Adventures in Albion, round 1

Two weeks ago, our copy of Skyrim finally arrived from Gamefly. Despite the assurances from the world at-large that this game was a definite buy, we still wanted to try it out first. I just started playing this past weekend, and I’m already pretty sure that Gamefly will not get this copy back (yes, yes, I’ll pay for it.) This is not just a game but an investment. But as I was ignoring some vitally important chores this weekend in favor of questing, one thought kept creeping into my mind.

Man, this is a lot like Fable.

Fable cover art © Lionhead Studios, Microsoft, etc. (source)

I realize this may be a poor comparison, but outside of Fable and now Skyrim, I haven’t played many fictional medievalesque, forest/dungeon/desert, XP-driven RPGs before. I haven’t played an Elder Scrolls game before, I don’t do WoW or any similar MMOs, and having completed Fable III just last year, well, that series is still in my mind. I know they really are two completely different games with different stories, motives, character interactions, etc.  But the one element that makes the two seem similar is how the player explored the fictional worlds – mostly on foot following different paths through different scenes. I was always dreadfully confused by the maps in the Fable games; and I found myself similarly confused in Skyrim. (Never, ever, ever, ever, never ask me for directions.  Seriously. My gameplay on Sunday, in fact, consisted only of trying to find a single location. And then when I got there, I died, having not previously saved like an idiot. Fuuuuuuck.)

Fable was the game that started my descent into the land of non-Japanese RPGs. I had previously loved a couple Final Fantasy titles and their style of turn-based play in slick environments with over-the-top characters. This was the mid-2000s, that turning point in my gaming career, when I pushed myself (or was nudged) to try new games. My fiancé brought home the original Fable in late 2006. He had borrowed it from a friend who thought he might like it. He didn’t;  but, in turn, he thought I might. He kept the game for awhile, which is good because it took me awhile to warm up to the idea of playing it. Once again, this was another case of me gathering up enough curiosity to want to play the game. I don’t think I watched my fiancé play the game beforehand, and I hadn’t really read much about the game, so I didn’t know what I was getting in to.

This is actually a pretty good pic of one of the trolls. I was too busy killing them to ever stop to admire their lucent gazes. (source)

When I started off the game playing as a child, I almost turned it off.  A kid, really?!  But, seeing as how I guess I didn’t have anything better to do at that moment, I kept playing.

The towns are pretty. The children aren’t. Can’t win ’em all. (source)

And I’m glad I did.

Once you got past some of its quirks, Fable was a mighty fine game.  The story is suitable and well…let’s load the clichés. You start out playing as a young boy.  His quasi-16th century, European-style village, Oakvale, is destroyed by some evil force (cliché 1), his family perishes (cliché 2), but he alone is rescued (cliché 3) by a hero named Maze.  Maze sees the potential for you to become a great warrior and takes you under his wing (clichés 4, 5).  You enter the Hero’s Guild and begin training (cue Gonna Fly Now.)  Once you become strong enough, you are set free into the world where you meet your blind spiritualist, Teresa, who helps guide you along.  You also face numerous bad guys, learn about your history and your family, and face down the villain that destroyed Oakvale.  There are various ways to gain XP and power up your character, tons of treasure to find, and many secrets to discover.  Like I said, it’s all fine, but pretty standard fare.

Poppies… Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Or maybe just stare…at…the sky? Either way, paralysis is paralysis. (source)

While the story wasn’t anything new, the gameplay with its moral choices was.  To me anyway.  In JRPGs you are always the good guy, fighting for right, or the girl, or whatever.  But in Fable, from almost the beginning of the story, you are free to make choices that ultimately affect everything from your appearance to the villages of Albion.  I suppose you could have tread the line between good and bad; become sort of “meh” about the whole saving-the-world thing, but I found the choices and their potential, well, rather exciting.  I hadn’t ever played a game where you could choose to be a villain.  That was very cool and new.  So naturally, that’s how I started out.

You know I’m bad, I’m bad, you know it. (source)

But here’s the thing about being mean – people don’t like you. Funny thing that, right?  The characters in Fable acted quite harshly against my little boy who did wrong.  And y’know, I just didn’t like that.  Call it some weird holdover from childhood or something, but I hated that people kept scolding my character.  So after taking a few steps down the path of evil, I reformed my ways and took the good path for the remainder of the game. I found certain things much easier; and other things more difficult as a result, but the overall experience was very enjoyable. Yes, after awhile the constant praising and love became a-n-n-o-y-i-n-g.  Once your character received full status as a true hero, you couldn’t into one village without having half the town’s womenfolk (and some menfolk) swooning in your general direction or right in your face. Ugh.

I’m guessing he’s good – no horns, fire, evil eyes, etc. (source)

When you weren’t dealing with the most irritating NPC’s in the history of video games, you were questing and fighting – two of the game’s strong points.  As with most games, there are always parts that I never figure out; but, for the most part, I found Fable to be easy to navigate.  I probably left lots of secrets behind during my travels, but it never felt totally incomplete.  The fights (mostly melee and magic for me) were challenging but even.  And the payoff was always pretty good – whether you got new items or abilities for your character or just leveled up.

Is he giving “the” finger? Or maybe just “a” finger? I can’t tell. (source)

Once I beat the game I considered replaying it again, and this time really taking the evil path.  Instead, I kept the same guy but started making all the “wrong” choices.  It took a few hours for the changes to start manifesting, but eventually I had pissed off enough villagers, stolen enough goods, drank enough mead, and killed enough innocent leaders to find my character with horns and glowing red eyes.

If only it was so easy to pick out the crappy people in real life.

Fable was a really good game, and served as my gateway drug into the wide world of RPGs that didn’t involve summons, gravity-defying hairstyles, chocobos, or talking stuffed animals.  I read later about the game’s creator, Peter Molyneux.  He’s a bit of a loon, eh? Claimed all sorts of things about this game and its awesomeness.  It was a good game but it didn’t change my life. It certainly made a good dent though; one that I keep patching up with new RPGs.

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