Back in 2004, Lionhead Studios released an action RPG for the Xbox that allowed players to make their own choices, live with the consequences and kick chickens. Featuring a complete visual overhaul and an updated UI, Fable Anniversary is a nice stroll down memory lane, but is that enough to keep things fresh for a game that hasn’t aged well over the last 10 years?
Fable Anniversary is essentially Fable and its Lost Chapters add-on with a graphical overhaul and some UI tweaks similar to those found in Fable 2 or 3. Lionhead Studios has also included SmartGlass support to obtain more information on the citizens of Albion and easy access to the world map. For better or worse, we’ve gotten the Fable we all knew and loved on the Xbox, but not much else.. and I’m okay with that.
If you’re unfamiliar with Fable, it’s an action RPG in a fantasy setting where you have control over your hero’s recognition and appearance. Assisting townsfolk with their problems and choosing armor, haircuts or tattoos that boost your attractiveness will make you more renown to the residents of Albion. Of course you can always go in the opposite direction by assisting bandits and murdering townsfolk instead, eventually leaving you with a more menacing appearance, complete with horns and a swarm of insects.
Rather than upscale Fable directly from the Xbox, Lionhead Studios took the time to completely rework the game’s graphical structure. You’ll still notice the iconic art style of the original, but it’s now graphically on par with Fable 2. Albion is a colorful place and the original world has never looked better. Character models on the other hand, can be hit or miss.
I’ve always liked the comical, large-bodied fantasy style of the Fable universe, and I had fun reliving the classic game with its new coat of paint, but if you’re not familiar with the source material you may find the presentation a little off-putting. Fable Anniversary also features the original soundtrack and voice acting, so be ready to absorb in hours upon hours of English-accented dialogue. It’s all part of the Fable charm, but some of the voice actors sound like nails on a chalkboard, especially “da twaduz”.
For going the extra mile and completely revamping the graphics, Lionhead surprisingly took the cheap way out with the animated cutscenes and ported them over directly from the Xbox version. As you’d expect from this poor decision, cutscenes are muddy and visual hate crimes to anyone with the ability to see. This is unfortunately par for the course with many HD Collection upscales, but Fable Anniversary is not a standard upscale, so I’m puzzled as to why Lionhead wouldn’t take the time do it the right way.
Aside from updating Fable‘s graphics, Lionhead tweaked the in-game menu system to feature larger, clunkier menus that aren’t any easier to navigate than their original counterpart. Using the left and right triggers to navigate menus while using the bumpers to navigate sub-menus is a bit of a mess, especially when you’re trying to browse shops or equip gear.
In it’s raw form, combat in Fable consists of your basic ranged, melee and magical attacks, but featured a clunky cycling mechanic back in 2004. Lionhead has since streamlined the process a bit, leaving each face button to control a specific attack type. It’s now much easier to switch between zapping the senile trader.. er, sorry.. the bandits, between melee sword attacks or getting off a few quick shots with the bow. The lock-on system however, still leaves much to be desired.
If you wish to go the evil route, the left trigger is used to target friendly NPC’s ripe for the slaughter. It’s also the exact same button used to lock on to enemy targets and destructible objects in the environment, which often leads to accidentally attacking a friendly during an escort mission or comically exploding a barrel next to you instead of feeding someone the business end of your axe. It only gets worse when your hero is surrounded by all three of these scenarios at once. Being able to switch targets with the D-pad would have pacified the issue enough to make combat a bit more fun, but I was constantly reminded how much I didn’t enjoy the ranged combat options in Fable in 2004.
That’s not to say that the combat keeps Fable from being fun, as it’s still my favorite Xbox game of all time. The appeal of Fable from the beginning was having that freedom of choice and having to live with the consequence of my actions, and that’s all still there. Fable Anniversary did a pretty swell job with the graphical overhaul, but in the end it’s still just Fable being Fable. Is that necessarily a bad thing, though?
To me, Fable Anniversary is basically like watching my favorite movie from the 80’s on BluRay. It’s the same movie I’ve seen 100 times in all of its grainy, VHS glory, but now I get to relive it in high-def on my HDTV. I overlooked its flaws in 2004 and I can still overlook them now, and besides, it’s still a better game than Fable 3, right?