Fable Heroes

$15 Overall Score
Sackboys: 10/10
Son of Chesty!: 9/10
Value: 9/10

Cartoon-styled Visuals, Co-op, Chance-acquired Upgrades

Limited & Repetitive, Buggy Multiplayer

I’ve been a staunch supporter of the Fable series over the years, and I’ve received an unfair amount of flak for it. For every person I’ve come across that enjoys the games, there’s three or four that just don’t get my love for Albion (What? I love British humo(u)r). It’s true that Peter Molyneux’s ambition for the franchise far exceeded his grasp, but I’ve always cut him some slack for it. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. While the games have been competent action / RPGs (I’m going to politely leave out the shitty gold-farming Pub Games), to this point they haven’t delivered on the promises made, and for that, a lot of gamers have given up on viewing them as anything more than chicken-kicking, multiple-partner-swapping affairs. So many families I’ve fathered…

Molyneux announced in March he’d be departing Lionhead, seemingly leaving the franchise to fall short of his lofty visions for it. There’s no doubt that Fable will continue to see many sequels in the console generations ahead, but for now we’re left to witness the bastardization of the Fable name by turning it into a more family-friendly, Jack-of-all-Blades… ahem, Jack-of-all-Genres arcade title that sheds some of its personality in the process. Fortunately, I can report that this isn’t the disaster it could have been.

The beetles invasion, Albion-style.

Primarily a hack-and-slash for the Everyone 10+ crowd, Fable Heroes (800 MSP) culls parts of Mario Party, Castle Crashers, and LittleBigPlanet (the characters are based on Fable lore, but they look like sackboys and play like a LBP character pack… also buttons… hmm…) and assimilates them into the Fable fold. It’s playable offline with the AI (and perfectly enjoyable that way, surprisingly), but the real draw here is four-player co-op with friends. Players pick from a familiar cast of puppets / classes, depending on their style of fighting; all of the franchise’s go-to attacks are represented— melee, ranged, and magic-casting. You’ll then use an overworld game board to move between unlocked areas.

Heroes has a really stylized cartoon look and feel. Health is represented via hearts, coinage can be milked from enemies, treasure chests, and the highly-breakable environments (Fable would like to thank Zelda and Mario, respectively, for their long-established ideas), and the game splashes titles, explanations, and results on everything, just like an episode of Fringe. Fable’s offbeat humor can be seen throughout. Series’ staples like character expressions and the good / evil choices are here, but relegated to supporting status.

Showcasing the likes of Bowerstone, Mistpeak, and Aurora, all the stages and areas in the game (a total of 8, plus separate options for minigames / bosses, with a nice ‘ending credits’ romp thrown in) will be familiar to fans of the series. Moving left to right doesn’t engender a lot of the exploration Fable is known for, and indeed most of the levels are blocked off by invisible barriers, but the artwork and enemy designs / encounters do make it feel sufficiently Fable-y. You’ll know it when you see it, I assure you. Each level ends with your choice of a boss battle or button-mashing minigame. Beating the initial run of stages unlocks a Dark Albion version for play. Outside of a different end boss, increased challenge, and a new visual filter, those levels grind out largely the same.

Hack-and-slashers tend to get old, and Heroes is no exception. What saves the game from that tedious fate in the interim, and gives replayability to the rather slim level selection, is the Mass Effect-like upgrade system that combines the capitalist dream of acquiring and subsequently spending money on items that won’t bring you lasting happiness, with compulsive gambling and the random chance of dice throws and a game board layout. Introduce it to your kids early, parents, as there’s certainly no escaping it. Throws of the dice are determined by your end score of coins in a level, and also found in some chests. With each throw, your character lands on a game piece, giving you the option to buy various upgrades to things such as speed, attacks (both general and enemy-specific), extra characters, and multipliers to your combos and gold pickups. Once you’ve secured all the upgrades for a specific character, you move on to the inner ring of the board, which grants single-level perks or challenges.

