Sable isn't your traditional open-world game. There's no combat and there isn't technically a main quest, though there is a way to get the credits rolling. Instead, Sable is all about understanding. Sable herself seeks to understand where she belongs. She wants to understand the ruins in the land around her and what came before. She wants to understand who she is behind the mask.
It's a beautiful game and a journey that leaves you pondering about the concept of growing up and figuring out how you fit into the world, though players will also encounter some bugs, hitches, and other performance problems. None of these issues make Sable a journey not worth taking, though they do make the experience a bit rougher over all.
Bottom line: With its striking art direction, haunting soundtrack and focus on exploration, Sable is a great journey about understanding yourself. Frequent stuttering and some bugs bring the experience down though.
- Strong narrative structure
- Refreshing open-world gameplay
- Great art style
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Quest-related bugs
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Raw Fury. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Sable: What I liked
|Xbox Version||Xbox Series X|
|Game Size||2.4 GB|
|Play Time||5-20 hours|
Most open-world games are a juxtaposition. There's typically a main quest for players to undergo, with numerous side activities of less importance. Sable eschews this idea and presents instead a compelling concept: What if the side quests were the main quest?
Sable is going out on her Gliding into the world of Midden. A Gliding is similar to a rite of passage when a child sets out across the wastes to figure out who they really are. As Sable leaves her tribe, she doesn't have any markers on her map, at least initially. There's also no overarching threat to deal with. All she has is Simoon, her hoverbike, which can be upgraded by buying various parts.
Until well into the game when you've got multiple incomplete tasks, there's no clear direction. You just take off into the wilderness, choosing to stop and investigate any towering spires, imposing ruins, or friendly villages you encounter. It's a major change of pace compared to constantly being told where to go with your hand held in other open-world games.
As you wander the dunes and make your way over cliffs and valleys, you'll find people who need help, as well as the wreckage of old crashed starships. Helping people, scavenging tech, and solving puzzles makes up the core gameplay here and while it's simple, it works well.
As Sable helps different people with tasks big and small, she'll be given tokens of their trade, such as a Merchant Token for finding a rare snack for someone's pet, or a Scrapper Token for turning in high amounts of salvage from the aforementioned wrecked spacecraft. After acquiring three of one kind of token, they can be traded for a mask of the same type. Very occasionally, Sable will also find other, more unique masks in the deserts of Midden.
Once you've got a mask, the game can end. You only need one to complete the Gliding, which barely takes 4-5 hours. That said, you're free to explore and collect as many masks as you want, which is the path I took, wanting to explore as much of the world as possible. This can add another 12-15 hours depending on how quickly you solve the puzzles. Sable herself is optimistic, bright-eyed, and a tad fearful, and it's fascinating to see her thoughts on the different tribes she encounters, as well as her approach to problem-solving and figuring out the ruins of the past.
It's with Sable herself that the game's sharp writing really comes to the fore. Anytime you're in a conversation, it accurately reflects Sable's stream of consciousness, which always feels real and never comes across as being spoon-fed information. Every conversation, whether it was with a town guard or a barely-function AI terminal, always left me wanting to understand more about Sable's world.
All of this is backed up by the unique art direction of the game. The stylized presentation looks great, with rich colors that change not only based on the time of day but the mood of the scene and surroundings. A community mired in suspicion at a power outage is desaturated, while restoring the power brings back dark reds, browns, and greens into the now-bustling city. The soundtrack is also fantastic, composed by Japanese Breakfast. There's a mix of fitting nomadic tunes and more contemporary synth, with a surprising amount of variety for the different locales and regions of Midden.
Sable: What I didn't like
Unfortunately, Sable is pestered with a variety of bugs. The level of detail on the foliage in the world changes dramatically as you approach it. This isn't a problem in theory, but when it happens all at once at very close distance, the result is a constant shimmering effect that is quite distracting. A similar thing happens with shadow details in the tutorial, though this seemed restricted to the tutorial area and I never saw it much out exploring the rest of Midden.
More concerning is the stuttering problem, which causes performance hits. As best I can tell, it happens whenever the game autosaves, which is quite frequent. In a game where you're spending a majority of the time on your hoverback roaming the wastes, it just doesn't feel good to have stuttering in the controls every time you complete a quest or reach a new area. I also ran into a problem where the game didn't give me the reward for one quest, meaning I missed out on a Merchant token. It was the only time my progress was hindered in any way, but it's worth noting all the game.
The developers have noted that they are aware of a lot of these problems and a patch is supposed to be coming sometime in the next few weeks. Until then however, you're likely to run into at least some of these issues.
Sable: Should you play it?
Overall, Sable is a great game and one I thoroughly enjoyed my time with. There's a lot of secrets hidden throughout Midden and while I found quite a bit, I'm looking forward to seeing if there's anything I missed. There's a lot to ponder in the desolation and I suspect my interpretation of who Sable is won't always line up with how everyone else sees her, which is great!
At the same time, the stuttering issue impacting performance and the other bugs present in the game right now just bring the overall experience down, especially given the frequent nature of said issues. Hopefully, this is something the developers can address soon.
Sable is set to launch on Sep. 23, 2021 for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and PC. It's also launching directly into Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC, meaning it's one of the best Xbox Game Pass titles this month.
Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.