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Monday, April 16, 2007

Game Play: Finishing Fable

I'm pretty much finished with Fable: The Lost Chapters - as I haven't decided if the game, like many others that try to push replayability, really is worth replaying. Not that I didn't like it - I would restrain some of my earlier optimism and say that the game doesn't hit the goodness that was either Deus Ex or Ocarina, but it nudges close to that kind quality.

Now mind you, I speak of The Lost Chapters version and I think that's distinctly important. As I understand the release for the Xbox, it is incredibly short and has a few aspects which would have been bizarre to leave out (like being able to discover, but not act on Lady Grey's past). Plus I think I clocked in at about nine hours when I hit the "first" ending, and only about sixteen for the whole TLC trip - so it's not like this version is long but it is almost long enough.

Some of the aspects of the game I'm still crazy about. I like that the game takes you from a boy to an older man. That leveling up slowly ages The Hero is a great correlation between age and time spent in the game. Although I'm not sure if I checked their math correctly ... it seems like I aged twenty years in two days. Actually, that's an analogy for how I feel about the game in general - some excellent ideas that were simply not executed fully.

A good example is the interaction with towns. You can buy houses and rent them out. Apparently you can also slay existing owners and steal their property - although I ended the game with more money than I could possibly use so I'm not sure why would you want to do that. However, there's no real control over the town. This is where a game like Dark Cloud 2 surpasses Fable - you really feel a sense of achievement for rebuilding and being a part of a town (even if the interaction afterwards is somewhat limited). Eventually The Hero can become mayor of Bowerstone ... but from I can see there's absolutely no real benefit or privilege to it. I didn't even get the big fancy house (just the ability to enter it). The same goes with aspects of social interaction like marriage. I kept trying to find someone actually interesting to marry, but barmaids really seem to be the choice of the game.

The storyline between good and evil was pretty basic and, like many games that try the "dual path" of narratives, your alignment doesn't feel like a huge deal to the overall world. Sure, people fear or love you - and I really, really enjoyed that aspect of it - but, heck for one thing it was hard to be evil in the game. You end up fighting so much evil either way that you practically have to make a side job of maiming villagers just to keep it up. In the end I had butterflies fluttering about not because I played an overall good Hero - but simply because I was lazy.

Sure, I could have killed Whisper or attacked the other heroes or whatnot. I didn't really get the impression that the "evil path" was a better story though. Like many games of this type, Fable felt like a story about a good person that was written with a few evil tangents for show. Eventually these games will need to get beyond the plotline that either the only two choices are to kill the villain or usurp the villain (since this structure involves little more than swapping out a cutscene or two). Instead, I should be able to become the villain early on and have people try and defeat me. I had thought the game was going to do this with Whisper - have her become the player's polar opposite throughout the game. Evil players would then find themselves on a completely side of the story with the game trying to foil their dastardly plots (or good players would find themselves trying to foil dastardly plots).

Course, I don't know when we'll see this in mainstream games. For two reasons .... one is that it can double some of the content required to produce and content is pretty expensive these days. Course, I could see a game laid out with maps similar to Unreal Tournament's Assault maps and having the same content with completely seperate goals depending on the player's alignment.

The second is possibly a more pronounced and unspoken reason - game developers still aren't fond of portraying real evil as being interactive. So we get this kind of watered down sideshow sort of evil. The advantage of the "destroy or usurp evil" plot format is that it still generally resembles the actions of someone doing good - just with alternate reasons. If you made a game that was really and truly about terrorizing a countryside in search of an ancient artifact so that you could become the servant of a Mad God ... well ... parent groups might object.

So let's not fool ourselves into thinking that there hasn't been a chilling effect on games.

Anyway, at $20 the game is well worth the money. It has some great mechanics and concepts and in general is a lot of fun. Mostly, though, the game serves as a sounding board for ideas which just haven't happened yet.

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