Fable: The Journey
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Platform: Xbox 360
An Xbox 360 copy of Fable: The Journey was supplied to us
I’ve heard people dismissing this game for not sticking to the typical Fable gameplay and that Lionhead Studios is “betraying” fans of the series, but this is far from being any of those things. Fable: The Journey is a spin-off which means it’s a chance for developers to try something different with their franchise without tarnishing the main numbered titles and for the most part it’s a pretty solid game besides a few glaring flaws, but if you’ve played the Fable series then I’m sure you’re no stranger to glaring flaws in games.
The game starts out by introducing the protagonist Gabriel with his horse Seren and quickly escalates into meeting the Seer Theresa who tells him he needs to help her save the world. The game sets things up quite nicely, taking place 50 years after the events of Fable 3; apparently your choices in F3 alter certain things in this game, but I didn’t notice anything significantly different while playing through it twice. Fable: The Journey takes the cliche route of having a protagonist tricked into accepting the magical gauntlets that can kill the Big Bad, he continues to be tricked into going further into the quest, and eventually he realizes that he’s the only one with the power to stop the impending doom of Albion. It’s nothing original but it works surprisingly well and the plot/character development was paced just right. Fans of the series should definitely read up the plot synopsis on its Wiki if they’re not planning on getting the game because it does cover something significantly major to the overarching plot of the series and it also includes some back story on Theresa and Logan. The game also sets up what I assume to be a major antagonist for Fable 4.
So you’ve got five magical powers, but since two of them are combined to the same spell let’s say there’s four. You’ve got your basic bolt spell that will be your main attack for a good part of the game. You simply push your right arm forward as if you where tossing a fireball and aim it where you want; upgrading it will allow you to have each shot bounce between enemies. The second spell you’ll acquire, quite possibly my favorite and most abused, is the push spell. You push your left arm out (like the bolt spell) to lasso enemies with a magical green fishing line. Once you’ve got an enemy snared you can swing them sideways, push them away, or throw them in the air. This is definitely going to be a must use when you get later into the game since you’ll be able to upgrade it to snagging three enemies at once and it also stuns anyone you toss around. No fantasy game would be worthy of the genre if it didn’t have a fireball somewhere in its arsenal and Fable: The Journey is no different. You just raise your arm in a 90° angle and wave back and forth. Eventually your bolt will turn into a fireball and you can continue waving to charge it up more. Eventually you’re going to want to replace that flimsy bolt spell with something that has a little more punch and that’s what the shard spell is for. You’ll have to pull your arm back as if you were holding onto a javelin, wait for the bolt to turn into a shard and then toss that sucker. Tossing this spell into the air and redirecting it will allow you to rain shards on all the enemies in the area. The final power you’ll get is the light spell which is combined with the pull and burns corruption off enemies. Once you reach the end game you’ll be fighting corrupted versions of enemies which are faster, stronger, and can take a bit more of a beating. They’re also immune to all attacks until you hit them with a pull/light spell. Thankfully you only need to hit an enemy once since the effect won’t wear off because that could get quite frustrating if it did. All of the spells (besides push/light) can also be redirected. If you miss a shot (while still having your arm stretched out) you can swap your arm in whatever direction you want and the shot will redirect itself to any enemy in the direction you chose.
There’s also an upgrade system in the game where you’ll gain XP from defeating enemies and taking care of Seren. Each level grants you a point you can use to upgrade a variety of things like your spells, health, Seren, and the gauntlets.
Besides blasting monsters in dungeons, you’ll also be travelling to these dungeons by controlling your horse Seren. These parts are surprisingly enjoyable even if a few moments last a bit longer than I’d like. You control her by holding your arms out like if your holding onto the reins and if you ever want her to sprint you just give your arms a little whip motion. You can bring her to a slow trot by bringing your arms close or to a complete stop by raising both arms up high. Mostly you’ll just travel along fixed paths and dodging rocks or logs in your way, but sometimes Seren will control herself while you fight enemies. There are a few times in the game where you’ll be chased by the corruption and you’ll have to weave your way around deadly pools of black death. These parts can get a bit thrilling until you get to the parts where the game will give you an incredibly narrow path to ride in while damaging black liquid force you into impossibly tight turns. Expect to let a few vulgar remarks about the game’s mother fly during these moments.
