Thoughts: Fable Anniversary

No post this week (21/09/2014) due to a combination of real life + Wasteland 2 being very, very dense. Sorry!


The game cannon opens up at the end of this week with a flurry of meaty Kickstarter/Early Access games all releasing in the same two-week period. I haven’t been playing that much in the calm before the storm, but I also don’t want to leave the blog fallow for a week after not bothering with it for all of August, so here’s a shorter-than-usual Thoughts about the time-capsule oddity that is Fable Anniversary.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times on here that I have something of a soft spot for the Fable series despite its almost perfect mediocrity. Even taking that into account, though, I really have to wonder who this remake is aimed at.

Fable Anniversary is an HD remake of the very first Fable which is (whoa) very nearly a decade old at this point. Unlike a lot of HD remakes which pop on Steam — which usually just do a pass over some 2D assets to sharpen them and add support for modern widescreen resolutions — Fable Anniversary has actually had some semi-serious development oomph put behind it: it features an almost total overhaul of the 3D art assets and lighting effects in order to update the graphics to something that is, if not quite this-gen, at least paddling around in the deep end of the last one. And redoing 3D art for a whole game? That’s not a little deal, and not something I can dismiss quite as easily as some of the other HD rereleases previously encountered on this blog. I respect that Lionhead actually put some effort in here, even if I do suspect that the real motivation behind it was likely a little more mercenary than just redoing Fable because they liked the original game so much1.


It’s that very effort that hamstrings Fable Anniversary as a game, though. You see, while the visual overhaul is certainly comprehensive and touches peripherally-related areas like modernising the UI and controls, it’s pretty much the only thing that’s been changed. This is fair enough as far as the music and sound goes, since that doesn’t need changing (and in fact if they’d messed with the fantastic score for the game I likely would have taken a train to Guildford to blast Jeremy Soule soundtracks at the Lionhead offices all day), but the key mistake Anniversary makes is that it fails to recognise that animation is just as much a part of how a game looks as the actual graphics. Redoing the animation would have been just as big a deal as redoing the art, but in a game as old as Fable you really cannot do one without doing the other. It’s to do with the occasionally weird things the human brain perceives as being “normal”; in this case it’s that while 2005-era animation looks fine when paired with 2005-era graphics, animation has arguably advanced even more than 3D art has in the last decade and 2011-era graphics paired with 2005-era animation merely accentuates just how dated the whole thing really is. The animations are either comically exaggerated – because they were designed to convey expressions for much cruder character models — or else almost shockingly primitive. It’s like seeing a CGI effect in a summer blockbuster animated in stop-motion; it may look nice but there’s no getting away from the fact that the whole thing feels anachronistic as hell.

And so I think the HD update paradoxically hurts Fable more than it helps it.. It’s ironic, but the lower-effort approach of the various 2D remakes we’ve seen is actually the better one, since it preserves the original game as a complete package rather than replacing parts of it piecemeal and having it feel like a Frankenstein’s monster of a game.  I don’t begrudge Fable Anniversary for trying, since somebody had to in order to prove it didn’t work. Unfortunately, it really, really doesn’t work, to the point where I probably would have been happier playing the original PC release since my brain would have more easily accepted the animations in their native environment.


After the HD graphics turn out to be such a bust, what’s left is pretty much a straight clone of that first PC release of Fable, including the Lost Chapters content released after the first edition of the Xbox version of the game. And the thing with Fable is that even if you have a weird liking for the series, as I do, “classic” is not a word I would ever have used to describe the first game. “Average”, yes. “Solid”, maybe. “Enjoyable”? Yes, enough for me to have fond memories of it – but that was back in 2005, a year which featured the similarly uneven Jade Empire as the big RPG releases and little else2.  Even when compared against just its two sequels, Fable Anniversary shows its age; there’s a lot of half-formed and not-quite-there ideas in it that Lionhead got far closer to the mark on with Fable 2. I still like the combat and experience system — where hitting enemies successively without being hit in return raises an experience multiplier that is applied to all experience you earn during the fight — but I think that’s pretty much the only part of the first Fable that wasn’t done better later on in the series. Its only other strength is derived from another game’s weakness: Anniversary does seem like a much deeper RPG system compared to Fable 3, since the trend of ruthlessly streamlining console RPGs until they were deemed simple enough to appeal to the lowest common denominator hadn’t quite kicked in yet in 2005.

