Not a real review: Fable Anniversary (Xbox 360)

Fable Anniversary

Fable Anniversary (Lionhead Studios) – beautiful, but buggy.

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I was ecstatic when Lionhead Studios announced Fable Anniversary last June. The original Fable – the game that sparked my interest in video games (beyond racing, sports, etc.) as an adult – turns ten years old this year, and remains one of my favorites. A long-hoped-for, remastered-for-HD version of my favorite Xbox game, originally expected to release less than five months after its announcement? I was 100% there.

Of course, it was pushed back to February, ostensibly so that Lionhead could add some final polish and make it the great remake that it deserved to be – and that its fans deserved, and craved.

I picked the game up on its release date (February 4), but I didn’t get around to starting it for a couple of days. Since then, I have put approximately 25 hours into it over the course of a half-dozen play sessions. I’ve spent my time in-game savoring the HD graphics, basking in the soundtrack, and exploring every nook and cranny of Albion. It’s wonderful to see the original Fable in its updated glory. The adventure can be completed in a relatively short amount of time, but I’ve been taking my sweet, sweet time, and I have no regrets about doing so.

The not-real review:

Graphically, Fable Anniversary is a pleasure, although this is expected: in the Xbox 360 era, we’ve already had Fable II and Fable III, which both look bright and colorful; Anniversary feels right at home when compared to those two.

The gameplay is faithful to the original, with the added option of using the Fable II controls. Personally, it’s a pleasure to play a 360-quality Fable game with the map on-screen again, and while the menu interface design has been updated, it still feels like old times, in a good way.

I won’t go into detail about every aspect of the game. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself, and I’m sure most fans of the original game would have a lot of fun revisiting Albion in Anniversary. Plus, this is not a real review.

However, I will note a handful of troubling issues with the game.

1. The original game’s “trade between shops for gold” “bug” – where a player can buy out a vendor, instantly increase that same vendor’s demand (and buy price) for items, and then resell those items back to the vendor for a profit, instantly re-lowering that vendor’s demand (and sell price), ad infinitum – made it into the remastered game intact.

It’s fairly obvious that Lionhead isn’t terribly concerned with the ease of gold-making in the series. After all, Fable II and III both had fairly simple, repetitive job systems that made gold-making a mindless afterthought after players put in a little bit of initial work. However, I would argue that this a broken system that needed to be fixed. They did fix it to some extent in Fable II, which had a much better “sale” system, but in remaining faithful to the original in this case, they trivialized several other systems. For instance, with basically unlimited gold, the use of Health/Will potions and Resurrection Phials goes from somewhat strategic (in the first hour or two of play) to completely trivial: when you’re sitting on 500+ Health/Will potions, you can use them like candy and it’s not challenging. Additionally, getting very good armor and weapons becomes simply a matter of opening up new areas (and thus, new vendors), with little-to-no real cost. And getting the “Choosing My Religion” achievement for donating at least 100,000 gold at the Temple of Avo (which also rewards a very strong melee weapon) is a drop in the bucket. There is no real choice necessary there (unless you deliberately choose not to make gold that way); instead of making choices have consequence, you simply buy what you need – even an achievement – while suffering virtually no effect on your overall gold balance.

2. The game freezes way too often, which is a problem. It’s happened to me more times than I’ve cared to count. On Sunday, for instance, I played for just over two hours and had to shut off/restart my 360 three times. The first time it happened was early on in the game, when I was halfway through the “Twinblade’s Camp” core quest. I was mollified when I realized that I could load from the latest checkpoint, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. I’ve had to hard-restart my 360 almost 20 times with Fable Anniversary, and even though Lionhead came out with a stability update a few weeks after release, I’m still having many of the same problems.

3. There are some annoying jagged edges in the game. The one that has annoyed me the most – probably because I’ve used it so many times – has been a problem where, if I run straight into a cullis gate (usually at the Heroes Guild), I can’t actually get onto it. I have to approach it in a semi-circular manner in order to avoid the jag, which is just a pain. There are some other ground jags, but nothing that has been as consistently frustrating as the cullis gate issue. Fortunately, we have the Guild Seal, and I’ve taken to using it almost exclusively for teleportation.

