Fable: The Lost Chapters



Genre:   Role Playing Game

Developer:   Lionhead Productions

Publisher:    Microsoft

Released:  2006

PC Requirements:   See end of review




by gremlin

What is it?

I have been a bit of a critic of Microsoft in the past.

Okay! Okay! To tell the truth, I’ve been a lot of a critic of Microsoft for years, and I don’t expect that to change in the foreseeable future. However, there is one particular area of software that Microsoft has nailed so completely that I positively look forward to seeing their new releases (though I don’t often buy them, cheapskate that I am). Games! In this area, they really do seem to be able to release high quality, polished, almost glitch-free, games.

I wish I could say that Fable: The Lost Chapters broke this mould, so that I could get back to my old complaints about Microsoft, but no, they and Lionhead Productions (the developers) had to spoil my fun and release a cracking good game.

So how come Microsoft got it right?

Simple: the right partners.

If you’ve never heard of Lionhead Productions before, it is the current vehicle for Peter Molyneux. He’s one of the elder gods of computer game design, alongside such luminaries as Sid Meier and Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British). Molyneux co-founded Bullfrog in the late 1980s, developing such revolutionary games as Populous (one of the very first ‘god games’), Theme Park, and Magic Carpet before moving on to EA Games and Lionhead Productions where he was instrumental in the design of Dungeon Keeper and Black & White, not to mention the recent sequel, Black & White 2.

Fable itself was originally titled Project Ego, but was renamed and released for the Xbox in the autumn of 2004, to a not-too-rapturous reception. ‘It’s too short and easy,’ said the reviewers. Now that the game has been ported to the PC, Lionhead have added more weapons, items, customisations (head and facial hair styles and tattoos!) and quests – some are side quests. Then there’s the addition of substantial quests after the ‘final fight’ of the original game. The new version really does justify the moniker, ‘The Lost Chapters.’

The big feature selling point of Fable is the ‘ego’ part of the original title. This game is about how your alignment and appearance changes in a manner that depends upon your behaviour – this has consequences in the way that people behave towards you. So if you behave like a saintly paladin, you’ll tend to look more attractive to the opposite sex, you’ll get good prices in the stores, and people will be happy to be around you. If you act like the chaotic evil demigod that the Hero of this story has the potential to become, then you’ll grow horns and a nasty demeanour. Traders, and everyone else for that matter, won’t want to have anything to do with you, and you can forget the opposite sex! ‘Who will you be?’

Is there a plot?

Can you say, ‘life story?’

Well, perhaps that is putting it a little strongly, as you won’t be playing this game for four score years and ten, but the plot of Fable does cover the adventures in the lands of Albion of ‘Hero’ from his callow youth to his white-haired old age. Mind you, the only characters in the game that do age are ‘Hero’, his sister and one of the other guild novices; there are plenty of other characters who show up throughout the story without ageing a single day.

The overall story is one of a family with a hidden power and this is the key to the bad guy finding the Sword of Aeons. There is betrayal (which is the reason I haven’t mentioned the identity of any of the bad guys), prophecy and a downright nasty villain intent on using everything and everyone to achieve immortality. I’ll not go into the main thread in any more detail for the sake of not spoiling it for you. Mind you, the plot isn’t exactly revolutionary – it’s a reasonably clichéd heroic quest. No matter, it’s fun all the same.

I do have one major complaint about the plot, and I apologise if this is a big spoiler. No matter how good or evil you are, the central plot remains the same. If your behaviour is evil there are minor changes to those characters that survive the story, but in the end it comes down to the same final choice. Maybe this is the point Molyneux is trying to make, that the story is somehow predestined, but in reality I suspect not. I suspect it was more a question of time and space.

This could be seen as a testament to the skill of the scriptwriters. It's also a criticism of the scriptwriters.

They have managed to write one game rather than several threads that depend upon your behaviour. The result is that I feel they've missed a trick in that the upshot of your behaviour is fringe benefits/impediments rather than wholesale plot twists. Of course, that means that it was possible for them to actually produce the game within a finite time scale. It takes a long time to produce a game of this technical standard and with such glossy production values without having to cover a rainbow of different story arcs as well. And as it is, the game already comes on CDs and requires 3GB of hard disk space.

