I finally played Fable for the very first time
My journey through Fable Anniversary was instantly memorable, showing me how special this franchise is.
If you know of me or even just regularly read Windows Central, you may be aware that, for the last two years, my sole gaming quest has been to play and complete as many video games as possible. In 2022 I crossed 52 games off my backlog, and I'm already making decent progress in 2023. One series that has been on the list for a long time is Fable, a legendary RPG franchise that boasts a very dedicated fanbase. Now, I can finally say I've experienced Fable.
I sat down to play Fable Anniversary on my Xbox Series X, confident that I was playing the very best version of this classic RPG. After overcoming the initial pains of playing an older, inaccessible title, I quickly found myself falling in love with the world of Fable and its charming, unique blend of serious plotlines and humorous writing. In some ways, Fable feels more like an RPG than many modern RPGs in that I always felt like I was in control of the Hero's destiny.
Easing into an aging classic
Fable Anniversary is an expanded and remastered Xbox 360 version of 2005's Fable: The Lost Chapters, which in turn is an expanded re-release of the first Fable from 2004 on the original Xbox. Released in 2014, Fable Anniversary brought vastly improved visual fidelity, superior performance and load speeds, overhauled controls and UI, and plenty of Achievements to entice new and returning players. It's a great remaster of a game that was 10 years old at the time, but even Fable Anniversary is now over nine years old.
I played the game on my Xbox Series X, which means my experience was even better than those who may have played Fable Anniversary around its initial release. Upscaled to 4K HDR on my TV, with FPS Boost bringing me 60 smooth frames per second, the first Fable has never looked or played better than it does on the latest current-gen Xbox consoles. Still, no number of facelifts short of a complete remake can fix fundamental game design, meaning it took me a few hours of easing into Fable Anniversary before it really clicked.
Fable is still a product of its time, and that means everything from exploring its world to battling its enemy lacks the fluidity and seamlessness of more modern games. Everything feels just a little clunky and awkward, and it's clear that the scope of the first Fable game was inherently limited by the capabilities of the hardware on which it launched. Fable Anniversary also lacks in-depth accessibility options, with even subtitles being compromised.
As I'm hard of hearing and have auditory processing issues, subtitles are necessary whenever I play any game or watch any media. Fable's subtitles, however, lack customization and strangely only apply to in-game cinematics, meaning I frankly lost a lot of casual NPC conversations and non-cinematic story moments. Beyond these issues, though, I found a game that I wholeheartedly loved, to the point where I genuinely could scarcely stop playing until I finished the entire game over the course of two-three days.
Discovering the magic of Fable
The story of Fable is a simple one: you're the Hero, orphaned at a young age by a brutal bandit raid and raised to be a powerful, productive member of the Guild. As a part of the Guild, you explore the world, taking on quests for various people, establishing a name for yourself as either an evil plight on the land or a pure-hearted savior. To this end, every major decision in Fable is very black and white — you either choose the good path or the bad path, and the consequences of each choice are fairly obvious.
In this way, Fable may confuse players used to more recent RPGs. There's no character creator here, not even as much as a gender slider or a way to choose your name; the Hero is who he is, and that's all there is to it. Sure, you can alter his hair, get tattoos, and change his body type through rigorous exercise or excessive eating, but you're never expected to put yourself into the world of Fable. You're also never confronted with an endless array of vague, questionably meaningful decisions. Instead, Fable asks not that you role-play as a character of your creation but instead control the destiny of a nameless Hero inexplicably involved in the fate of the entire world.
It's the ways in which you can control that destiny where Fable's magic lies. For one, you can romance almost anyone in Fable's world; you can flirt with all the men, women, and people of Fable wherever you go, have people fall in love with you, and marry them. Fable has plenty of stats to inform how many spouses you have, what your sexuality is, how many times you've been divorced, and even how many times you've, ah, gone to bed with other people. If you want to be truly evil, you can attempt to romance everyone in a town and absolutely ruin all their collective lives.
You can invest in real estate, including buying and furnishing homes for yourself or renting out to tenants for some passive income. If homeowners or shopkeepers "mysteriously" pass away or disappear, their properties go on the market and can also be purchased. Yes, you can own pretty much everything in Fable, as long as you're willing to reduce the population a tad. It's ridiculous.
Fable also features a healthy number of Expressions that can be used to interact with the people of Albion. From positive affirmations and pleasant manners to spiteful insults and silly dances, there are plenty of ways to elicit reactions out of NPCs. You can even fart... at any point, whenever you want. Your Expressions are influenced by your Hero's alignment (how good and evil they are) and how well-known they are. They can be necessary for finding secrets, completing quests, and generally being a part of Fable's world.
There are so many small ways you can influence Fable, despite its modest scale, that makes you feel like you have control. Many of these ways actually make little to no difference to the game's story and are simply ways to have fun amidst all the chaos and seriousness. Fable isn't afraid to be delightfully silly, and it gives the game a wonderful charm that's just absent in many "AAA" modern RPGs — which often insist on being serious and dramatic to the point of exhaustion.
Looking for charm in modern AAA titles
Modern games look and play better than any previous generation of gaming, and developers are becoming more creative and ambitious than ever before. Why is it, then, that Fable Anniversary is lingering in my thoughts so much longer than other modern RPGs? What is it about this 19-year-old classic that remains so fun after all this time?
Many modern RPGs are filled with vast open-worlds and countless quests, discoveries, choices, and ways to personalize your experience, but they also tend to focus unerringly on the completion. It's all about getting things done, all the time. Complete the next quest, unlock the next level, beat the next boss — RPGs are always giving you another thing to keep you occupied, and it's always so aggressively serious. Fable has plenty of serious moments, but it's also filled with minute details that don't matter at all. They're just there because someone, somewhere, will love them.
It's the general undertone of "fun" in Fable — the comforting knowledge that the game doesn't take itself too seriously and understands players are here for an escape — that makes Fable feel so refreshing despite its binary choices, restrictive world and clunky controls (side note: Fable's combat actually does feel pretty great once you become accustomed, but it's always a little awkward).
Video games are constantly striving to become bigger and bolder than what came before, but this incessant push for more often results in games forgetting that there's still value in a simple moment of humanity, or in the option to be ridiculous. Making vulgar gestures at a door that won't open, farting to ward off a common bully, posing heroically in front of a gaggle of love-addled fans, and combatting the forces of darkness with a frying pan and a chicken hat are all things you can do in Fable Anniversary.
This charm is absent in so many games nowadays despite the mind-boggling technological advancements, and it's likely a large part of why Hi-Fi RUSH is such an incredible journey from beginning to end. Elden Ring is also a great example of this, with its community messages offering a potent, often hilarious contrast to the dark and morbid atmosphere of its world.
Fable Anniversary was amazing, and I loved every moment of my nearly 21 hours in it. If you're interested, the entire Fable series count among the best Xbox Game Pass games you can go play right now. I'm absolutely going to dive into Fable II and Fable III later this year, and I'm now unreservedly looking forward to the Fable reboot from Playground Games. I just hope the Forza Horizon developers remember what makes the original Fable so special.
The entire Fable series is backward compatible and available via Xbox Game Pass, making Microsoft's gaming subscription service the best way to enjoy this classic RPG series.
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Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.