4. On that note, I’ve also noticed some instances where, when attempting to use the down button on the d-pad (Guild Seal) to teleport, the game instead reflects that I’ve used either the right or left d-pad buttons, which means I use some type of expression (usually a fart, which I guess is hilarious in its own way), eat something I didn’t want to eat, or something to that effect. At certain points, that has been frustrating, particularly at times when I was some distance from the nearest cullis gate. Since the update, this seems to have toned down, although I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence.

There are other gameplay elements that aren’t the cleanest, but these bugs are the ones that have bothered me the most, because they’re particularly immersion-breaking and because I would think that, aside from #1, Lionhead would have been able to smooth out the game’s rough edges (bugs) with the extra time afforded them by the delay.

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In general, I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun playing Fable Anniversary. It’s been great to revisit the old stories, places, music, and choices. I’ve laughed a lot, and enjoyed the coziness of the game. At the same time, I’ve found myself getting chills during certain quests, even though I’ve done them before: the quest sequences where you a) find out Lady Grey’s secret at Grey House and b) fight through the graveyard on the way to Bargate Prison were, in particular, very cool combinations of atmosphere, music, and spooky situations.

Looking back at the original through this fresh experience, it’s easier to see how Lionhead took some big leaps forward from Fable to Fable II, with jobs, the vendor sale system, combat system, expanded pub games, and the social/Renown/relationship overhauls. While I still sort of want to look back on my experiences with the original and tell people that the first Fable was the best game in the series – and I do think that it’s still my favorite – I have a much greater appreciation for the changes in game mechanics that Lionhead made in the second game now. Fable Anniversary is great, and it’s a loving tribute to the original classic, but it also shows both its age and its limitations when compared to its newer brethren. As such, it generally deserves its decent-but-not-smokin’-hot review scores.

I would definitely recommend Fable Anniversary to fans of the original Fable, as well as fans of Fable II and III who haven’t played the original, if for nothing other than to experience the original story. Albion is rich with lore, and for those who never played it on Xbox (or never owned an Xbox), this is a wonderful opportunity to visit that era in its history.

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My experience with Fable Anniversary:

  • Previous Fable experience: played the original several times. Also played II several times, and III once.
  • General game thoughts: beautiful – and still a lot of fun – but also a bit buggy, and shows its age.
  • Graphics: not cutting-edge anymore, but generally on par with other 360 Fable entries.
  • System/game performance: generally consistent with the original, and very playable, but – again – has some unfortunately frustrating bugs.
  • Music: excellent, as usual – a game soundtrack worth buying.
  • Xbox Smartglass: I didn’t test the Smartglass features. Additionally, I didn’t feel like spending extra money for the premium features, and they aren’t totally necessary anyway (although from what I’ve read, they’re pretty cool).

Note: Not a real review is a new series here at Dischordant Forms, where I write about my experiences playing through various video games – usually older games that I can get at bargain bin prices (although this game is something of an exception in that regard). These posts should not be considered actual reviews, which are usually written by people who are both competent gamers and decent writers. These are simply my impressions, and the context in which those are formed may be vastly different from that of most other players/readers.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

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Fable Anniversary is around the corner!

I first became aware of Fable when it was released in September of 2004 for the original XBox. However, I didn’t start playing it until March of 2006; in fact, it was the first RPG-classified game that I completed.

I can remember the first day I played it. I had bought it (Fable: The Lost Chapters) on a Sunday, and had that Monday off. I started playing at around 11 AM, and with the exception of meal and bathroom breaks, I played until past 2 AM that first evening. The soundtrack is amazing, and the game was beautiful and immersive in a way that I had never experienced before. As such, it was my first experience with putting that much time into one session of a game (but hardly my last).

