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Fable Heroes Review

Game Rant’s Anthony Taormina reviews Fable Heroes

As the third part of Microsoft’s Arcade Next XBLA promotion (which has included Bloodforge and Trials Evolution so far) Fable Heroes fits the casual, family-friendly bill. A cooperative button masher that combines elements of Lionhead Studios’ wildly popular series and a more traditional board game, Fable Heroes is very hard to label – and even harder to explain.

While Fable proper was about taking one’s player through a pre-determined life cycle — making life-altering decisions along the way — Fable Heroes puts up to four players in control of a wide variety of Fable archetypes. Rather than giving each player the gameplay mechanics present in the RPG version of the game, Heroes designates each player’s “puppet hero” with a specific skill. There are a handful of puppets to choose from, some of which hearken back to key moments in Fable‘s history, but all basically fall into one of three roles (ranged, melee, magic).

Flourishes — charged up versions of each character’s basic attacks — and an AOE attack that sacrifices one heart piece, are also at the player’s disposal as they fight their way through the many enemy types that have pervaded the Fable universe.  While the appearance of hollow men, hobbes, and balverines might suggest that this is a Fable game for fans to look forward to, the experience of playing it does not.

Fable Heroes Review - Level Selection

Fable Heroes does provide players another chance to journey through iconic Fable locations like Bowerstone and Aurora (in their traditional and in the more challenging dark form), but adventuresome travelers should be wary the game is very straight forward. In fact, the group is prevented from advancing even the tiniest bit forward without dispatching every foe.

Just looking at the game on a strictly technical level makes it abundantly clear that this is not the Fable fans will be expecting. Much of the interesting design that Lionhead has established has been made more palatable and also less visually appealing. In plainer terms, since that’s what the game was shooting for, the project looks too “kiddy.” But even that would have been understandable if the game had decent collision detection or didn’t constantly suffer from frame-rate problems.

In service of drawing in a younger, and family-conscious fan base Lionhead has made a ton of concessions, and essentially created a completely different game than anything that exists in the Fable universe. The goal of each level in Fable Heroes, each a part of a larger board game, is to bash, zap, or shoot every enemy and collect the coins they leave behind. Those coins are then used on a whole variety of power-ups and improvements, from more damage to new puppet characters.

Fable Heroes Review - Board Game Leveling

But earning those power-ups isn’t as simple as spending one’s earned coins, it’s actually facilitated via the game’s coolest feature. After each level players accumulate a certain number of dice rolls, which determine the improvements they have access to. Rather than being able to increase your damage percentage outright, players have to hope they roll the appropriate number and land on that space. It’s quite an ingenious little addition, and helps keep that carrot-on-a-stick always out of reach.

Unfortunately, a lot of what Fable Heroes brings to the table, aside from that, is dull and uninteresting. Combat devolves into mashing the same button over and over again, and earning coins, while competitive, doesn’t carry quite the joy that it should. Lionhead does infuse a few of its signature Fable flairs, like branching paths and good vs. evil choices, into the game but both are either too few and far between, or just a different way to prolong the experience. It’s only the board game leveling system, and the title’s brief mini-games — like mine-cart racing — that provide brief respites from an otherwise uninspired experience.

Getting together with three other friends makes playing Fable Heroes feel less empty, but after one or two levels you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that was having fun. It should be mentioned that the game deals with death in a pretty clever way — players can still help defeat enemies in a ghostly form, but they cannot collect coins — but dying will not be too much of a worry, even on the harder difficulties. Hopping online, on the other hand, devolves into running around trying to snipe coins, rather than actually worrying about killing anything.

Fable Heroes Review - Combat

It’s hard not to take families with younger children into consideration when reviewing Fable Heroes, but even they deserve something a little better than this. There are hints of complexity that suggest the game is for an older audience, while the look and gameplay make it seem like a broad, kid-friendly title that carries the Fable name. Unfortunately, in service of trying to win over the most gamers (or even non-gamers) possible, Lionhead may lose everyone.

Fable Heroes feels like a cash grab in the truest sense of the word — a game that has no business carrying the Fable moniker. While each entry in the franchise does fall short of some lofty expectations, they at least aspire to do something original. Fable Heroes, on the other hand, gets a few things right, but they’re not worth your time.

Do you think Fable Heroes looks like an interesting departure for the franchise or a shameless tie-in? Has this and Fable: The Journey changed your perspective on the series?

Fable Heroes releases May 1, 2012 for the Xbox 360.