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Fable: The Lost Chapters is the PC version of the Xbox-only release of Fable. Fable is a role-playing adventure game (RPG), where you can become a character of great evil or great good and anywhere in between. Like a traditional RPG, Fable has a series of quests. The difference is the twist on the quests, which can be for good or evil. The choice of quest directly changes the alignment of the character and the responses of the non-player character population to the hero avatar of the game. You can play as a fighter, archer or magic user or all three.
Peter Molyneux’s reputation as a world-class game designer started in 1989 with the release of the immensely popular game hit Populous from the Bullfrog game studio. Peter started Bullfrog in 1987 with Les Edgar and they both produced hit after hit. Peter has been involved with the game design of Powermonger (1990, a personal favorite), Syndicate (1993), Populous II (1992), Magic Carpet (1994), Theme Park (1994), Dungeon Keeper (1997), Theme Hospital (1997), Homeworld (1999), Black & White (2001), Republic: The Revolution (2003), Panzers: Phase One (2004), and Fable (2004).
In 1997 Peter left Bullfrog and founded Lionhead Studios. Peter Molyneux’s Lionhead Studios has produced a game not typical of their previous endeavors. The closest game to this one was Bullfrog’s Syndicate which involved a team of special operatives with unusual drug induced powers. Most of Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog or Lionhead products have been huge successes. The financial success ensures that we will see more of Peter’s work in the future.
Rumor has it that Peter is not averse to using his considerable profits from previous games to finance salaries needed to produce new games. There are six designers listed for this game: Peter Molyneux, Dene Carter, Julian Glover, Richard Ham, Ben Huskins, and Josh Atkins.
The Xbox version of the game was called Fable and was released a year ago. The new version is purported to have “more quests, more weapons, and more choices!” The “Expanded Content” allows the player to “discover additional regions, storylines, and side quests as well as new optional missions.” The “Tons of New Choices” is described as “We’ve added more spells to master, new armor and weapons, and even new monsters to use them on!”
Another rumor is that the game for the Xbox was rushed due to production schedule deadlines and the Xbox game was incomplete as a result. In any case the new game has given the team time to add content to the game. The new PC version of the game has more things to do than the original Xbox edition. The designers plan to release an expanded Xbox version of the Fable: The Lost Chapters soon.
Your town is raided by bandits and your father is killed. You believe that your entire family is dead but as the plot unfolds your older sister and your mother surface. Your family has a lineage of heroes and great powers. Your family powers are envied by some of the most powerful beings in the world who seek to dominate and imprison your family and perhaps glean the source of your powers to possess them.
In the midst of the raping, burning, pillaging, and murdering in your town of Oakvale, you are transported away by a magic-using hero who takes you to the Guild. The Guild of Heroes is a training school and haven for heroes. You begin your training with “Whisper,” the younger sister of an arena champion named “Thunder.”
Once your training is finished and you pass your final tests, you are released into the world to find your way as an evil, good or neutral character. You progress the plot by selecting good or evil quests from the map room in the guild entrance. You can also find quests by talking to the inhabitants of the land in towns and on the roads of the land of Albion.
Your main goal is to find and rescue your mother from the evil Jack of Blades who emerges as a rather nasty villain whether you are good or evil. Along the way your sister helps with clues and guidance to move you closer to your confrontation with Jack and the eventual rescue of your mother.
Each quest takes you deeper and deeper into the lands. The total number of quests is not more than 30 making the game much shorter if you tackle it like most RPGs: one quest after another. The main plotline or gold quests are less than fifteen which if taken alone would make this the shortest RPG on record, except for Michael Crichton’s Timeline game.
The depth of the game comes with the manipulation of your alignment and other mini-games such as digging for treasure, fishing, opening magic mouth doors, finding silver keys that open special chests, wooing and marrying the females of the land, buying the most real estate, treasure hunting, the pursuit of good or evil, gambling, fishing and the fishing contest, chicken kicking, and the pursuit of fame. You can change your appearance with clothes, armor, tattoos, haircut, beard, mustache, and even control your weight by over eating, under eating or eating in moderation. The replay ability comes from these mini-games.
The manipulation of your alignment and fame changes the way the populace of the towns and wilderness roads respond to you. You can have everyone in town of the opposite sex fall in love with you, applauding your deeds, cringing in fear, or simply ignoring your presence. The game population was designed with a special artificial intelligence to appropriately respond to your actions in the world.