Much has been written about the first Fable game, so I won’t go into an explanation. Suffice to say that the information is out there if you aren’t familiar, and also that I played through it several times. I also played Fable II several times, although it took me a few years to get around to it – and felt that it was also a great game, although not quite as awesome as the first – and Fable III once. I wasn’t as into Fable III, having had some serious issues with the user interface, which I felt went several steps in the wrong direction (I loathed the Sanctuary – which I found highly inconvenient and cumbersome as a substitute for the menu system – although I know people who loved it). Beyond those, I haven’t played the other entries in the series – Fable: The Journey for XBox/Kinect and Fable Heroes on XBLA. That doesn’t diminish the love or the high hopes I have for the series.

Last year, Lionhead Studios announced Fable Anniversary for XBox 360, an HD remake of Fable including the The Lost Chapters bonus content, as a celebration of the ten year anniversary of that first game. From what I’ve read, the game will have not only improved graphics, but also a remastered soundtrack (which is awesome, and I seriously want to buy that soundtrack if it ever becomes available…) and even a couple of new achievements. At $39.99, the game is a bargain, although at $34.99, its accompanying strategy guide is not. (Note: I’m poor.)

I played through Fable II as recently as last year, because I do love that game, but I haven’t played through the first game in several years. I was toying with the idea of playing the original again before the remake arrived, but ultimately I decided not to, mainly because of a desire to have the game be relatively fresh for me when I do play Anniversary: had I played it in mid-January, it might not have had the same impact that it will have when I put the disc in, create my character and play through it for the first time in a long time. I want to savor the experience. I know that since I’ve already played it (and the other games), there will be some familiarity, but I’ve decided that this will nonetheless be the path to my best experience.

I don’t know my work schedule for next week as I write this, but I’m sure that I will be able to put some hours into Fable Anniversary once it arrives on Tuesday. It’s safe to say that I’m excited!

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Reactivate

“And so our story begins…”

Fable II (2008)

“…again.”

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After months of hesitation and indecision, I recently decided to reactivate Dischordant Forms. While I’ve chosen to go ahead with this, I don’t have a great idea as to how it will go. I didn’t even have a first post (except this reintroduction) ready to go, but then Lou Reed passed away, and I decided to share some thoughts on that last week. The two posts I wrote ended up preempting – and upstaging – this one, in a big way. 

All I can say is… wow. Many thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands, who liked those posts and Freshly Pressed the second one. The result has been that I got more views, reads, likes, follows, and comments from that post than from anything I’d ever previously posted here! I’ve been blogging at WordPress in one one shape or another for over four years, never once daring to hope I could have the privilege of being Freshly Pressed, and the feedback has been awesome! Thanks to everyone who read and commented and so on – I can’t begin to express how fun it has been seeing everyone.

One of the great things about being viewed so many times is that I’ve been introduced to a bunch of great blogs in return. I’ve checked out many of the bloggers whose names have shown up in my Notifications tab, and that’s been fun as well. My reader is growing, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

At any rate, I started this post before Lou Reed passed, and so here it is, edited slightly in light of the fact that it’s now almost two weeks old…

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Although I already have a (different) blog, I occasionally struggle with the topical constraints inherent in a topic-specific blog. From time to time, I feel the urge to write about a topic that doesn’t fit within the confines of that blog’s content. Usually, that potential post is never realized, sits rotting in the Draft folder, or is soon trashed. Additionally, there have been several instances recently where I’ve refrained from voicing opinions on that blog (or its corresponding Twitter account) out of a desire to “not rock the boat” within the community that that blog is a part of. This blog, being entirely separated from that one, represents an opportunity to speak my mind without reservation, outside that community.

While I’m technically reactivating an old blog after more than twenty months of dormancy, I plan on going about it differently – in essence, treating it in some ways as if it’s a new blog. And by that, I mean that, unlike my previous blogs, I’m not promising myself, or anyone else, anything.

Furthermore, I’m not chasing anything this time. In this incarnation of Dischordant Forms, I’m going to eschew certain methods I’ve usually used to promote my posts and “rack up page views.” With experience, I’ve learned that attempting to emulate certain aspects of others’ blogs, or otherwise trying to make this blog appear cooler than it really is – things I’ve done poorly in the past – ultimately leaves me feeling dissatisfied.

