Fable Impressions

We get an updated look at the upcoming Xbox RPG.

Today we got an updated look at Fable, the highly anticipated Xbox RPG, in an E3 demo that showed off some of the game's complex mechanics and striking visuals. Fable is easily one of the most ambitious titles curretnly in development for a console, and its story will follow its main character over the course of a lifetime. What kind of life he leads is ultimately up to you, as the game provides you the freedom to be as good or as evil as you want to be. The demo shed light on some of the game's mechanics and gave us a look around its unique world.

The demo started with the main character being guided to the local hero's guild, which highlighted one of the game's key components: your reputation. As in all RPGs, you'll be expected to undertake all manner of heroic quests if you choose to follow the good path. However, Fable differs a bit from traditional RPGs in that the game recognizes the importance of those deeds being noticed by people at large. As far as Fable is concerned, a hero is defined by how well renowned he is. As a result, it's important to be seen being as heroic as possible by as many people as possible. If you can pull that off, you will come to join the ranks of the other heroes in the game, who are avidly worshipped by throngs of fans.

Given the importance your reputation plays in Fable, the hero's guild in the game will serve a crucial role. You'll venture there to pick up assignments, which usually offer you at least two options: one worded very specifically and at least one other that's a bit more vague or downright wrong, allowing you some leeway to be evil if you want to start down the exciting path to villainy. For example, one choice will ask you to help a farmer defend his cash from robbers, while the other will put a call out to anyone interested in robbing a farmer. Once you select an assignment, you'll head out of the guild and make your way to the teleporter that will take you to your mission. Along the way, you'll pass the boasting podium, which let you do some old-fashioned bragging to the masses.

The mission we saw involved saving a bunch of fair maidens trapped in a cage by bandits looking for some love. The battle to save them showed off Fable's user-friendly combat system, which got a lot of mileage out of one button. The battle system used a context-sensitive system to pump out different attacks based on a number of variables such as positioning and the frequency of button presses. Another component of the combat was the "will" system, which is essentially Fable's magic system. Depending on how you choose to develop your character, you'll be more proficient at wielding the different abilities. For example, you'll be able to use your powers to shove opponents back, à la the Jedi knight force push seen in the Star Wars movies. The power initially just knocks enemies back, occasionally hard enough to fall to the ground, but once you're more powerful, you can knock your foes back at tremendous speeds that have fatal consequences. An amusing touch during the battle was hearing the maidens cheer you on as you kicked butt. Following the rescue, a return to town revealed the fruits of the rescue--a small boy in town was excited to see the hero and ran off to spread the word. Some of the rescued maidens were also in town and gave their thanks, which caused a bit of a problem. Apparently, the hero's house was nearby, which prompted a visit to the wife, who was apparently seething due to the fact that he'd been gone for over a year.

Going through the town also showed off one of the cool mechanics involved in character interaction: gesturing. In the lower left-hand corner of the screen, you'll see a control cross that represents the four directions on the Xbox controller's D pad. As you meet people, you'll occasionally see an exclamation point above their head, which will let you know that you'll be able to learn the gesture they just made. Once you learn a gesture, you can assign it to one of the directions on the D pad and perform it at any time. In the demo, the hero learned to belch and proceeded to do so at everyone he met, resulting in some surprised and disgusted responses.

The final segment of the demo showed off the multitude of variations in the hero's appearance over the course of the game, which was a fine showcase for the graphics engine. The hero morphed from youthful adventurer to a gnarled old warrior in real time as the feature was demonstrated. Of course, the changes will be much more gradual in the game. The rest of the graphics in Fable are very impressive and feature a very rich look. The game's broad color palette draws heavily on earth tones and mixes them with the brighter hues you usually see in games. An impressive lighting engine casts a variety of shadows to reflect light coming through tree leaves or clouds in the sky, which is a nice touch that adds a lot to the feel of the world.

From what we've seen so far, Fable may very well live up to its ambitions. The gameplay is deep and offers a great deal of variety, and the graphics complement it very well. Fable is currently slated to ship late this year for the Xbox.

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