Apart from that and the music there’s really little else to recommend Fable as it was quite shockingly mediocre even for the time, which is why I struggle to understand who the potential audience for this remake is.  People with nostalgic memories of the first game? It worked in my case, but that was only because the usual September game-o-geddon has been delayed this year and I needed to play something. New gamers who missed it the first time around? They’d shake their heads and move on, and I think they’d be fully justified in doing so. As things stand the only people who would really get something out of the experience are the hardcore Fable fanatics, and the fact that I sort of sighed in disbelief while writing that sentence should probably tell you just how few of them I think there are. Certainly not enough to justify the existence of Fable Anniversary, a completely unnecessary remake which only succeeds in bringing its own flaws into greater relief.

  1. Simply put: Anniversary was released on consoles as a more-or-less full price game while requiring rather less than a full dev team to put together. As a business proposition it definitely seems like it could be cost-effective.
  2. Don’t talk to me about KOTOR 2.
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15 thoughts on “Thoughts: Fable Anniversary

  1. Thanks to telling me I don’t need it. Perhaps we will never understand why this game exists.

    Also, wasn’t Jade Empire really a good game? I have very fond memories of it. It had the same problem as Rise of Legends at that time: it couldn’t get into heads of people who weren’t still bored of elves and dwarves. In fact, till you’ve mentioned it now I thought I’ve dropped in a different timeline at some point, the one were Bioware has produced Mass Effect right after Neverwinter Nights. Nobody ever mentioned Jade Empire before.

    It also had really good graphics (constant “setting sun” effect) and a decent story. And again: giant toads, werefoxes, drunken master. One day people will be ready for this kind of thing.

    • Hentzau says:

      Jade Empire was a great concept. Bioware seemed to be unsure how to execute on it, though, and it ended up a hybrid of several different features – their stock RPG system pioneered in KOTOR, a fighting system that was interesting as an idea but which was dull to interact with in practice, and some fantasy far eastern trappings. Is it a bad game? No. In fact, aside from the original Mass Effect it’s probably the most interesting game they’ve put out in the last fifteen years. I would definitely hesitate before calling it *good*, though.

      (That being said I’ve not replayed it since 2005. Maybe it’s improved with age.)

      • It’s interesting you’ve mentioned Mass Effect. Cause maybe you can explain to me what happened. ME1 was a great promise. It had dozens of explorable planets with vast landscapes. It had diverse enemies, countless weapons.

        ME2 destroyed all of it and became vastly more popular. They’ve even killed fantastic feature of coming out of Normandy right into a dock so that it all feels connected. It all became segmented. No more big landscapes. No more different enemies. By ME3 you only have Reapers and Cerberus with rare additions like those zergs.

        And people love it. People love the fact there’s no more skill system. ME3 doesn’t even has minigames. Or dialog skills. You just get persuasion skill for doing anything at all. In ME2 you at least had to stick to Renegade or Paragon mindset. So there was a challenge in consistently selecting blue or red option. But it was too complex. It was ditched.

        Why? How? Should Bioware work under some sort of benevolent dictatorship so that they don’t have to adapt to market? Had people really wanted ME1 to degrade instead of developing? What happened?

        • innokenti says:

          On the other hand, ME2 broke away from Bioware’s template plot and storytelling, introduced a lot of small, personal stories and refined the combat system to be a bit more involved and fun for 3rd-person shootings.

          ME3, although it scaled down opponents to 3 groups, created interesting distinction and variety within them and overhauled the combat to be tactical, engaging, fast.