The previews of the game did not adequately describe the depth of play given by the various mini-games, which include many other choices than originally thought. Part of the game play involves a complex matrix of choices and resulting effects. All of the mini-games feed into the main plot, the other mini-games, and the reactions of the artificial intelligence of the populace.
Many people are playing the game over and over again seeking these other non-plot related goals (mini-games). One such internet challenge is to marry and bed all the eligible females in the game as a good character, an evil character or a neutral one. Another quest is to get as many silver chest keys as possible and open all the chests, which appears to be much easier on the Xbox version of the game, than the PC one.
All of these elements are maintained on a character personality status screen (F10) within the game. The personality screen keeps track of scariness, attractiveness, alignment, renown, age, weight, time spent in game, game days past, class, nickname, number and type of creatures killed, favorite melee and ranged weapons, decapitations, highest combat multiplier, favorite magic spell, uses of magic, spells available, sexuality, number of spouses, people in love with you, number of weddings, number of divorces, times widowed, times had sex, favorite region, number of regions visited, number of completed quests, total quest money acquired, core quests completed, optional quests completed, boasts completed and taken, trophies acquired, number of trophy uses, buildings owned, houses owned, shops owned, buildings rented, rent collected, best chicken kick, biggest fish entered into competition, six gambling game high scores, number of times vomited, number of drinks consumed, drinker class, crimes reported, total fines, total fines paid, number of times thrown out of town, number of bribes give, highest amount of money ever had, total money acquired, total money spent, experience acquired (total, general, strength, will, skill), and total experience spent. So you can see that the game has a number of complex parameters, and scoring of the game is equally complex, possibly to the point of being ridiculous.
Inventory is infinite and categorized and sub-characterized into clothes and armor, weapons, potions, gifts, groceries, and other. A really nice feature is that you cannot buy weapons, clothes or armor that you already have in your inventory preventing unnecessary expensive purchases. You can only wear one suit of clothing at a time but can have many suits of clothing. You can put on an entire set of clothing with one mouse click, which is very convenient.
The map and teleport screens are a bit busy so that the entire map of the land cannot be seen when teleporting or when looking at the local map. One additional key press to put the larger map on the screen after the local mini-map and then cycle to the map returning to the upper right hand corner of the screen would have been a better design.
As an afterthought (We are assuming this is an after thought since this feature is not in the printed manual or hot-key templates.), Lionhead decided to assign function keys to all the menu functions making the game more playable without making everything mouse driven. This undocumented feature is one of the best conveniences in the game and should have been in the original design for the PC.
Save games are incremental similar to the save games seen on most consoles. You can only save your game at certain places in the game (save points). One such save point is in the jail, where you have to run a footrace, in your Austin Powers-style jockey shorts, with other prisoners who can all run faster than you. The only way to win is to get ahead early with a trick. You can slow them down by bumping them (“pushing and shoving” is the hint). Bumping makes the other prisoners in the race hesitate when they try to pass you. If you win the race you are taken to the warden’s office to listen to poetry and sneak to where you can read a combination which you use on one of three books, which seem to change positions each time you try. The books contain the key to your cell. Once the cell is opened you must sneak into the guard room get the guard uniform and your items and kill the guards to get to your mother and then take her out of her cell. Your mother who is supposed to be a seasoned veteran and one of the very few arena champions of all time is so weak and vulnerable that if she is hit she will die. At the end of a gauntlet of guards in several map areas you are presented with a boss Kraken with eight arms. If during this sequence your mother dies, you fail the mission and you are put back in your cell when you restore the game. You are forced to play this sequence over and over until you get it right.
This entire sequence is intolerable; PC like saves for any point in the game would have avoided another situation of inane ad nauseum repetition of arcade sequences, which seem to be enjoyed by the makers of games and not by game players.
My continual plea is to stop divisive repetition. Making the game player repeat inane arcade sequences does not increase game play. Making the game player repeat inane arcade sequences just angers those players who are required to play them over and over again to get to the next plot area.
Magic Mouth Doors
Almost every location has a magic mouth door, or at least it seems that way. Each door provides a verbal riddle, so you have to be quick to write them down. (Whatever happened to a text box that remained on the screen long enough for you to write hints down, or a log that keeps track of the hints? Text boxes also help make games accessible to people with hearing disabilities. Even with subtitles on the text goes by very quickly.) One door requires that you eat fattening foods so that you are disgustingly obese to open the door. Another door requires that you do some great evil before it will pop open. Each riddle has a solution, and solving them is a game in itself.
