Fable 4: Right These Wrongs & Revitalize the Franchise

For all it does right, the Fable series still does a lot wrong, and there are some revamps needed for Fable IV to succeed!

Well, the cat's pretty well out of the bag at this point. What was first a rumor started by an offhand tweet is now gaining traction and being reported as legitimate news -- Fable 4 is coming!

An official announcement is expected soon that Playground Games -- the developer behind the Forza Horizon series -- is now taking up the Fable franchise after Microsoft shuttered Lionhead Studios back in 2016.

This is huge news for fans of the franchise, who were either bummed by the cancellation of asymmetric, free-to-play entry Fable Legends or just simply felt that was the wrong direction to take the franchise in the first place.

While we've had the Fable Fortune CCG to keep us occupied with a fun (if overly familiar) card game experience, frankly, it hasn't gained a large enough  base to be worthwhile for many players, and the game definitely failed to fully capitalize on the major elements of the Fable universe.

Although not everyone agrees, personally I can't wait for a Fable IV release date to be revealed, so long as we see some changes to the formula that don't stray too far from what makes Fable unique.

 Ready to don your chicken outfit once more?

Time For Updates ... Within Reason

There's always a gamble when a long-running series changes hands, and right now, much of Fable 4 is a gigantic question mark. 

Take Microsoft's other big series, for example. Gears Of War 4 changed studios and came out mostly great, keeping intact those things that people loved (horde mode, chainsaw duels, cover system) while adding in some new and innovative systems.

There were elements that longtime fans didn't love, but overall it was a solid entry in a strong franchise. The same can't be said for disasters like Dungeon Siege 3 or The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, however, where those franchises saw baffling changes in style that left fans scratching their heads (or flipping up their middle fingers).

Hopefully we don't see as radical a departure as with those botched series, but at the same time, we need a Fable overhaul. Now I'm going to admit something here that may put me in the minority, but ... I actually loved Fable III.

It was an extremely fun game with hours of hilarious entertainment. I couldn't get enough of tracking down evil lawn gnomes who berated me mercilessly, running a kingdom while wearing a purple chicken outfit, discovering the wonderfully bumbling Sam and Max during their misadventures mucking about with the Normanomicon, and so on.

That being said, there were flaws, and some big ones, that really need to be rectified during the development of Fable 4.

 Pro-tip: don't cast spells that bring inanimate objects to life.

Navigation

This is probably the first and biggest gripe any longtime fans of the series will bring up. Making the pause / menu / equipment screen into a separate area called the Sanctuary didn't make a lot of sense when a standard menu screen would have been a better option.

Having to go through a loading screen to enter the Sanctuary and then another loading screen to enter the armory to pick a different sword was just bad design, plain and simple.

The world map in the Sanctuary was also such a hit-or-miss affair. Sometimes using the magnifying glass for fast travel would plop you right outside the area you wanted to go ... and sometimes it would throw you at the far edge of the map so you had to trudge through yet another round of wolves and skeletons to get to your destination.

This got particularly frustrating when doing dozens of the exact same friendship missions to fetch or deliver something for every single NPC you wanted to like you. While we don't necessarily need to be led by the hand with the glowing trail, we also need a smoother way to navigate the world of Albion in Fable IV.

    Welcome to the worst menu screen ever

Don't Oversimplify Albion

Fable III went out of its way to simplify many of the elements from the previous games to cram more in, and that frequently backfired. The Road To Rule system was significantly too dumbed down, and frankly, not a good way to express RPG leveling.

Character development isn't the only area that could benefit from a bit of a spruce up, however. We really need to see more life given to the denizens of Albion. Fable's NPC interactions are the heart of the game, and Fable 4 needs to better distinguish the various villagers.

Romancing Carla the tavern wench should be a different experience than romancing than Phil the blacksmith, rather than just a copy/paste scenario where you choose slightly different expressions.  

On that note, an expansion on the the expression system is in order, which was simplified and toned down for Fable III. Pulling out most of the game menus and only giving extremely pared down options on which expression to use in a conversation felt like a big step backwards.

Albion as a whole could benefit from a scaling up by an order of magnitude into something more open -- think GTA, Skyrim, or Breath Of The Wild in scope -- which could really put Fable over the top and into the hallowed halls of gaming history.

In an open world, that annoying dog who only digs up paltry amounts of gold could become a faithful mount companion that plays a much bigger role.

 Who's a good boy? Honestly, not really you.

Story And Pacing Tweaks

Gaining allies and building up an army to topple a kingdom are standard fantasy fare that can be crafted into an epic and unforgettable story if presented in the right way.

Sadly, the second "half" of Fable III (which was really more like a quarter) plummeted off a cliff and went by far too fast. The ending was also fairly anti-climactic, as the final shadow invasion really didn't feel that dangerous and could have been significantly more epic.

The whole Fable experience could really be extended out with a bigger focus on post-story content to keep building up (or destroying) your empire and exploring the game world. Buying a mansion, having a family, and starting a real estate empire feels like it should be the start of an epic journey, and not the conclusion.

Fable Decisions and Consequences

What happened to the the transformation the main character undergoes when choosing good or evil options, and why doesn't it ever actually match what you see on the box art for the game? Fable III was sorely lacking on that front.

The series as a whole is supposed to be all about choice, so Fable 4 developer Playground Games needs to give us more. While it was fun (if perhaps totally out of place in the context of the story) to suddenly become significantly more evil and callous than the evil king you'd just deposed, the extremely binary good/bad choices at the end of the previous game really felt like they needed more nuance.

Why weren't there any middle-of-the-road options, and why couldn't you choose to do other things completely to solve those problems? Likewise, the game needs to display more reaction and consequences to the actions you take.

 Deciding between an orphanage or a brothel doesn't have much in-game effect

Improving And Expanding The "Fable-isms"

There are reasons people were excited about the first game, and promises of those same elements kept them coming back, from physically changing to match your alignment to the ability to buy real estate and marry anyone you want.

These options need to be brought back full force, and improved and expanded on. While Fable is one of the few games that lets you be a deadbeat mom or actually be there for your kids, it feels like the marriage and parenting systems need to be expanded in some meaningful ways that are less of an afterthought.

Likewise, the game's core mechanic of choosing between melee, ranged, or spell combat needs an overhaul. Shooting with a rifle was just objectively more powerful in Fable III than swordplay or waiting for a spell to power up. Combat as a whole has felt frequently too easy. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see Fable go the route of Dark Souls, but the combat could use some major tweaking.

Fable 4 Release Date 

While we don't know the release date yet, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the impending Fable IV announcement

Playground Games is reportedly bringing on a very large team to tackle this "unnamed" RPG project, and while the developer's previous titles may not seem to lend themselves to the Fable style, having an established team with ample resources at hand suggests we might finally get something worthy of the series name.

The question is just what type of game should we expect? We know from developer interviews that Lionhead wanted to create a darker Fable 4, but was instead tasked with the games-as-a-service model with Fable Legends. While the humor has felt part and parcel to the series for a while now, I wouldn't mind seeing a grittier, more steampunk-y Albion more along the lines of Dishonored -- but if Playground goes full throttle into the humor instead, I can't say that would be a bad thing.

What do you think Fable 4 needs to do to succeed, and when do you think we'll finally get our hands on this long-sought game?

   ...and we're willing to wait a long time so long as the end product is worth it!

Published Jan. 18th 2018

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