For the most part you’ll go in the motion of a Seren ride that will have Theresa and Gabriel discussing various plot details, going through a dungeon fighting enemies, and then repeating it over and over until the credits roll. It all starts to get really repetitive after a while and the pathetically simplistic puzzles do a poor job trying to spice things up. There are some moments where you can go off the path in Seren rides, but all these parts do is have Gabriel get off his horse to fight a few enemies and open up a chest. There is an arcade mode where you can replay chapters to play for a high score, but I wasn’t particularly excited about giving the game another go. There are also rest stops where you can gain some quick XP by cleaning Seren, feeding her apples, or giving her water. I did enjoy the small detail of visual damage to your horse though. If Seren gets hit by a rock or tree she’ll have a scratch, take four arrow hits during a battle and you’ll see four arrows stuck on her, get hit by a flaming arrow and there will be a burn to accompany that arrow wound, and corruption damage leaves a nasty infected looking wound. It’s a nice attention to detail but it’s ruined when you have to actually remove the arrows. The game tells you that you need to hold your hand and “grip” the arrow, then slowly pull your arm out to remove it; it’s a shame that doesn’t always work. Messing up this “mini-game” will cause Seren to stumble backwards leaving a bigger gash on her and forcing you to start over again. It’s a neat idea when you get it to work and a fucking pain when it doesn’t.
Unfortunately the game controls like ass because it really does feel awesome when it works. There’s a slight auto-aim to the control and I never felt comfortable or certain that my shot was going where I was aiming. Sometimes the game registered my shot as going higher than where I aimed on my TV, I’d adjust for this and suddenly the game sends my shot in some other direction. Sometimes the auto-aim would work, but mostly it didn’t with shots veering way off course from where I was aiming. My other issue is with the fireball spell. While the shard spell works decently enough, I never used the fireball (unless forced) because it would almost never register. I’d raise my hand, start waving to initiate the fireball, and then the game would start rapid firing bolt spells like crazy. Not only does it take way too long to bring up to make it not worth your time, but you’re lucky if you can even bring it up in time before somebody hits you. Things can also get a bit chaotic when you star dual wielding spells since the Kinect clearly has some issue registering when you use both arms at once. If I ever tried to pull enemies while blasting them I’d see both shots going off in random places that I clearly wasn’t aiming at. Using the pull spell can get pretty problematic when trying to grab anything other than an enemy. There are environmental hazards littered across the game you can interact with that are a pain to grab because it seems like the game wants you to snag enemies over explosive barrels. I’d spend more time trying to grab a barrel in a fight than actually fighting, and don’t even get me started on trying to hit the barrel with a bolt. Thankfully the Seren segments control well enough besides a few hiccups. It’s just disappointing this game doesn’t have controller support since it could work fantastically as a simple rail shooter when it doesn’t have complicated motion controls that would require the Kinect. Dead Space Extraction worked wonderfully on the PS3, why can’t Lionhead do the same with this?
I don’t know what the hell is up with the game but controlling the menus was a fucking pain. It’s got the typical Kinect control where you hover your hand over what you want and hold it there until the circle completes, but for some reason it would always go bonkers on me. I’m playing in an incredibly well lit room (windows on basically all sides letting in light) and the Kinect has a full view of my body so I have no idea why each time I use the menu the hand icon starts flipping out and moving all over the place. Even slow movements cause it to go spastic and I had to slowly inch my way to whatever I wanted to access to not upset the Kinect gods.
Lionhead continues to improve on their charming cartoon style and the spell effects just look gorgeous. The voice acting is also pretty solid with a decent enough soundtrack and I couldn’t recognize any hint of a celebrity which surprised me; I was really hoping for Stephen Fry to return as Reaver.
The Final Word
Fable: The Journey took a solid step towards showing us the right way to do a spin-off but a few steps back due to being plagued by poor Kinect controls and some slight repetitiveness. Those who can ignore these issues will find a decent enough rail shooter that will last them 8-10 hours.
– MonsterVine Rating: 3 out of 5 – Average