It’s hard to say that the Fable franchise was left on the best footing by 2012’s Fable: The Journey. Released last October, punctuating the Peter Molyneux era at Lionhead Studios, the game’s reception was mixed at best, with many reviews like ours highlighting some demonstrable Kinect-based gameplay flaws despite an intriguing storytelling premise.

But if anything, The Journey did offer the series room to breath after its three main installments between 2005 and 2010. Creator Peter Molyneux has already promised that Fable 4 would come to fruition at some point in the foreseeable future, and a pair of job listings from Lionhead Studios suggests that a major series overhaul — perhaps even a full reboot — is underway for the next generation.

Seeking to fill vacancies for an animation director and a core engine programmer, the listings became notable for their job descriptions and preferred-experience requirements. Both positions, they read, will be “key contributor[s] on an unannounced title,” and both desire applicants with “knowledge of Unreal Engine 3 and/or 4.”

That criteria is consonant with a Lionhead job listing which surfaced last year, brimming with suggestive language related to next-gen engine/graphical design. There are some curious distinctions, however, present in the animation director description that point directly toward work on the Fable franchise.

Fable 4 Next Gen Lionhead Jobs

The ideal candidate is someone who has leading industry experience on AAA titles, including large scale RPG, Action Adventure and RTS genres,” it advertises, demanding later that “background working on new franchises or reimaginings of existing franchises” is essential, along with the “proven ability to bring new ideas to new franchise whilst ensuring its heritage is respected.

Should the listings indeed apply to Fable 4, Lionhead’s “reimagining” may well arrive in the form of a next-generation, free-to-play MMO. For one, The Journey, as mentioned, already took a significant departure from the Fable foundation with its implementation of Kinect-based gameplay and a more linear narrative. And when Lionhead hired former Cryptic Studios CEO John Needham to head up operations this April, parent company Microsoft was quick to extoll his “deep understanding”  of “subscription-based, massively multi-player, client-based console and free-to-play online [experiences.]”

The Journey evoked the past the franchise is sorely in need of honoring. The hiring of Needham could presage the concepts it uses to do so uniquely. Whether or not Fable 4 would find success with such a model, well, that’s another matter entirely. But with Microsoft anxious to preview its exclusive launch line-up for the next-gen Xbox both at its May 21 press conference and, doubtless, E3 2013, it might be long before we find out.

Ranters, where would you like to see Microsoft take Fable in the next generation? How do you envision Lionhead’s plans for Fable 4?

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.

Source: Microsoft Careers (Lionhead animation director, Lionhead core engine programmer) [via OXM]