After the original Fable was released on the Xbox by MSGames, it received differing receptions - some gamers considered it a disappointment while others enjoyed its cartoonish and yet spooky take of the RPG genre. While I personally didn't sway to either opinion due to the fact I missed out on the Xbox release, its approach to the PC platform still had me intrigued and interested despite my unfamiliarity - similar to how I viewed Halo PC. However, just like Halo, the PC gamers had to wait a while, and now that Fable: TLC is finally here, a similar reception seen with its Xbox predecessor will likely occur - some gamers will love it, while others probably not as much.
In case you are oblivious to the story of Fable like I was before firing up TLC, here is a quick run down - As a young boy, your character's small village is attacked, leaving only yourself and a few others as survivors. As you try to escape, a Hero rescues you and takes you to the "Hero's Guild" - a place where young boys and girls are crafted into deadly hero's and warriors. It is now when you begin your training as a young hero, making your way through the land of Albion to take your revenge on the brutal attackers, and to make a name for yourself as a powerful warrior in the process. Your hero's path is determined by your actions, as you control everything from childhood to elderly adulthood.
Fable: The Lost Chapters is basically the entire Xbox game ported to the PC with a few extra chapters added onto the end of the game, along with a few new items such as weapons and armor. These extra additions are nice but don't really extend the gameplay a whole lot further than the Xbox's, so Fable: TLC is probably best enjoyed by new comers to the series, and not veterans of the Xbox version. However, if you really enjoyed the Xbox version, there is no harm going through it again with some new goodies thrown in here and there, particularly considering it is likely you finished Fable Xbox a while ago and aren't fresh with its twists and turns.
Like most solid RPG's, Fable: TLC excels in the area of character customisation - all the usual equipment such as weaponry, armor, costumes etc will be found but the customisation does not end at a visual sense - everything from your character's personality and reputation is subject to variation, influenced by your actions and decisions in-game. Most of the decisions you make are between good or evil, and while no one decision will leave your character doomed for either side, eventually any pattern in either direction will influence the way the game is played - become evil, and you will grow horns and strike fear in people everywhere, but play nicely and you will be received with cheers and grace. Some quests are designed for one or the other, and some will present you with a real time decision influencing your "alignment", as it is referred to in the game. However, your alignment isn't just influenced by your quest and mission decisions - the clothes you wear, the tattoo's you ink and the leisure activities you take part in also pave your path to good or evil, or somewhere in between.
Another aspect to the character customisation found in Fable: TLC is, of course, the experience point spending, which must be done at the Hero's Guild. When spending your points gained from completing quests, you have three areas to choose from - Strength, Skill and Will. Strength covers all your physical attributes and abilities, Skill covers your speed, agility and accuracy with long ranged weapons, while Will covers your magic and spell abilities. These areas, while obviously impacting your character's abilities, are only influential in a short term sense because it is possible further on in the game to max your character out in everything. What this means is, while your character can start off uniquely aimed at one or two particular areas of combat, by the time you're near the end of the game it is likely you'll have just about the exact same Hero as everyone else has that stage in the game, at least attribute wise anyway. This is a bit of a disappointment and also a little questionable game design wise, because if they made it so you can only choose one path between the 3 forms of combat, gamers may be inclined to restart the game after finishing it the first time to try a new character type - with the existing setup, once you've finished the game the first time, there's little reason to go back and do it again.
While the character customisation features are nice in the most part, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game is the combat engine. While you will get the impression it feels a little "arcadey" and "console port-ish", it is actually very well executed and offers real depth to the game. To start with, blocking and dodging attacks is a real strategy and becomes vital to triumph in battles - not many RPG's can claim this. On top of that, large powerful swings will hit any enemy in its path, meaning any one attack can impact multiple opponents, and of course, this can work against you too - this is certainly one of the strongest physics engines I've seen in a RPG title to date. Unlike many RPG's, you'll have to be aware of your enemy's placements. They won't simply form an orderly single file queue and try to attack you front on one by one, you will be attacked from all angles at the same time and these can be brutal, particularly from the back.
