At this year's X03 event in France, Peter Molyneux was showing off the latest playable version of Fable. Only the single-player game was actually being shown at X03, but, before our demonstration got under way, Molyneux talked at some length about the multiplayer features that will appear in the finished game.
Fable will feature split-screen cooperative play for up to four players, although since only one player can be the lead character, others will appear as "alter egos" able to help out in combat situations, earn experience points, and heal the main character, but they will be unable to interact with nonplayer characters in villages and the like. The game will feature an intriguing mechanic whereby the alter ego player doing the most to help out the lead character earns points for doing so and then gets to have the next turn at taking the lead--ensuring that the game is both cooperative and competitive simultaneously and encouraging all of the players participating to do their fair share of the work. Players will also be able to switch control of the lead character as they please, which Molyneux explained might be necessary if, for example, one of the characters was evil enough to scare people away just by walking into a village where the players were actually hoping to get some information by talking to people.
At the start of our demonstration, Molyneux entered a village named Oak Vale that had been mocked up specifically for the demo. After attempting and failing to chat up a young lady by belching in her general direction, Molyneux entered a code to significantly increase his character's reputation, and, within moments, villagers were pointing at him and saying things like "I can't believe it's really him" and "Go on, do something heroic" before, in some cases, deciding to follow him wherever he went within the village. One of the most vaunted features of Fable is the option for players to get married and even have children in the game, but Molyneux explained that if players get too engrossed in their family life and start to neglect the game's quests and the like, the game will effectively give them a push in the right direction by, for example, having their family meet with an unfortunate accident.
Leaving the village, Molyneux next entered a wooded area where he was quickly surrounded by enemies. "We're known for creating simulated worlds in games like Black & White, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, and even Populous," said Molyneux. "The thing we're not known for is combat, and that is the thing that the Japanese and other people who create role-playing games just do amazingly well. The thing that we really wanted to achieve with the combat in Fable was the ability to use a mixture of combat styles in any way that the player likes."
We were then shown just how quickly players will be able to switch between different combat styles as Molyneux proceeded to do battle using swords, a bow and arrow, and a number of different magical attacks. Numbers representing the damage inflicted floated above the enemies' heads during battle, and although the combat initially appeared to lack any subtlety, we realized that really isn't the case when Molyneux pointed out the "combat multiplier" meter in the top left corner of the screen. This device will essentially give players a way to significantly boost their experience gains during combat if they manage to land a number of consecutive attacks on enemies without missing or taking any damage themselves. After every three consecutive attacks, the multiplier number will go up by one and in turn increases the number of experience points gained by the player. For example, if a player was able to get the combat multiplier up to 20, then killing an enemy worth 100 experience points would in fact net the player a massive 2000 points to spend the next time the player visits a hero's guild.
Fable is currently scheduled for release early in 2004, but Molyneux did make a point of telling us that he has no intention of releasing the game before it achieves its full potential. For more information on Fable, which originally went by the name of Project Ego, check out our previous coverage of the game.