In the past, I’ve taken to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, but I don’t think I’ll be doing this with Dischordant Forms, at least for the time being. I’m also not going to pretend I’m some decent photographer, since I’m not; this doesn’t mean there will be no photos, but I won’t be bludgeoning readers with expansive sets of recent photos. I’m going without Tag and Category clouds, extensive blog rolls, Recent Comment feeds, and other such widgets. I’ve changed the layout and look of the blog to be much more sparse and basic than it was before. The aesthetic will likely be a living work-in-progress, but I’d ultimately like to keep extraneous information from overwhelming the sidebar.

There are probably few, if any, outside my family who remember this blog from the old days, and I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, it’s actually a good thing in the context of reawakening the blog after so long and treating it as a new one. There are a couple of reasons for doing this / feeling this way:

  1. I really like the blog’s name. I’m also generally bad at naming things, so, with that in mind, this one seems to be a keeper. But…
  2. I would like a lot of what I wrote in the past to be forgotten.

In mid-2012, I set the entire blog to “private,” and left it so until July of this year. During that time, whenever I revisited it, I found myself dismayed by many of my posts. For a while, I accepted that as something akin to “not liking the sound of one’s own voice,” but more recently I’ve come to understand that many of my posts were simply filler, and/or just poorly written or otherwise flawed, which is why I found myself dissatisfied with them, and with the blog as a whole. As such, over the past several days I’ve re-revisited almost all of them, setting roughly half of them to “private” – which is why it now looks like it’s been two years since I posted last, prior to last week’s posts.

In the process of looking over those old posts, I discovered several “I’m in a rut” posts that detailed my struggles to blog consistently with quality and diversity of topic. Interspersed with these were several articles about sports – most of which I’ve hidden for either lack of substance or poor reasoning – and video game design (also something I’m not very qualified to comment on in many cases). I understand that cutting large swaths of previous work from the public record is probably unorthodox, but cutting superfluous drivel made me feel better, so it is what it is.

Anyway, what I realized through that process is that there are things that haven’t and likely won’t change about my writing: I will learn as I write, and write as I learn. The naivete displayed in several of my older posts is cringe-worthy at times, but I can’t promise that that will entirely disappear. The truth of the matter is that I am a person with many interests, but no mastery over any particular skill or subject. As such, it’s likely that this blog will continue to accurately reflect that amateurism; it is my hope that it will reflect growth as well.

I have left some of the “better” legacy posts public, but I don’t intend to reference them much in the future. They’re generally harmless, but they don’t interest me much anymore, in and of themselves. However, they’re some of the better examples of my writing on this blog and its predecessor, for what that’s worth. The huge gap between posts in 2011 and 2013 sort of creates its own dividing line, and I’m fairly satisfied with that.

There is absolutely nothing concrete in the queue for the near future. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have any goals for this blog; on the contrary: there are, in fact, clear goals: 1) for this blog to be a canvas on which to continue to improve my writing; 2) for me to be myself in my writing, rather than trying to follow the leads of other bloggers.

When I made my first couple of blogs, I did so in the rough image of other bloggers that I admired. As a blogging novice, this had its merits, but it also became stifling and uncomfortable, “square peg/round hole”-like. While I certainly made efforts to express myself, and those were genuine efforts, they were also misguided to some degree. I’d like to correct that to whatever extent I can during this go-round.

There is the potential for positive growth as a writer about different subjects here at this blog. How much I take advantage of that depends on many things, with the primary factors being my own drive, ethic, and imagination.

I will probably write too much about music in general, and certain artists (*ahem*) in particular. I will probably write amateurishly about sports… and, occasionally, about video games. I tend to get into streaks with certain topics, but I’m feeling some self acceptance in that regard.

In closing, this blog has no format (other than that I tend to write long posts…). It is not comprised of the writings of an expert on anything, or of anyone particularly talented. It’s just a blog, and a blogger striving to better his writing.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. [2014 edit: I actually did make a Twitter account after all… you can follow me at @DischordantRuss.] Comments are welcome!