12 February, 2007

Fable: Stupid Fairness

The fact that a lot of talented people put a lot of time and effort into Fable is gnawing at me.

The artwork was very good. The atmosphere established by the low rock walls and leafy trees of Oakdale was wonderful. The appearance of most of the locations in the game were very well done. The character design was solid and the animation was fluid and expressive.

The music helped set the mood and add an atmosphere of wonder.

Even though I was on the goody two shoes path, it was easy to see that there were plenty of fun opportunities to get into trouble on the evil path.

The coding was solid. The game never crashed or locked up, and this without a single patch.

The voice acting was obviously quite effective. I wouldn't have been so upset about the pettiness and betrayals of the other characters if I hadn't found them credible to begin with.

Fairness has been served.

Fable: Meh.

I want Peter Molyneux in the casual games space. His titles are completely overblown.

Hmmm. That's probably best left for another post, eh? Nevermind.

Fable was a let down. The start of the game was okay, but as soon as that phase was over things started going wrong.

I tried to run my first mission with Whisper, or rather, against Whisper. That pretty much sucked. First because I finished the whole mission using only my fists, but somehow still lost the boast. And at that early stage in the game, the whole boast system seemed pretty worthless. I could easily earn 1000 gold a minute playing the matching game in the first town, so why bother? I eventually just used the potion trick to give myself limitless funds. Why waste time "leveling" my bank account when I could be doing something fun?

The second reason fighting Whisper sucked was because I liked Whisper. My family was dead. The guild master didn't really give a shit about me one way or the other. Whisper was the closest thing I had to a friend. But she just wanted to fight. So I kicked her ass and eventually put the pin I won by beating her up on display in my house. It was the only trophy I would ever care about.

The next mission of note was also against Whisper. I had to kill bad guys faster than she did. I gave the boast system one more shot and felt so completely hamstrung by it that I never went back. This was also the point at which I decided I was thoroughly underpowered and needed to level up before taking any more missions. This brought some good moments. Attacking and defeating an entire camp full of bandits felt good, partly because I used all the tools at my disposal. I sniped. I brawled. And I used physical shield. I'd finally become hip to how much XP it could get me by keeping my multiplier up. And with all the cheap hits I'd take from offscreen bandits, I needed all the help I could get.

In fact, combat in general was a near total loss. No elegance. No decisive maneuvers. Just a short search for a dominant strategy and the occasional frustration of feeling like I was playing a game that was designed by someone who didn't play action games. But that fit.

Everything in Fable felt half assed. The combo multiplier leveling up system meant that people who didn't need any help with combat were given more and more power. The "living world" you were supposed to experience was a joke. People got up in the morning, went to one place, then went home again, except for the guards who wander around at all hours. There must be a booming meth business in the land of Albion.

And the dating sim aspect was the most half assed of all. For one thing, no Whisper. Even if she didn't like me, I still wanted to keep up with how she was doing. I was wondering, as I did more and more good deeds, if her friendly opposition in the early phases would turn into outright evil. Was she destined to be my opposite? I should have known that wasn't the case. It would have been fun. I might have been willing to go evil just to see Whisper turn good.

But let's get back to the dating sim. As I mentioned before, the game itself is crap. I've seen better dating sims in cheesy flash games. It's possible outcomes are interesting on paper, but I guess I'm just too old fashioned. I'm a goddamned epic fantasy hero. My love is going to be one for the ages. Westley and Buttercup epic. Oh wait. It's not. Outside of Lady Grey, who's a fricking demon, no woman is significantly different from any other. They have no lives. I thought about marrying the woman in Oakdale who's teddy bear I rescued for her when we were kids, just because I at least had some attachment to her. But I didn't latch on to her the very first time I saw her, and after that I could never be sure who she was. Seriously. Is that redhead over there the one I want to spend the rest of my life with? Or is it that other one who looks exactly the same? WHAT'S THE FUCKING POINT?

Back to the mechanical failures... leveling up seemed really pointless. Sure the missions were somewhat easier, but back in the overworld, the monsters just got bigger. The road that was guarded by angry insects the last time I came through is guarded by a freaking troll now? I thought leveling up was supposed to be helping me, but it didn't feel like it was. It just meant I had to waste more time killing bigger monsters. You know how to kill a troll? Get behind it and wail on it, taking quick breaks to roll to safety when it does a ground pound move. Do that for about thirty seconds straight and you can begin to understand the depths of my boredom with the combat system. Of course, for a change of pace you can fight the smaller, faster minions. Of course the only strategy that works there is to hold block, then counter after they attack. They'll generally block you, but you'll get the little ding that lets you do a block breaker (after you've waited for them to attack again and block it, of course). Again, there is no finesse, skill, or fun involved in any of this. Maybe I was supposed to use spells more, but when I finally got slow time mastered, all pretense was gone. Just run around behind them and bash them until candy comes out. Lather, rinse; die of boredom.

Meanwhile, back in the plot I'm supposed to care about, my sister turns up alive. Then she leaves. My only family, and she wants nothing to do with me. My name is freaking AVATAR. I can help! But no.

Oh wait. Mom's alive too. But she's not, really. She's just a plot hook. There's no character there. Allegedly she was some kind of hero at some point, but I don't believe it. She never fights, or even acts like she wishes she could. Oh, and she presumes to praise my technique. Sorry. I know it's just how you're written, but you're coming across more like Norma Desmond than anyone I care about. Oh, and now you're dead. I'm not sure if I despised Jack of Blades more for killing you, or myself for not really caring.

In the meantime, the only other "hero" worth a damn, Maze, turns out to be Jack of Blades' bitch. I beat him to death with a frying pan out of sheer contempt. Oh, and he tried to kill my sister. I guess I should care about that, but she just vanishes in a puff of smoke again, so her living or not isn't really worth getting worked up over. But Maze's betrayal hurts. I get the feeling I am the only one in all of creation trying to fight the good fight. When I finally get the opportunity to kill my sister, I'm halfway tempted. Albion is not remotely worth saving. But I don't, partly because I'm good, and partly because I know the only reward for killing her is a worthless sword. If I don't kill her, I get the "good" version of the same blade, so there's really nothing to tempt me.

I go to the Lost Chapters content and kick Jack of Blades' ass again. It's nice to find that Briar Rose is more than the pathetic renown whore she seemed at the beginning. Still, it's too little, too late. All I see are ruins. Whisper. Thunder. Maze. My family. In the end, I pay one last visit to the guild. The guild master is broken. I can click on him, but he just moves his mouth, with no words coming out. A truly fitting end to a game with no soul. I teleport back to Oakdale. To the home of my childhood. I think of my family. I see the trophy and think of Whisper. She's alive because of me. The oracles told me she's alive and well. But I am old and alone in a world that means nothing to me. Carve it on my headstone. WHAT WAS THE FUCKING POINT?