How do you play?

On starting Fable, you're treated to a couple of the usual ‘indent videos, my favourite being the Lionhead Productions one, which introduces the exaggerated graphical style of the game right from the get-go. These lead into a multi-layer menu system. The first layer is for profile management – your save games live in your own home directory (under Documents and Settings), so multiple-user systems (like mine) don't get save-game clashes, and besides that, you can have multiple profiles within your game too! The inner layer of menus, which I'll come back to later, is for the in-game stuff, including save and load within a profile, and video, audio and game options.

Fable is played from the second person perspective, with an over-the-shoulder camera view. As seems to be the norm now, the camera is controlled using the mouse. This includes a small amount of zoom-in/zoom-out with the scroll button, if you have one. Movement of the Hero is done with the keyboard, with the normal configurable options. Beyond the basic four keys, there are action keys (Tab, by default), spell activating keys (Left Shift), and most dialogues can be skipped with a click, or Escape for longer cut-scenes. All the cut-scenes are done with the normal rendering engine, so your Hero always looks consistent – your armour and weaponry and appearance show up in the cut-scenes too.

The rest of the keyboard isn't exactly ignored either. The number keys are for the quick action slots that are visible at the bottom of the screen most of the time. These can contain spells, inventory items or actions, like laughing, burping, heroic arm-pumps ... and much worse. The flirt action makes Joey Tribiani (from Friends -- have you forgotten him so soon already?) look like a genuine Casanova!

Your inventory is managed from the in-game menus that are activated by pressing Return at any time. This menu contains access to your skills, your quest log, experience, inventory and the in-game options. Curiously, the save, load and quit buttons are hidden under the options section. Lots of the menu items have little vignette-style pictures or videos alongside them that are used to demonstrate the item. This is a nice piece of eye candy, and contributes nicely to the glossy production values of this title. However, I found that they cause a certain amount of minor performance issues.

After early sections on childhood and hero guild training (tutorials on fighting, archery, and spell casting), you get quests from the guild. Then you can go out, do good, do evil, earn experience in physical, skill and magic realms, then return to the guild for training and more quests. The central plot drives the availability of quests. Some are connected with the overall story arc; plenty are side quests that enable you to earn experience and renown to enable entry to the more difficult quests. The early quests revolve around tasks such as escort duty, or bandit hunting; later ones involve breaking the siege of a village by bandits, or fighting in the Arena.

Skill and attribute development is based upon experience earned in the field, so if you want to be a powerful warrior, you need to get into a lot of hand-to-hand fights performing plenty of 'flourish' finishing moves. If you want to be a sneaky thief, you need to sneak around stealing and shooting at the bad guys from a distance; you could try concentrating on trading too. Wannabe mages should concentrate on casting a lot of spells. Completing quests also contributes to a 'general' pool of experience that can be applied across all three specialisations – a kind of crosstraining if you like. Experience points are spent buying health, strength, stealth, speed, accuracy, and spell upgrades at the Hero's Guild.

Getting around the world is achieved on foot, for the most part, so it is inevitable that the game has a system of teleport devices strategically placed around the countryside. In addition, providing nobody hits you whilst you're doing this, you can press and hold the 'G' key to activate your Guild badge (or seal), which also gives you access to the teleport network.

Notable Features

I really enjoyed the exaggerated graphic style of this game. The armour is big (think Dallas and Dynasty on steroids), the weapons are big, the guards are beefy, lantern-jawed hunks, and the bigger monsters are really big! The environments are detailed and naturalistic – there's weather and the passage of night and day. Buildings are generally slightly curvy, almost over-inflated. Whereas the female characters are, with only a couple of exceptions, quite the opposite.

A feature of games that requires plenty of attention from game developers and producers is the casting of voice actors. Without a cast that understands what they’re doing, a game can be completely ruined. Thankfully, the cast of Fable, though containing no remarkable names, as far as I can tell, is excellent. The only exception to this is the voice of Hero. He appears not to have one. This is a real shame as it could have been a really interesting area of the alignment changing system to have had Hero’s lines (that are implicit in the story) voiced. I think that vocal filters could have added quite a radical feature to the original Project Ego concept.

