I came away from my hands-on tour of Fable Legends thinking it could take over my life

The most recent game to enrapture me in this way was Elite: Dangerous. It starts innocently enough. You might lose an afternoon to it. Procrastinate on your hobby projects a little - until you're up at 5 am on a work night repeating to yourself "I'll do just one more mission."

In a lengthy Fable Legends playtest with the game's director, David Eckelberry, I began to realize that Fable Legends is my kind of drug.

I must admit that I've allowed the game to fly under my radar a bit. I wasn't a massive fan of the original games, and the fact Fable Legends is free to play eliminated the need to keep tabs on it for making a purchase decision. "Sure, I'll try it out, it's free after all."

However, after going hands-on at Gamescom 2015, I felt that twinge of addiction I'd attribute more to games like World of Warcraft. Most Xbox fans are probably drowning in Scalebound, Crackdown and Quantum Break hype right now, but I feel compelled to share my experiences with this game. Which I'm happy to say is now among my most anticipated 2015 titles.

Fabled Combat - Finding the action RPG sweet spot

For my demo, I went hands-on with Evienne, whose charge was to safeguard the awkwardly named 'Brobdingnagian' blade (try saying that fast three times). Evienne resented being in charge of cleaning a sword, and instead chose to wield it, becoming one of the game's premier damage classes. Playing as a damage role, I was able to get a good general overview of how the game plays in combat scenarios. I spoke to Lionhead's David Eckelberry about the game's battles, noting that previous Fable games didn't live up to my sword-swingin' expectations. He told me that Lionhead would be the first to admit that Fable's combat could've been better, noting that Fable generally won praise more for its charm and RPG systems. David told me that he bought some of his experiences from other third-person action games into creating Fable Legends' hero characters - specifically citing famed hack n' slash Devil May Cry as providing inspiration for Evienne.

At its core, Fable Legends will reward cohesive play between the different classes. I was joined by a healer called Celeste, a defensive tank called Malice, and a marksman called Rook. I took on the role as damage, as my World of Warcraft self did before me. Evienne wields a magical two-handed sword as mentioned earlier, and Fable Legends combat system really shined in this role. As a damage class, your aim as Evienne is to simply smash faces and survive. She can dodge out of trouble with graceful pirouettes, and summon a whirlwind of blades which chip away at foes health in an area of effect.

Regardless of the lacking cohesion between me and my fellow testers, combat felt fun, responsive and just plain nice. David Eckelberry cited Devil May Cry, but it felt a little more weighty than Capcom's famed hack n' slash. Evienne conjured memories of War from Darksiders - forceful but agile, and not without the occasional sarcastic quip.

Eckelberry explained that as characters level up, they'll gain access to more powerful abilities, as will the villain character in kind. So far there's ten playable heroes announced, all with their own unique skill sets, back story and designs. Those who go all-in with Fable Legends will enjoy a boatload of diversity in the combat space, not just as a hero, but also as a villain. The diversity gets multiplied when you throw in 4-player co-op, and a human controlled villain. The urge to organise and yell at my teammates for not tanking and healing properly was palpable, and, as an ex-Warcraft junkie, exhilarating.

Fable Feeling - Structure and visuals

In Fable Legends, you fight your way through quests with varied objectives. For our demo, our task was to fight through an enchanted forest. David Eckelberry cited Grimms' Fairy Tales as an inspiration for this particular area, and I'd say it was pretty close to the mark. I'm kicking myself for not asking about the DX12 elements, but Fable Legends is simply gorgeous. It might lack the sheer wow-factor of a game based in realism like Quantum Break, but that needn't matter.

The character designs are diverse and striking; the environs are densely detailed and mysterious. But what really struck me were the game's monster designs. Goblins that looked like they'd been plucked straight from Pixar and strewn through the darkness of Pan's Labyrinth, flanked by gigantic walking trees that were every bit as detailed as they were dangerous.

While Fable Legends is not photo-realistic, it displays technical prowess for a completely different reason. A couple of the stations in our play test were running the Windows 10 version of Fable Legends, to show off how the game plays cross-platform. David noted that because Fable Legends is a co-operative experience (for the most part), balancing issues between controllers and keyboard/mouse don't really factor in like they would in an FPS.

The competitive elements in Fable Legends stem from the playable villain character, who can screw with players like a Dungeons and Dragons DM. It struck me as particularly impressive how the RTS-like interface used by the villain works so seamlessly against the 4-player hero teams. The villain can spawn enemies, barriers, harmful status effects, plant mines, and commit all sorts of various nefarious acts against the heroes. There's something desirable about fighting against player-controlled enemies. It certainly evoked memories of Left 4 Dead's versus mode when the villain playing against us sent his trees after me because he saw I was low on health. Enemy A.I. doesn't often react so coldly. I should note that internal tests pin win / loss ratios between heroes and villains within 5% of each other, which is great news for competitive fairness.