Outside of the aforementioned extra characters, and the drive to level them up, there’s not many thrilling extras to be had; there’s achievements to earn that unlock inner tiles on the upgrade board, options to accent the gameplay (think things like Big Head mode), and a gold-switching station to send funds between characters (helpful!), or to stockpile cash earned in Heroes for future Kinect title Fable: The Journey (these games sure like to push the ability to transfer gold between each other, don’t they?). The multiplayer is fun with friends in tow, if a little laggy. Hits sometimes don’t register, or take longer to show, and you seem to spend more time in loading screens when playing online. I had to return to the dashboard twice when I got stuck in an unfrozen but unending cycle of loading.

Wow, that’s incredibly sexist! Oh, you meant the treasure chest? Oh. Sorry. Ah, carry on then!

Bottom line, Fable Heroes probably won’t (and arguably can’t) do much to persuade perpetual haters to see a silver-lining in the series, even with this casual (well, more casual than it normally is) iteration. Its pick-up-and-play simplicity and emphasis on co-op will likely charm the kiddie crowd, which is of course the game’s goal, but older fans can just as soon find that same charm in revisiting series’ locations, or with the wealth of represented characters / villains and its manic coin-collecting upgrade system.

The end dish contains a ton of ingredients, so the taste is not for everyone, but the series’ core spices, fun and accessibility, are fully present and accounted for.

As usual, I don’t expect to see many on my friends list playing it, and I’ll count on a few quizzical messages, but ah, what the hell, I enjoyed it. What say you, cat?


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Author: Tim Hurley View all posts by
Patron of the Indie. Horde Mode Enthusiast. Purveyor of Finely-Worded Reviews. Nice Guy. Also writes at theXBLIG.com --- Now playing: Binary Domain, Aqualibrium (XBLIG), Penny Arcade 3 (XBLIG), Apple Jack 2 (XBLIG), radiangames Inferno (XBLIG and iOS).
  • http://twitter.com/AlanWithTea Alan Charlesworth

    I’m glad you reviewed this. I was curious about it but a little too wary to try it myself. I’ve played and enjoyed Fables 1 and 2 but never got round to 3, and I’ve heard a lot of bad about the way the series is going.

    If I had friends to play this with I might pick it up. Sadly, the number of friends I have who are willing to play something other than Call of Duty can be counted on one hand. Possibly even on one finger. 

    • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

      You got one right here, although I do play Call of Duty too. :p

      Part two was the highmark for the series, in my opinion. Have not finished 3. I believe they’re committed to parts four and five, probably on the next Xbox, but what shape they’ll take on is anyone’s guess. I don’t see The Journey being that great, primarily because of Kinect, which hasn’t really panned out so far. Then again, I expected Heroes to drag the series down when I first saw it, but it works for what it is. 

      • Gurkvatten

        What possesses you to pick fable 2 over fable (+the lost chapters)? To me the series just gets more and more scaled down (and dumbed down), and fable 2 just ended in such an anti climactic way to me. I will however admit that the writing and voice acting peaked with fable 2.

        • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

          Ha. I knew you’d have something to say on it. :) I hold Fable 1 up there with 2, but the second gets the edge visually, as well as writing / choices and scope (I think it grew the world rather than shrunk it). It was what the original should have been. True the ending was anti-climatic and hardly effective when you could just reload your game and choose differently, but the ideas of sacrifice were handled well enough.

          I hate to comment on 3 without finishing it (goal for summer), but it seems like more of the same, which isn’t a bad thing, just safe. The whole series is fun. Flashes of brilliance, a couple nice ideas, but it’s unique. You never sit down next to someone playing Fable and ask them what it is. It’s gained that instant recognition.

          When the next sequel debuts on Xbox 720 (or whatever it’s called by then), I really hope they push some new ideas. It’s a series that’s been hyped beyond reality, why not take a chance? Development costs will be prohibitive to creativity, they’ll be cramming in Kinect or Kinect 2.0 functionality, but I agree it needs something else going forward. Even people that stick up for the franchise are going to feel alienated if it stays the same or takes a step back.   

          • Gurkvatten

            I actually played through Fable 2 more times than the first game, but still remember the events of the first one better. When I say the writing was better I’m thinking solely about comedic value (it did have Stephen Fry!). As far as the third went, I didn’t even bother playing it a second time to check how the other choices panned out, which is kind of a big deal considering the first choice they give you. Then again, if you expect me to grow a bond with a character that I haven’t even gotten a chance to get to know, I’m not going to care about that first choice. It just felt sloppy and forced.