As with good and bad voice acting, so it is with music. Poor choice of music and sound effects has a jarring effect upon the atmosphere in a game, and can really damage that vital feeling of immersion that the best games achieve. With good music, such as in Fable, you often don’t hear the music at all; you feel it in the way the game works.

There are a number of nonessential activities you can do in Fable. Most of them feature (in easy versions) in the main quests, but are then left as optional extras for you to pursue further should the desire take you. Most of the taverns, for example, have some kind of pub game to play: a memory game, a shove-ha’penny game, and so on. You can even spend as much time as you like fishing for goodies in the rivers, ponds and streams of Albion. Some of said goodies are actually well worth fishing for, though there is only one quest that actually requires any fishing, and that’s not a difficult example at that. In addition, any big fish you catch, you can submit to the fishing competition near Bowerstone, for extra credit and renown.

If you play Fable as a ‘good’ guy (or at least, not a ‘bad’ guy), you might like to try courting the various female non-player characters. I believe you can try courting male NPCs too, though I didn’t try it. So you can give gifts, flirt, try to look attractive and manly, and eventually you might get married. And if you don’t, there’s always the brothel where the lights always go out before anyone takes any clothes off.

Your alignment and behaviour are not the only influences upon your appearance. The ‘lightness’ or ‘darkness’ of your choice of armour also has an impact, as does your choice of hairstyle (from shaven pate to flowing locks) and facial hair (from cleanshaven to wavy white beard). You can also get yourself tattooed in all sorts of attractive and unattractive patterns, for a fee of course.

I’ve already mentioned that your alignment affects the way traders react towards you; well, this also has an impact upon whether you might be able to make trading work for you. Hero’s ability to carry heavy loads is indisputable, so you could, with relative ease, set yourself up as a trader, taking goods from one part of Albion to another. Things like gems, beer barrels and foodstuffs can all be bought and sold at a variety of locations, and as the prices vary from place to place, you could put in some effort mapping where the goods are cheap, and transport them to places where they’re expensive. Most traders even have a ‘Want’ list of items they’re willing to pay over the odds for. This is yet another optional pursuit I didn’t get involved in, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use this as a mechanism for earning money, renown and skill experience points.

Finally, an unusual feature of questing Fable is the ‘boast’ feature, and the trophies you gain from completing quests. When you take a new quest from the Hero’s Guild, you can also choose to gamble extra renown and monetary reward on your ability to complete the quest with a boast attached. This is a completely optional part of the game, by the way, but it can be fun to claim you’ll be able to complete a potentially violent quest ‘without a scratch,’ or without using weapons or magic.

At the other end of the questing process, you earn monetary rewards from the Guild, and renown points. As your renown increases, different quests become available, and you’ll be able to get access to more places in Albion. In addition to the standard renown points available from a quest, you also receive a trophy at the end of most quests (for example, the decapitated head of the King of the Hobbes, or a trader’s feather) which you can show off to civilians. If your showing off is successful, i.e. if plenty of people see your trophy when you display it, then you win extra renown points.

Alongside your alignment, appearance and renown, one of the main ways you can track your reputation as a hero with the populace is by the comments of people as you pass by. These start with derogatory comments like ‘Chicken chaser,’ and can evolve to a genuinely respectful attitude or abject terror, depending upon your alignment and appearance. Unfortunately, murdering civilians doesn’t get you the respect you might expect from being such a powerful … erm … individual.


Saving games is always an area of controversy, especially with games ported from a console to the PC, and I'm afraid Fable has its own new twist on the same old problem. Despite having auto-saves and unlimited save slots – always a good sign – the game suffers from an unfortunate distinction between 'Hero Save' and 'World Save.’ If you choose to save during the normal course of the game, you go to the menu, hit Options and World Save, and next time you return, the game will be where you left it. All well and good! But, if you are in a 'quest area,’ i.e. you've arrived at the location that's the start for a quest, and until you've finished that quest (be it escorting a trader to another settlement, or fighting your way through the Arena quest that can last a couple of hours), you can only do a ‘Hero Save – which will put you back at the start of the quest again upon your return. I found that this effectively meant that if I started a quest, I had to complete the quest before I could stop playing. Quite what the logic for this annoying distinction is was never made clear.

