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Fable The Journey preview: A slow-burning quest through Albion

Works well with Kinect - but there are concessions

Fable: The Journey got off to the worst possible start - a hands-off E3 2011 demo showcasing little more than vague limb-swinging in a stifling switch from traditional freeroam role-playing to hand-holding on-rails action.

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In Lionhead's mind it was a potent pairing - the freedom of motion control with the safety of an established franchise - but to fans, the license seemed bent out of all recognition, stooping to accommodate Kinect and its habit for broad strokes.

Set fifty years after the events of Fable III, you play Gabriel, a young Dweller from a small tribe. After getting separated from his convoy, he meets Theresa (Zoe Wanamaker's blind mage from the previous games). Attacked by a formless, gooey evil called The Corruption, Gabriel must take Theresa to the Tattered Spire to save her life.

While evidently not the sort of thing suited to convention halls (Peter Molyneux later called the demo a "horrendous mistake") we got a better look during a trip to Lionhead's studios in sunny Guildford, where we had five hours to get as far into the game as possible.

You can play through the whole game sitting, which is an undoubted incentive to people lacking the boundless energy of a Scottish terrier. And so with with rear on seat, our journey begins. We're on a horse in first-person sand trotting on dirt roads through a rural Albion.

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THE SLOW ROAD

Perform an arm flick to whip the reins and get a gallop going, and do another to get a five-second speed boost. Apart from collecting skill orbs which count towards upgrades, swerving away from overhanging rocks, and stopping every now and then to chat to a travelling merchant (you just sit there and listen to their story rather than interact with them in any meaningful way), there's little to do on the open road.

There's a lot of road to cover. Over 300 miles of it...

If anything, it's more like a cinematic establishing shot drawn out over a dozen minutes and book-ending combat scenarios. And there is a lot of road to cover. Over 300 miles of it. Progress is slow, but the world feels all the vaster because of it. Every time you round a corner there's a shimmering vista staring you in the face. You'll pass loved-up couples in romantic wheat fields and lazy villages scattered around water mills. There are even famous landmarks, like the industrial town of Bowerstone smouldering on the horizon. For a Kinect title it's curiously unhurried, and many won't have the patience, but it's a necessary evil in the quest to do what all sequels and spin-offs should - expand the universe.

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