            As far as the stripping of features, I’m talking mainly combat and leveling. The second game took away a bunch of spells, armor, stealth and the mana bar. Basicly making spamming of spells a viable way to run through the entire game without bothering with the other parts. Then again, in the first game you could simply put on a mana shield and then hack and slash through the entire game with a crazy multiplier (until the lost chapters, which I found somewhat balanced around me being overpowered through the regular game). The third game took it further by making the leveling very linear, and making melee semi useless (seriously, everything blocks so much and flourishes are so slow you might as well just gun through the entire game in half the time), which gets even more depressing since it makes it so obvious how stripped down and dumbed down ranged weapons and magic has gotten. Seriously, the ranged attacks are so stripped down in the third game I felt like the game series is regressing.

            Didn’t mean to rant, but I’m done with the fable franchise. It’s a shame, I enjoyed the first game and felt it had promise, that’s why I even bother caring about the series going in the “wrong” direction.

          • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

            Well said. Rant away, I say. That’s what we started this site for, to give opinions and hear others. :) And you make a lot of sense. That does remind me and gives me a chance to clarify on on why Part 2 gets the nod. The first one was great, but it was a new intellectual property with some fairly advanced ideas. For 2, I think they had more time (and hindsight) to shape (and yes, streamline) the combat, and figure out exactly how they wanted to present the gameplay. Less choice in how you play the game isn’t always a good thing; I may have welcomed it, where you see it being repetitive and lacking, but to each his or her own. I enjoy the story / gameworld / humor in Fable, so the combat, while important (I dislike the spamming), doesn’t bother me as much.

            While they’re not the same game, I compare Fable 2 to Mass Effect 2; both had good ideas in the first, were excellent in their own right, but they weren’t properly implemented or really all they could be until their respective sequels. Of course, they both lost some of their RPG-ness in that transition, and both currently sit as more action-oriented than role-playing, which is the reverse of how they started, ironically. Again, it comes down to personal preference, but you see what I mean.

          • Gurkvatten

            Funny you bring up mass effect, I wasn’t planning on following that series after playing through the first game, then I got a criminally cheap brand new copy of ME2 and changed my mind. Mostly due to tighter combat and less vehicle sections.

          • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

            See. Sequels improve. Trilogies stagnate. :)

          • Gurkvatten

            Dont jinx it, I’m preparing for diablo 3

          • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

            You’ll be fine. There’s always exceptions. Assassin’s Creed 3 looks good. Of course, that’ll really be the fifth game in the series… …You’ll be fine.

  • http://namejobbye.wordpress.com/ JazFusion

    The first Fable saved me from soul-crushing boredom as I was put on bed rest when I was pregnant. I’ve been a fan of the series ever since. Fable Heroes looks so cute! I will definitely be playing it.

    I loved Fable 2 the best. The gambling games were so addicting. I’ve been tempted to make my own Fortune’s Tower cards to play at home. I highly enjoyed Fable 3, but it was so riddled with bugs, it diminished the experience. Also, NO GAMBLING! But, John Cleese is a win-win for anyone.

    • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

      I would agree with all of these statements except the first; I’ve never been pregnant. :) 

    • http://twitter.com/AlanWithTea Alan Charlesworth

       Hey Jaz, quit following me around! :p

  • http://twitter.com/MavericForever Malik Waters

    My GF’s 6 year old niece enjoyed this, but the ranking of players at the end of each level bugged her (I tried to lose, but damn my 30 years of gaming experience!) and she didn’t enjoy the dice mini game at ALL.  In the end, we went back to Castle Crashers.  Moral of the story… play Castle Crashers, your life will be better for it.

    • http://twitter.com/HurleyEffect Tim Hurley

      Ha. Yeah, the game insists on making you feel bad for not collecting enough coins, and they do single-out the fourth-place player for extra embarrassment, don’t they? Castle Crashers is the choice for an older, experienced crowd, but for kids (and myself, apparently) Heroes is surprisingly adept.