“Hot Coffee” Romance
The avatar can become attractive as mentioned previously and use gifts, booze, manly arm pumping, heroic poses, flirting, the flamenco dance, and sometimes a laugh to increase the size of the heart over top of the females in the game. Once the heart swells to a maximum size the character will begin to glow green so that the character can interact with the female. Some female AI plays harder to get than others and requires more work to get the female to green or interaction status.
Once the object of your affection is green, the player can then give the significant other a wedding ring turning the heart above her head golden, and then purchase a house to live in which completes the process. The player can then have his new spouse who now has a golden ring follow him home. The spouse also becomes blue again, loosing the green interactivity status. Once both are home another round of gifts, booze, arm pumping, flirting, and heroic poses will make the new bride green.
Once the player has the bride “green light,” interacting with the bride will prompt a yes or no question “would you like to go to bed with your wife.” A blank screen, similar to the shaking house screen in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (GTASA), is overlaid with various giggles, “ohs” and “ahs,” and actress-scripted comments such as “you are norty!” and “that is pleasant.” Your new conquest will be recorded in the personality screen.
In an attempt to be politically correct, a male player can court and marry a male non-player character. There is even a dress you can wear in the game if you want to try cross-dressing. I was unable to determine if you could play the game as a female character, so further comments on playing as a female are moot.
The game is rated Mature (17+) and there are no real nude scenes or “hot coffee” like mini-games, which were removed from the original GTASA and later reactivated by the “hot coffee mod.” Just to re-emphasize, as with GTASA, this game is rated Mature (17+) not recommended for children 16 years of age or younger. Parents have a responsibility to monitor the game play of their children and to prevent them from playing games that have a violent, profane or sexual nature that they feel is offensive and inappropriate for their children.
There is no pornography or sexual content in this game that in any way exceeds that seen in movies or television. Responsible parents make their own determinations as to what is good for their children to play or watch. Responsible adults make their own determination what is good for them to watch and play. This does not imply that the game had anything offensive or inappropriate for 17+ year olds. A rating system is a guideline, not a substitute for parental responsibility.
Fishing starts when you buy a fishing rod or you get one at the “fisher creek” area in the game, just southwest of the heroes’ guild. Selecting fishing from the F1 hot key slot when it appears starts the fishing mini-game. Your character holds the rod but the real mini-game is in the upper right hand corner of the monitor where a white line appears with a hook on the left end. A mouse icon appears which allows you to reel the fish or other item in, the fish moves right to left. If your catch goes all the way right, you loose your catch. If you reel your catch all the way left, by repeatedly pushing the left mouse button, you will land your catch.
A chicken kicking contest that you can play in Oakvale is like shuffleboard; the difference is you kick a chicken with your foot instead of pushing a puck with a stick. The target area has boxes with points in them, just like shuffleboard. You wager 50 gold and if you get over a certain score you go home with that gold. The best score is 200 points for 200 gold. You can also win a chicken hat.
You can play coin golf, shove ha’penny, guess the addition, pairs, and card sorting for money in various places on the map, usually in pubs in town. You play for gold and can wager and win or loose more gold by playing pub games.
The Fame Game
Every time you complete a quest or kill a monster of a high enough level you get more fame. The higher your fame the more people fall in love with you or applaud or run from you depending upon alignment. Not only does fame help you with other games and quests, the pursuit of fame is a game in itself.
The designers took extra time to optimize the graphics for the higher graphics resolution and power of the PC and the higher output, high-end, graphics expansion cards of NVIDIA and ATI. You can just look at the two games side by side and see the difference. The PC version is much more highly detailed.
The PC graphics engine takes advantage of up to 1600x1200x32 resolution, higher (up to 100 Hz) refresh rate, anti-aliasing, texture detail, mesh detail, shadow detail, effects detail, automatic screen aspect ratio and vertical synchronization to produce a great picture. The video can be set to lower resolution and refresh rate, and shut off certain effects to accommodate machines with less video sophistication.
The game had great innovative design elements such as the multiple folder organization of the inventory and the complex alignment structure. Many modern games should incorporate these elements. “Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” we hope to see game designers using these design elements in their game. The game lacked the artificial intelligence sophistication of a Black & White. The quest content was too little to support a traditional role playing game. Game value was in the replaying the game over and over and trying out different things. Frustration was heightened by incorporating diverse elements that did not mesh in a smooth manner.
Final Grade: B+