And to that extent we kind of moved away from the technology and industry stuff from Fable III, and set this actually in the Albion of the past.” At this time in Albion’s history, heroes were a lot more common, and so having several adventurers come together would not have been such an unusual thing. (I was reminded of the Star Wars universe, and how Jedi were once far more common than they were at the time of A New Hope.)
Brooks also told me that Fable Legends will feature more non-player character dialogue than Fable III did. You’ll still be able to interact with other characters and dance with them; and Fable II’s radial expression wheel will make a return, allowing you to express yourself as you see fit. There is a story tying the action together, but I get the sense that the narrative, the expression wheel, and the NPC interactions are window dressing. Fable Legends is primarily about combat, at least if you’re playing the role of a hero. Being villainous sounds a whole lot more interesting, but given that there will be one villain for every four heroes in this game, I’m hopeful that the dungeon crawling can be made more compelling than the demo I played would indicate.