As a Fable Legends newbie, I asked the game's director how it scrubs up in terms of story structure. He told me that the game is episodic, with each mission taking place in 20-30-minute bursts. You can match-make games with randoms from Xbox Live, your friends list or play entirely solo with A.I. companions. I feel that the best Fable Legends experiences, in my view, will be with other humans. Fable Legends is probably a tad too linear to be enjoyed like a typical RPG. It comes complete with Left 4 Dead-like safe rooms which provide a reprieve from the villain's onslaughts. This approach is by design, as David Eckelberry explained. The team at Lionhead set out to do "something different" to the previous titles.

Something different indeed! As we found out earlier this year, Fable Legends is free to play.

Free Fable - DLC, loot and monetization

I asked game director David Eckelberry if Lionhead had given any thought to end game. What will keep players coming back once they'd finished the episodes? I realised I was already trying to pigeon-hole Fable Legends into an MMO-box. It's free to play, there are class roles, and perhaps most importantly, there's loot. He compared Fable Legends to Destiny, but fell short of saying it would see similar raid content for larger teams. 4-player is the sweet spot for Fable Legends, but that doesn't mean there isn't going to be epic challenges for those who get to the end.

Besides the obvious DLC characters, extra episodes and the possibility of expansions, Fable Legends will monetize itself by being addictive. Armour is tiered; some items are super rare. The loot is randomized based on quality, and you can purchase the ability to open more chests using in-game currency or real money in the game's cities. Any items that are purchasable outright are purely cosmetic. David Eckelberry assured me that all of Fable Legends' content could be unlocked through regular play. Indeed, he seemed proud to reply with a big "yes" when I asked if players could experience everything without paying a dime (or a quid, for us Brits).

Fable Legends is what you'd get if you crossed Left 4 Dead's versus mode with Diablo's loot addiction and Darksiders' responsive action combat. There's another game that attempted something similar: Dragon Age Inquisition. While DA:I's multiplayer was okay, it's quite clear that the engine wasn't designed for co-operative action. In single player, you control four characters, and the combat leans more on strategy and planning. In multiplayer, the combat isn't responsive enough when you're stuck controlling one guy, in my view. DA:I also has random loot, purchasable with real money, it also has gear upgrades, the elements of addiction - but for me, the engine simply wasn't up to scratch. The scary thing about Fable Legends is that it is up to scratch.

Not only is the combat top-notch, but it features two over-arching narratives, whether you choose to play as a villain or a hero. The Microsoft Azure-wizardry that enables villains to send controlled monsters and obstacles into the fray is laudable. And, ultimately, that little voice that wails "moar loot" as you're playing wide-eyed at 5 am will become amplified because of the quality game on top of it. Destiny hooked me in for a little while, as did Elite Dangerous, but both are lacking in pretty important areas. I now know that Fable Legends combines that dreaded loot addiction with responsive and satisfying action-RPG combat. It's also free to play. I began to realise that all Fable Legends need to seal my fate is a narrative worth caring about and the promise of further support down the line. And after talking to the game's director, it certainly seems to have those too. Oh dear.

David Eckelberry was never afraid to mention other games while describing Fable Legends: World of Warcraft came up, League of Legends, Left 4 Dead, Devil May Cry, Telltale Games. While many other titles fail to marry the elements of various other genres, Fable Legends looks to have done so with confidence and panache.

As someone prone to loot addiction, that prospect is terrifying. In the best possible way.

