Nostalgia can be a tricky thing. So many times it can cloud one's judgement. It's not just about the game sometimes, but more about the time, place, and circumstances in which the game was played. There's many games that I loved as a kid that, were I to somehow play them for the first time as an adult, some of the magic of the game might not be there anymore. At worst, it might not be a game I even liked were it not for that mystical quality known as nostalgia.
Fable TLC has always had a similar conundrum with me. I love Fable TLC, make no mistake. But how much of that is nostalgia, and how much of it is genuinely excellent game design? I get the feeling that this delicate balance is something that the Fable Anniversary team has been keenly aware of since starting this project and if our hands-on preview with the game is any indication, Fable Anniversary is striking that balance just fine.
We met up with the team during E3 and had a chance to chat with them and get our eagers hands on the game. They're some really great guys, super laid back, tons of fun to be in the same room with, and they've got no shortage of passion for the Fable franchise. In talking with them it was easy to see that they're some of the biggest Fable fans in the office. Feel free to check out our recent interview with Ted, arguably the most hardcore Fable fan of them all.
When I had a chance to sit down with Fable Anniversary for a hands-on demo, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Naturally, there was an inherent fear that whatever indefinable quality that had made Fable TLC such a fun game would have somehow been lost in translation with the remake. So controllers in hand, we bravely ventured past the start menu, not quite sure what to expect.
The demo started me off at the edge of Twinblades' camp, a quest many Fable fans will remember. The guards, having noticed me and not taking kindly to my presence, immediately ran towards me with swords drawn. All the strengths of the Fable TLC combat system will be exactly as you remember it. The hits were satisfying and the combat fluid.
After dealing with the guards, a quest card came up tasking me with locating the bandit seeress. With the quest card on my screen, the remake's new interface could easily be seen as having been completely overhauled. Everything was in full high definition and the entire interface was very crisp.
As I continued along in the demo I had a chance to try a variety of gameplay elements including using my bow, casting magic, performing expressions, and kicking chickens (which are much tougher to catch in Fable TLC than any other Fable game). Everything worked just as I remembered it working, but with an extra layer of polish applied. It was this really great balance between the old and the new.
The most notable change was, quite obviously, the graphics. Fable TLC was always a game full of vibrant colors and fantastical locations and this is taken even further with the Unreal engine. Colors popped, the scenery was detailed and crisp, and the lighting was lightyears ahead of the original. It's amazing how we take lighting for granted in today's games, but it can make such the difference. Seeing Fable TLC's Albion casting realtime shadows, rays of light shining in through the trees, and fireball spells creating an orange glow added a deal of life to the game's atmosphere. Additionally, character models are significantly upgraded. As I was playing, lead designer Ted Timmins was explaining how they had to go back to the original concept art for Scythe to see what the symbols on his clothes were. In Fable TLC the textures were at such a low resolution that the team couldn't even make out what they were supposed to be.
Plenty of other areas seemed to have been overhauled as well. Lip syncing and animations have been updated from the original, there's some new character animations to go around, Russel Shaw is remastering the entire soundtrack, load times are being reduced to mere seconds, and much more.
In addition, the team is working with strategy guide maker Prima to add in a load of functionality to make Fable Anniversary completely integrated with SmartGlass. It's a feature the team is excited about and it's easy to see why. There was a tablet set up for us to show off some of the SmartGlass features and we were rather impressed with what it could do. Displayed in front of me was a high resolution map of the current region I was in with a realtime updated location of my hero. I could also select certain icons in the region to instantly bring up a screenshot of the original game. With this feature I could actually hold the tablet up to the screen and see a side by side comparison of just how much work has gone into updating the game's visuals. There's also extended lore and character information available. For example, clicking on a Twinblades icon brings up biographical information and lore about his character. All in all, SmartGlass is shaping up to be this really great companion piece to play through the game with.
The news is that for those of you who love Fable TLC just as it is, you'll be more than happy with what the team has managed to accomplish. For those of you who like Fable TLC but want to see it brought into the current generation, you're also in luck. In talking with the team it was clear that they felt it was extremely important to make sure that they didn't "damage" Fable TLC for the purists out there. Yet they did recognize that some players will want a bit more than just vanilla-Fable. The changes that the team have made, in addition to the SmartGlass integration, has resulted in a game that should meet the needs of either side.
Additionally, the team tells me that there's still a deal left that they intend to do with Fable Anniversary over the course of the next few months. They'll be polishing any areas that need polish, they're working on updating the controls (though they'll offer the original controls for anyone who prefers them), they're still tweaking and adjusting the user interface, and there's much more going on behind the scenes that they'll be doing up until release.
The one thing that seemed to stand out to me the most while playing Fable Anniversary is that after a while you forget you're playing a remake. Which, in my opinion, is just as it should be. It was only until I used SmartGlass to compare screenshots that I would be reminded of how far Fable Anniversary has taken the game. You just get drawn into the game's updated look and feel and you just get caught up in the game world. I was essentially playing Fable TLC just as I had always remembered it, yet it still somehow felt new; almost as if I were playing it for the first time. It was this odd and somewhat indefinable mix of my memory of the game combined with a brand new experience.
Which brings us back to nostalgia. Is Fable Anniversary capitalizing on our nostalgia? Most definitely. But it's hitting this really magical balance between letting us revisit the game that we all loved so much while somehow allowing us to experience it as if for the first time. Fable Anniversary is shaping up to be something truly special from the Lionhead team.