Fable The Journey preview: A slow-burning quest through Albion
18th Sep 2012 | 01:00
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
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.
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.
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.
It's not just your movement speed that makes the world feel larger, but your character. You're no hero or King, but a bony lad with a bad haircut. When he fends off a Balverine, he does so not with magic or a 6ft sword, but a small stick and an angry yell. Albion is bigger and more dangerous, The Journey doing for Fable what ODST did for Halo. When Gabriel's horse Seren is injured, we set off for the Spell Cave, which takes 20 minutes. Once in, the game really begins.
Gabriel finds a pair of metal gauntlets that bond themselves to his skin, enabling spells like Push (thrust your left arm forward to fling objects and enemies), Bolt (thrust forward your right arm to fire neon blue missiles), After-touch (redirect Bolts in mid-air, like a magical James McAvoy in Wanted), and a shield which rebounds attacks when you raise a hand to your chest.
During a later trip through a Hobbe camp, these spells were put to the test. Kinect recognises multiple inputs at once, so combat scenarios allows players to layer up and link attacks for inventive combos. While launching a rock at a distant archer with one hand, for instance, we directed a Bolt towards an explosive barrel with another and took out several Hobbes at once. There're also contextual actions, like pulling down a stalactite to block a Rockmite hive. Occasionally your fights happen at speed, like in a minecart chase through a winding cave, or against Hobbes on the backs of armoured boars where you'll hand the reigns to Theresa and smash them off the road.
Finally, we reached another Hobbe settlement deep in Thorndeep Forest where we found an innocent villager who had been hanging upside down for days. "I'm completely fine", he assured us. "Apart from a slight headache. Also, I think my hip's dislocated." We let him down and, with a pop, he snapped it back into place. "Ah, that's better." It's nice to see Fable's still got a funny bone. And that's where our demo ended, more than a redux of 2011's debut showing.
It showed us that Kinect can host accurate combat and story-driven gameplay in a singleplayer world, and you can have it all while sat down.
But - always expect a 'but' with Kinect - it's entirely on-rails. Molyneux claimed the contrary, even at last year's E3, but we weren't let off the leash once in the five hours we played. It's clear that this is the only way Kinect works, terrified of you straying from a rigid path, and gripping your hand at every opportunity. Some may argue constant tutorials, warnings and silhouettes of men in the corner demonstrating the proper motions necessary, but that doesn't mean they're not invasive.
It's also the slowest of slow burns. Watching Albion drift by in first-person affords gorgeous views of an immense land breathed into new life by Unreal Engine 3, but it can get a little tiresome. Numerous Lionhead devs we spoke to reiterated, "We're trying to challenge preconceptions", and "You've just really got to play it".