          Having replayed ME1 recently, although I enjoyed it, and despite the fact that I love old-school RPGs and whatnot, I found a lot of stuff a drag. Walking physically out of the Normandy and into the docks was cool to do again exactly twice. Every time after that it was just a time-waster. No joy. The big enormous planets were fun exactly twice, because after that it was just a hell of a lot of driving (it was fun done in-missions. A little bit) to points and not much else. The skill system was superfluous – it was interesting enough to plan out, and I was ok with that and would be okay again, but every upgrade in ME3 is meaningful – there are no duds – every time you spend points, you get something more than a teeny % increase in abilities.

          The reputation score in ME3 made more sense in-game – you did stuff, and you became more famous – the proportion of renegade to paragon then also determined what advantage you could press. Yes, it was a more basic system – but it also gelled more with the game.

          On the other hand – ME3 did some rubbish things with the plot and some characters. None of the 3 games are perfect, and they all have flaws, but I think that a lot of the stuff they streamlined was to good effect – they let me eventually focus on the ‘guns and conversation’ style that fits nicely.

          I’d expect only a fraction of the pressure to have come from any consumer feedback – it’s much more likely that the project designers and directors wanted to make these refinements to make a more fun and enjoyable game. It just went in the direction of action and keeping pace rather than stats and faff.

          (I like faff – I like a lot of the faff in Wasteland 2 for example, but bloody hell, will they give it up with making me painstakingly select a character and a skill for every disarm/lockpick/etc.? 99% of the time I want my best person on the job. Why can’t this be automated? Also, another quest had me run across 2 entire maps THREE TIMES. Cleared, no enemies. Just running. Yes, I guess represents what I had to do but… bloody hell – drained all the fun out of the the quest.)

          • >Walking physically out of the Normandy and into the docks was cool to do again exactly twice. Every time after that it was just a time-waster. No joy.

            I hear you. You’re right. But it’s rather obvious that just dropping those features instead of making them work was a step back into making Mass Effect more… well, mainstream. Simplified KotOR with combat system slapped on top. Explorable planets created sense of scale, ME2 and 3 returned the game into a realm of corridors with nice backgrounds.

            (Haven’t Wasteland 2 yet. Playing Beyond Divinity now. Crafting system is sort of evil fuff. I have hundreds of useless items. There are many stats and skills but there’s not much choice to make there cause the actual difference is made by skills you get from books.)

          • innokenti says:

            Yeah, I think the atmosphere cost is a shame – and they absolutely could have found ways of including that in a non-annoying way.

            Likewise, I think there is a good way to do explorable planets. They possibly even tried and found that it would take lots of resources to get there. Why they thought we’d prefer to scan the planets in ME2, I just don’t know!

        • Hentzau says:

          Each of the Mass Effect games is good in its own way, but I must admit to being very annoyed that Mass Effect 2 was number 1 in PC Gamer’s Top 100 Greatest Games Ever No Really Please Buy Our Magazine list. Yes, it was slicker and had great characters, but in order to achieve this it sacrificed much of the promising universe of the first game in the name of hewing closer to established genre tropes. Don’t get me wrong, ME 1 is as space opera as they come, but everything about it from the visuals to the music is done in a very distinctive fashion that made me think Bioware really wanted to make a game that had a unique feel. That feeling is gone in the sequels, replaced by a universe that could be just about any sci fi film/series from the last twenty years.

          This is why I still think the original Mass Effect is the best of the bunch despite being far more mechanically obtuse and missing a lot with what it tries to accomplish – it at least is thinking outside of the box.

          Anyway, I’m deeply sceptical about Bioware’s future output. ME 3 multiplayer aside they haven’t made a game that I would unreservedly call “good” since 2009. Dragon Age 3 may yet pull their bacon out of the fire, but I’m not holding my breath.

          • Darren says:

            At least Dragon Age II was trying some new things, though. Ignore the copy/paste levels (unforgivable) and waves of enemies (unwise but not completely unbearable) and take a look at one of Bioware’s better cast of characters. I really liked all of them and thought they added a lot of, well, character to a franchise that started off in cliche city. I almost passed on it due to negative word of mouth, but really enjoyed it thanks mostly to the cast.

