Fable is by Lionhead studios, home of long time auteur game designer Peter Molyneux who has a tendency to promise the Earth and be ultimately crippled by his own ambition (see the big fat broken monkey fest Black & White). During the development of Fable for example, it was promised to have features like: rival NPC characters, plants growing in real time and a system where in your every slightest choice and action changes your appearance in the world around you. What we ended up with was a buggy Action RPG with the great big stiffy for itself.
The game takes place in the land of Albion, a generic fantasy world about two miles across where most of the population are heavily-accented immigrants from every conceivable part of the British Isles. The main character starts off as a fresh-faced farm boy whose origin story reads like the first chapter of The Totally Unoriginal Guide to RPG Hero Motivation. Needless to say, his idyllic lifestyle is tragically interrupted when his family is slaughtered in front of him, his village is burned down and he is sent away to learn the ways of combat and heroism from a convenient local academy.
The big selling point of course is that you can choose to be a good character or an evil character. So I, of course, set out to be the evilest bastard who ever lived, and the best way to do this, according to the game, was to dress in black, grow a big moustache, draw all over my face and backhand the occasional passer-by. I also set myself up as a magic user because I wanted to end up looking like Ming the Merciless. But the starting spells were all so ridiculously piss weak that I ended up having to use a sword half the time anyway, and the game ended up dubbing me a Spell Warrior. Which made me feel like it was calling me an indecisive prick.
Later, my alignment allowed me a learn a spell called "Evil Pentagram Soul Suck Horror" that, when cast, froze and maimed everyone in the vicinity for massive damage and dragged their souls down into the darkest waste of the Stygian pit, and after that, things became almost insultingly easy. I made sure to only take the evil side quests and most of them had you do very little beyond wipe out legions of flimsy guardsmen. Even as I neared the end of the game and I found myself becoming rapidly outclassed by my enemies, the amount of gold I had acquired was so ridiculously unbalanced that I was able to buy three houses and still have enough left over to buy every health potion in the district.
One of the things you can do apart from the main quest is seduce and marry virtually anyone in the land regardless of gender. Although there didn't seem to be any reason to do so, and I was so twisted and unattractive from all the peasants I'd been maiming that the only person I could get to marry me was the evil femme fatale character, who only did so to keep my mouth shut about the skeletons in her closet. The way she pitched it to me, I thought we were going to partner up in an unstoppable superstar tag team to take over the world together. But after the wedding, all she did was hang around the town center criticizing my taste in facial hair.
Fable is supposed to be all about choice, but it's really just the same choice over and over again between either mawkish virtue or extravagant malevolence with no apparent middle ground. For example, there's a cast of major NPCs whom you run across regularly throughout the adventure, and for virtually all of them there's a point where you can choose between either doing their bidding or slitting their throat. It's an option that personally, I appreciated having. But since the game has to find a way to carry on regardless no matter who you murder, no one seems to be that bothered by it. To the point that I could slaughter half the population and people would still be expecting me to defeat the big villain and save the world, then act all surprised when I decide to join him instead.
Eventually I got to the final boss who didn't hold still long enough for my stupidly overpowered dark spell to be effective. So all I could do was whack it repeatedly over the head with my sword while it chewed constantly on my lower body. But I had so many health potions by that point that I could basically drip feed myself with the stuff, and after the boss popped its scaly clogs, I still had enough left over to throw a health potion keg party.
In conclusion, Fable is at its heart a fairly decent Action RPG, and if they'd just spent more time ironing out the balance issues and keeping Peter Molyneux's gob shut during development, then it would probably have been more favourably received. But the game's big selling point is also its biggest flaw. In trying to give us choice, it tries to do too much and ultimately collapses under its own weight. Personally, I don't think there's anything inherently bad about linearity in games, but it seems that saying your game will be non-linear will make people jump all over it like you've said it gives you free blowjobs and pudding.
Incessant gibbering by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
"Gotterdammerung" by Richard Wagner
"Heart Full of Black" by Burning Brides
Used without Permission (I regret nothing)
No puppies were harmed during the making of this video except one who genuinely deserved it
Explain why being able to drink twenty beers and throw up is a vital aspect of gameplay: email@example.com