Some enemies will be smarter and work as a group, whilst others, like Zombies, act like they should and conduct less coordinated attacks. This does impose a slight imbalance though - generally speaking, enemies get harder as you progress further, but seeing as your character's skill level also increases, any enemy class that relies on sheer numbers and not smarts to attack probably will actually get easier and easier to deal with, as they can become quite repetitive and predictable. Actually, as your progress throughout the game, a lot of aspects involving the combat can become repetitive, and it isn't hard to spot patterns in regards to behavior and tenancies of enemies, and exploiting said patterns time after time takes its toll.
There is a lot of land to cover in Fable and luckily a huge time saving teleporting system has been adopted. Unlike most teleporting systems in similar games, in Fable, you can basically transfer to any known teleport station on demand by simply holding down "G" until a menu pops up. It doesn't really matter where you are or what you're doing - a new region is mere seconds away (although some twists in the storyline will prevent this ability in some stages of the game). As mentioned, this is a huge time saver because missions often have you going from point A to B, back to A again to collect rewards etc, and while going the long way and walking the entire distance can grant some handy experience points in the form of extra kills, sometimes you just want to get the quest over and done with and move onto the next one, and Fable: TLC allows this in most situations. The teleporting system definitely saves this game from becoming overly tedious.
Along with the large amount of map space is a large amount of sub-quests or otherwise independent activities to do. While you're running around the world of Albion, there are towns and villages with people going about their daily lives. Of course, you will find such expected destinations like shops to buy and sell goods, but it is the more unique features in the world of Albion that impress. For instance, you can sell, rent and buy property throughout the world, which generates money. You can makes friends with people and form a group, or romance a partner and get married. You can get drunk at the local tavern or participate in an underground fighting tournament. The list goes on and on, and that's just within the towns - there are plenty of other activities you can participate in throughout the world, such as searching for lost treasure, find keys which open chests, answer riddles said by talking stone doors and much more. The world of Albion is really quite impressive if you take the time to check it out.
Unfortunately though, the fundamental flaw with Fable: TLC is found in the fact the game is really not the type of game you can play for weeks on end - there is a start and a finish, and once you've finished, you probably won't load the game back up again, as there is very little need. As stated earlier on, one reason why this is so is because you can create the ultimate character who specialises in every combat form far too easily - if you were only allowed to primarily focus on one combat type then there would be a reason to actually play the game twice or three times over. On top of this, unlike a lot of other RPG's on the PC, Fable: TLC lacks multiplayer and therefore lacks any long term play-ability. A lot of serious RPG gamers enjoy having a character they can work on for weeks and months on end in a dynamic world such as an online environment with other players. The absence of this means Fable: TLC is basically a disposable RPG - one you play through once and likely hardly touch again. While this was obviously designed to be a single player game, the lack of any real long term appeal will put off gamers who enjoy more involved RPG experiences.
When it comes to the visuals the PC version should serve a few extra treats compared to the Xbox version. Although we used an ATi Radeon videocard and received a "your hardware does not support this" error when trying to max out the detail (lack of PS3.0 support?), everything from the environments to the character models still looked great. Control wise Fable is reasonably basic with a well organised button map, however more advanced functions like gestures and using objects like spades (to dig for treasure) and fishing rods (to fish *shock*) require you to go through a few menu's before activating them. There are a few shortcut buttons for these displayed on the screen, but these get filled quickly and often leave a few without a shortcut, although you can customize which shortcut button does which function easily enough.
With Dungeon Siege II also seeing release soon from Microsoft Games, it is easy to think Fable: TLC is the appetizer and DSII is the meal. However, it is clear these two games are directed at two slightly different audiences - DSII seems to be a more advanced RPG with full multiplayer capabilities, while Fable: TLC is perhaps aimed at the more casual RPG fan. I say this because, while it has reasonably good depth in most important areas of an RPG, the structure of the game, being limited to a "beginning and end" style single player mode, is best described as a "disposable" RPG experience. Any fan of the RPG genre will agree that a great RPG keeps you immersed in its virtual fantasy world for extended amounts of time because of its open world and dynamic environments, usually found online. Unfortunately, while Fable: TLC does feature a nice open ended single player experience, you're likely going to be done with the game entirely once you've finished it. The bottom line is, even despite the fact it is a console port, Fable: TLC is still a great all-round RPG on a platform which has had its far share of great RPG's - just don't expect it to be little more than a short term distraction.