            Speaking of sequels improving or failing to improve on things, have you tried Endless Legend? It just got out of Early Access and I’m giving it a whirl and finding it quite intriguing. Certainly a step up over Endless Space in the personality department, and offering up some interesting fantasy races (Spider Men! Ghost Knights! Robot Cultists!).

          • innokenti says:

            Aveline Valenn is an incredibly well-crafted and interesting character, and unusually for Bioware her whole world does not revolve around the PC hero. Varric can be genuinely funny and witty, and is a generally fun take on a dwarf character. Fenris and Merril explore interesting themes and Fenris even gets some proper deep nuance in contrast to his outward appearance that must have taken some careful consideration and writing.

            But Anders? ANDERS? Guilty of being awful in almost every way, and also of fitting a role in the plot that to this day makes me upset for how Bioware made all the crappy storytelling decisions in one lump. And then they made much the same mistakes with a lot of ME3′s plot (e.g. Kai Leng, the magical plot villain sue).

            Sorry, had to get that out of my system. But yeah, you’re right – for all of DA2′s many many failings it did introduce some of Bioware’s better characterwork. Unfortunately, while they may have good writers, they have poor story/creative direction and control it seems. Not necessarily easily solvable on the company/game scale they’re dealing with though.

          • Darren says:


            Fenris made for a very strong companion in large part due to his romance. I’m not one to generally support Bioware’s often-creepy, fan-servicey romance subquests, but the complicated relationship between Fenris and (my) Hawke genuinely added to the proceedings.

            Anders was problematic, but I replayed Awakenings after DA2 and I can see how his largely flippant pessimism could’ve evolved into outright bitterness by DA2. But it’s not established well enough in Awakenings as a real possibility, and so the various shit he was put through–especially Ser Pounce!–comes off as mean-spirited anti-fanservice.

            I am cautiously excited for Inquisition; I’m not married to Origins’ combat–it was often too balanced for its own good, making characters feel weak and boring–and I thought DA2 was a step up in terms of personality and characters. Hopefully they’ve learned enough lessons to at least put out something interesting.

          • innokenti says:


            Yeah, Fenris was an enormous surprise. I genuinely discounted him on my first play-through, but going back as a mage-Hawke and generally showing a lot of disdain for him (or rather, I suppose, tough love) I was surprised to find a complex and interesting romance written for just such an eventuality, including awkward, angry, mage-hate sex.

            I can see potentially some of Anders development from Awakening to DA2, and I certainly was okay with him in Awakening, but he was used purely as a plot-driving tool in DA2, yoked into being the writers’ instrument for ‘OH LOOK HOW BAD THIS ALL IS’.

            So yeah, cautiously optimistic for Inquisition, but Bioware games of the last decade or so have brought a lot of bad with a bit of the excellent.

  2. Darren says:

    Are you dissing KOTOR 2!? OK, the game as released was a mess with no ending, but when you get right down to it the game had a better story than the first one. One of these days I’m going to figure out how to install the cut content mod and go back to it.

    • Hentzau says:

      Yes, I am dissing KOTOR 2. I had fun with it the first time I played through it, but every subsequent attempt has failed within the first three hours because it has the single dullest opening of any RPG I have *ever* played. I remember the rest of the game being quite good, even in its unfinished state, I just can’t be bothered to smash through the mining station/cube city double whammy of an opening. It’s really good that Obsidian have the excuse that they were forced to rush the game out ahead of schedule because otherwise forcing me to play through environments that boring is something I’d definitely hold against them.

  3. Darren says:

    To be more on-topic, practically the only thing I remember about Fable was the ridiculous use of bloom lighting. The final boss fight was actually painful to look at, as it was covered in an eye-searing red glow.

    • Hentzau says:

      You remember more about Fable than I did, then. It’s an astonishingly unmemorable game in terms of plot and setting. I’d actually forgotten who the end boss even was until I got halfway through the remake.

      (This actually worked in Fable’s favour, since when I got to the Steam checkout page it ensured that all that was at the forefront of my brain was a general impression of vague enjoyment and nothing else.)

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