Fable Legends launches in Q4 2015 for Xbox One and Windows 10.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • It kind of looks like Evolve to me.
  • It has similarities, but unlike Evolve, Fable Legends isn't a fully priced title on top of all the DLC.
  • Excellent review. Made me wish I had the time to invest in this game
  • You hooked me when you made reference to the sword play being similar to Darksiders. Love that game and hoping for BC on x1.
  • You mean skin DLC ? Right. The horror.
  • I wonder if if everyone who complains about this has actually bought and played the game (without the evil DLC) to see whether it's fun or not. My bet is not.
  • Not at all, but that would be awesome, Evolve is a great game.
  • I'm still "bending my life" around Destiny. Looking forward to the next DLC! Anyway, if this game is even slightly similar to destiny in terms of social play (and I can get a friends list big enough with other players). Count me in. I may love a good FPS, but the tiny bit of RPG thrown into Destiny has made me realize I may be missing out. I'll certainly be giving this a shot.
  • I fell out with Destiny because I couldn't find anyone to raid with haha, but god I really caned it for a while. The pvp was excellent mostly. Fable Legends might be gentler in a way, you can jump on for a mission/quest in short bursts... not that I would be able to stop going on for more than short bursts.
  • I wish I had the dedication to video games you guys all have. I'm terrible at finishing them, I get so caught up with things and completely get sidetracked. For example, I got to the last mission of Wolfenstein: TNO and stopped playing, lol. I got Metro Redux, got halfway in into 2033 and stopped. I don't know, I can never keep my attention hooked onto games unless its World of Tanks. Almost at Tier 8 in that game.
  • Same way but I go back from time to time. I like games not one game. ;)
  • Nothing wrong with that at all, man. Sometimes the popular 'omg' games arent all things to all people in the ways that critics like to let on. Just keep doing what you want and i promise you'll be doing it right. I've never had more than a few hours worth of fun from every gta ever released, but i've beaten starwars force unleashed, duke nukem forever, aliens colonial marines, superman returns and all the spiderman, castlevania and batman games on every difficulty they have and loved every second of it. Those were basically the only games i liked enough to beat last gen, too, outside of halo, gears and splintercell. You click with whatever you click with. Tank on!
  • Well said Cody!
  • Well said! I enjoy the games a lot and really don't mind if I don't finish them because I know that I had fun playing them for however long I played. I like to play a bunch of games at once too. Btw, Star Wars Force Unleashed was a great game, second one not so much.
  • I feel you. 180 hours into Skyrim and I still haven't beaten it. Haven't beaten LA noire despite getting halfway through. Didn't beat Wolfenstein either after 15 hours (no idea how long the game is). I might just be a strategy guy (700 hours on civ 5 lol)
  • You can't be that far from the end of Wolfenstein. Get it finished.
  • I'm not surprised about Skyrim... I was barely getting started at 150 hours. I'm at 577 hours on my first playthrough... I've completed almost everything (side-quests, locations, houses, and collectibles) from the base game though... still have Dawnguard & Dragonborn to get through! I'm not sure how to proceed as I'm practically unkillable now, taking the challenge out of it a bit. It was more fun when I was running away from bears because I was too pissweak :P BTW you can complete the main questline much quicker than I did, but I like exploring and I'm a completionist at heart... Which makes it hard to get started in many games because I like to invest so much into them!
  • Because I'm still addicted heavily to destiny, I doubt ill really play this. I still have to find time for fallout 4!
  • Add me kingkoopa09 Xbox one destiny arenas raid temples anything
  • Didn't even finish the tutorial got boring quickly
  • Tutorials are for the most boring.
  • Sure looks nice.
  • I spent a long while with Fable two, and finished it. Looking forward to seeing more. Hopefully there is minimal grind. Nice review.
  • It looks nice, it's nice we will get it for PC so hope Windows 10 will get more games like this.
  • Played the beta of this n not for me.
  • I will admit that I have no idea about this game and I didnt even read the article, but just wanted to know if tis is a multplayer game.
  • Yes it is multiplayer you and 3 others
  • ahahaha good title
  • Lol I'm glad I'm not the only one that noticed.
  • Thanks dude haha, it hit me as I had the urge to yell at my team mates "this is like an old school WoW dungeon... Bye bye life"
  • I'll give it a try. I'm always willing to buy content too. We'll see.
  • Odd, the share article by email usually sends the hyper link as yet. Instead I got the text of the article on my Windows 10 phone with %20 for spaces. That's never happened before.
  • Hmm weird, I'll let our tech people know, thanks for sharing though!!
  • meh, not my type of game
  • Not my type but free. It is worth trying for me.
  • Warframe is my current addiction right now. Grinding for loot in missions versus just paying for them is much more satisfying to me. I think this will be back for me as well.
  • I wish Lionhead would make a remake of The Movies. That game is prime for machinima.
  • I like the character designs, so much better than all the horrible emo Japanese crap. However I'm not interested in this as a Fable game, though tbh Fable has never been very good in the first place. 
  • You have made this game look apealing to me. completly overlooked it up untill now!
  • This is the kind of concept I thought the Wii U would be perfect for, have a GM on the tablet controller wreaking absolute havoc on the four suckers with Wiimotes.
    I'll give it a try as I can't wait to see what kind of evil I can inflict on people.
  • I'd love to play this but I don't have the time.  Although it doesn't mean that I'm not buying it.  My two kids will probably be getting all the enjoyment out it. The gameplay, and co-op aspects of has me sold.
  • It's a free game! You don't need to pay but I hope there aren't too many ingame purchases.
  • Hated the beta. I think they have hit bed Fable franchise. Could have been a great open world game.
  • Meh. I'm stil waiting for the Fable franchise to make good on the promise of the first game. WIth today's technology it should be possible. Fable Legends just seems like a mindless game that uses the branding to sell itself. I really liked the first two Fable games. A true Fable successor would make me get an Xbox One, this I can do without.