Keep Your Memories: We Don't Need Fable 4
This article was originally published in 2017. With a potential Fable 4 reveal just around the corner, we take another look at why we might not really need another entry in the franchise.
With the Fable series seemingly abandoned after the cancellation of Fable Legends, and the developer responsible for it shuttered, I'm left wondering why we're even talking about the fantasy franchise. Moreover, I'm particularly confused as to why Phil Spencer, head of Xbox for Microsoft himself, has hinted at the series having new offerings in the future.
Why am I confused? Allow me to explain.
What Fable Was Way Back When
Back in 2004, Lionhead Studios and their satellite company, Big Blue Box, developed Fable, a whimsical RPG set in a fantasy world called Albion. It was full of action with sword fights, magic, and monsters, all brought to life with a fantastic orchestral score and art style.
The game was praised for its setting, humor, and feeling of free will, and sold over 600,000 copies in its first month alone. It eventually surpassed 3 million sold and spawned two direct sequels: Fable 2 and Fable 3.
In 2008, Fable 2 largely followed the formula of its predecessor, added features touted for the first title -- such as the ability to have children -- and received overall great reviews. The game went on to sell over 3.5 million copies and was the Xbox 360's best selling RPG for years.
Unfortunately, in 2010, Fable 3 followed the formula for game aspects that needed innovation, while renovating other parts that would have been better off left alone.
Although Fable 3 received generally positive reviews, it was also heavily criticized for the lack of innovation prevalent throughout the title.
After this, the Fable series was pulled back and put into a period of silence while developers mulled over what to do. This eventually led to the reveal of Fable: The Journey in 2011 at E3.
Released in Fall 2012, Fable: The Journey was an on-rails action-RPG that required the Kinect to play. The game was a sharp turn away from the series' roots, and received divisive reviews for its pivot to a casual shooter-esque magic game.
Deciding to shake it up again, Lionhead created Fable Heroes, a beat-em-up brawler that garnered largely negative reviews, leaving the franchise's future uncertain.
In 2013, Lionhead teased Fable Legends, a a free-to-play online co-op RPG, meant to have a 5-10 year life cycle. The game featured an open beta and would be the first in the series to be cross-compatible with Windows 10. Then, in December 2015 the game was delayed to the following year, where it was cancelled only three months later.
One month later, Lionhead Studios was shut down.
Would Fable Even Work Today?
With rumblings from Phil Spencer about a potential sequel in the series being handled by Microsoft, we're left wondering one thing: why?
The very studio that created it is no more, and half the series has been less than stellar. The last three titles were all deviations not just from the original formula, but the genre as a whole. The core gameplay of the series was missing from Legends, Heroes, and Journey, with them largely being Fable installments only in name.
Even the games that were great had flaws that were never fixed.
The combat has always been too easy, with no aiming needed. Likewise, magic and ammunition were infinite in both Fable 2 and 3, meaning melee combat was not only unnecessary but also underpowered. Similarly, the games lacked story arcs in their side missions, and had little depth beyond the main story -- which was often incredibly short.
In the third game, simple things like inventory management, using the map, and giving gifts were all delegated to the "Sanctuary", which was cumbersome and required additional loading screens. The game was also prone to frame drops, and most areas were cut into small portions that had to be loaded in, leading to even more loading screens
NPCs had little to say and were delegated largely to just emotes, which left the game feeling empty despite the population. New additions to the series such as co-op and weapon morphing were both heavily limited by DLC, and the hero's child was randomly named and spawned without any player input.
Even the classic 'Good versus Evil' -- which the original game became famous for -- is now outdated.
Games like Mass Effect pushed the Renegade and Paragon options for three titles then abandoned it for Mass Effect: Andromeda to create a more compelling and realistic narrative. The Witcher series has been highly praised for its outstanding narrative which exists entirely in shades of grey.
Reviving a core Fable installment in this day and age would require so much reworking that the teams involved would be far better off creating a brand new title unfettered by the shackles of the game's lore, history, and reputation. This is even more pertinent now that developers such as CD Projekt Red have gone on to make massive hits like The Witcher 3, which truly show what a proper RPG is capable of, both in story, gameplay, and graphics.
The very core of the game is simply outdated and doesn't need to be reinvented. We can appreciate what it was without trying to resurrect it and make it into something it isn't. The series will always be remembered fondly for its early installments when the concepts they introduced were new, but that doesn't mean we need them now.
Classics are classics not for what they are but for what they were.
Microsoft has a lot of great studios who can make something new and exciting from the ground up. Something we haven't seen and played before. Something to truly compete with today's outstanding RPG catalog. Something Fable, for all its fond moments, will never be.