5 things Fable 4 needs to succeed on Xbox One

One of Xbox's most iconic franchises, "Fable," faced its demise two years ago when Microsoft shut down its UK-based creator. Ceasing development on Fable: Legends, its next installment at the time, the future for the series looked bleak.

Talk of a new Fable game has been circulating for some time now, though has lately rekindled following a recent report. According to several sources, a revival of the Fable franchise is in the works, led by Forza Horizon 3 developer, Playground Games. And although still early in development, the project is supposedly shaping up as a "story and character-focused open-world action RPG," drawing clear parallels to the original Fable trilogy.

For now, details on "Fable IV" mostly fall under rumor and speculation. Without even an official acknowledgment of the project's existence, let alone a name, firm details on what to expect are yet to surface. Regardless, if returning to its roots as a single-player experience, there are some things that will support its success.

Deliver a 'true' Fable experience

It's been eight years since the last entry to the main line of Fable games, with 2010's conclusion to the trilogy, Fable III. In the years since, five games have still been developed – four that saw their public release. Fable Heroes was a lacking arcade game, Fable: The Journey was a disappointing experience built around Kinect, and Fable Anniversary was a remaster plagued by technical issues. "Fable: Legends" showed promise before eventually being killed, while Fable: Fortune is a card game with limited appeal. We simply haven't had a real Fable game in almost a decade.

While success was never seen across these spin-offs, that's not to say Microsoft should avoid new concepts entirely. Delivering changes upon predecessors is still key to evolving the franchise, though ideally with consideration of what Fable truly is. Maintaining its strong role-playing game (RPG) mechanics should lay as a focus, with innovations building on this formula.

Put story front and center

One of the biggest strengths of the main Fable trilogy is its narrative, only bolstered by a strong surrounding world. Each of the games told immersive stories packed with a strong accompanying cast, which kept players engaged to the credits (and often beyond).

Currently, rumors expect the next Fable to return to its roots as primarily a role-playing experience, which should hopefully ensure an equal level of depth to its narrative. And with an established universe already behind it, there are still intriguing eras to be explored. Provided recent rumors transpire, Microsoft should be aiming to deliver a dive into untouched areas of Fable lore.

Recognizing what made Fable unique

Fable Legends

Fable Legends (Image credit: Microsoft)

While story-driven RPGs aren't uncommon, the Fable games were always defined by their original take on the genre. Signature traits carved a unique persona for the franchise at the time, and even today, no competitors provide what the three games offered.

Easily the most iconic characteristic of the Fable franchise is its alignment system, which gauges player morality after completing "good" and "evil" deeds in the world. Not only did this add weight to your every action – this shaped a unique persona for players in Albion. Morality alignment had clear consequences throughout the world and fed directly into the gameplay that unfolded.

Fable's light approach to its fantasy setting also strongly shaped the franchise's character, with a level of quirkiness unlike many games in a fantasy setting. With stylized art direction and its charming British humor, Fable recognizes its heritage and medium.

Pay attention to the finer details

The Fable trilogy was a pure RPG experience, with a level of depth that encouraged players to explore its world. Experimenting with the game's mechanics, talking to NPCs and discovering new locations all came with rewards, urging players to test the limits of its sandbox.

This level of detail was one of the most prominent strengths backing The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, a game that saw widespread success earlier this generation. Every inch of its world (and the quests that inhabited it) had a handcrafted touch, serving up an adventure with unmatched detail and consistency. The resources to build such a world may be high, though can pay off with the right execution. Though we should welcome the return of Fable's main quests, side missions and activities should be approached with a similar level of curation.

Monetization where it matters

"Games-as-a-service" (GaaS) titles have become increasingly popular this generation, with almost every major publisher implementing elements of the model into games. Between season passes, microtransactions, and various other post-launch content plans, games are frequently designed to secure long-term player retention and monetization. Microsoft Studios hasn't been reluctant to adopt this either, with Halo 5: Guardians, Gears of War 4, and Forza Motorsport 7 all examples this business model.

Realistically, this approach to game development is here to stay and while controversial, is becoming the norm for AAA releases. Fable may be set to adopt some of these traits too, though Microsoft should be cautious about how these affect the Fable experience.

Fable III started to explore this concept through its downloadable content, with various cosmetic items and gameplay buffs offered in exchange for real-world money. A similar system could be welcomed for a new entry, although how agressive Microsoft is at pushing these purchases will have a huge bearing on their reception. Let's just hope we don't end up receiving "Fable: The Loot Box Journey" for this next installment.

Your thoughts on Fable IV

The next Fable may be some time away, though anticipation for its debut is already high. As one of Microsoft's beloved franchises across its Xbox consoles, its return will hopefully be embraced with the right execution. What are you wanting to see from a new Fable title? Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.