My next  ‘oddity is not really an oddity of the game, but of the ESRB rating. The ESRB rated Fable as M, for Mature, and for ages 17+, with the comment of “Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence.” I suppose that, if you’ve been brought up on a game diet of Pandora’s Box, Solitaire and Microsoft Flight Simulator, this rating is reasonable. However, it seemed to me to be no more violent than most RPGs I’ve seen. Under certain circumstances there is some blood – there is fighting after all. But the language is not particularly strong, especially when compared with that paragon of adventure games, The Longest Journey. There is, however, a brothel, you can get married (in my case, to the Mayoress of Bowerstone!), but I found nothing more explicit than a pair of union jack underpants.

I must admit the ESRB people do puzzle me at times. But then, an organisation that rates the content of games based upon information (questionnaires and videos are hardly a reliable method for reviewing a game) from the developers/publishers rather than play testing by neutral parties has got to be a bit weird.

The only black marks against the game itself are the level of difficulty and the frequency of loading screens. First, the level of difficulty: providing you keep well stocked with health, mana and regeneration potions, all of which are easy to come by, you really cannot fail, providing you can complete the few quests that are timed.

Regarding the loading screens, well it’s a result of each of the playable locations being quite small and self-contained. You can run the long way across even the largest location within 30-40 seconds, and some as little as 10 seconds. This has the benefit that locations can contain a lot of action in a limited space, but loading screens are very frequent, no matter that they don’t stay up for long. This may, of course, be due to the origins of this game on the Xbox, which has a less powerful processor and less memory than your modern desktop PC.  Still, this is something that should have been addressed in the port. On a personal note, having just reviewed 80 Days where the loading screens took forever, but the locations were huge, going to Fable was rather a radical change!

This final oddity is more of a variation in the interpretation of what belongs in an RPG. There is no use of poison, illness or traps in Fable. You can’t poison anyone and you can’t be poisoned, so no attack has an effect beyond the initial hit. Apparently you can achieve a lock-picking skill at high levels of the stealth skill, though I never managed it, so locked items always remained locked until I found the key. However, I found the lack of swinging blade traps, trapdoors and needle traps surprising to say the least. And one other missing concept is that of wear and tear on your equipment. No matter how many times you hit a stone wall with your fancy obsidian sword, it won’t be cracked, scratched or smashed. Now that’s some downright geologically infeasible volcanic glass! These are some of the areas where Fable could so easily have been made a bit more challenging.


I played through Fable: the Lost Chapters twice from end to end – I always play a game completely before reviewing it, but this one had to be done twice! I did it once as a good guy and once as bad as I could manage, and there were still a lot of quests I didn’t complete and pub games I didn’t play. I ended one with a slightly wobbly virtual halo, and the other with horns and glowing red eyes! So I will be playing the whole game again, looking for a balanced alignment, or trying more of the side quests and customisations. Perhaps I could have a go at some of the boasts.

Will Fable please the Denizens of the Dark Side at GameBoomers, or the Adventurers who choose to spurn the Dark Side? As far as the purists of either domain are concerned, no, probably not, as the game is what might be called RPG-lite. So RPG players will not find it difficult to complete the game, and there the development of Hero's attributes and skills is quite simplistic, with the exception of his alignment which is much more interesting and explicit that in normal RPGs. And Adventurers? Well the game is just wrong. There are no mazes, no slider puzzles, no alien languages or number systems to decipher, no exotic plant-life to manipulate. Mind you, there is a psychotic madman trying to play God, so maybe there is some hope.

In the final analysis, however, Fable: the Lost Chapters is a lot of fun to play! This is the key reason behind giving this game such a high grade. The character development is intriguing, the story arc, despite the 'pre-destination' question, is satisfying, and the design and technical aspects are exemplary! Finally, there's extensive replay value here too, so if Lionhead were to produce the further chronicles of Hero, or some other character in the same world (with more alignment-affected story threads), I would be at the front of the queue for a 4 DVD game.

Grade: A


What do you need to play it?


·         Microsoft® Windows® XP

·         PC with 1.4 GHz equivalent or higher processor

·         256 MB of system RAM

·         3 GB available hard disk space

·         32x speed or faster CD-ROM drive

·         64 MB shader capable video card required

·         Sound card, speakers or headphones required for audio

·         Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device

(I used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)


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