To say that Fable has a lot to live up to is a gross understatement. Peter Molyneux, the game's director, has gone so far as to say that it will be the best RPG ever made. Certainly, the features that he has announced for the game make implementation the only obstacle: on paper, no title can match Fable for scope. For some skeptical RPGamers, Fable is the only chance the Xbox has at a lasting place in video game history. However, a series of delays have so far prevented the big black box from profiting from this potential must-own title. Indeed, when one stops to consider the sheer ambition of the title, one wonders how much the developers will end up being able to implement.
Fable's central promise is to allow the player to have maximum control over the role-playing experience, especially as far as character development is concerned. As for story and the adventure itself, the developers have tried to strike a balance between total freedom and a commitment to resolving the story. One concession to the story is that the player has to begin the game as a thirteen-year old boy, but beyond that, they have discretion. The boy's quest, in a nutshell, is to traverse the land of Albion in search of the murderers of his family. The narrative can span the boy's entire mortal existence, although the game occasionally skips ahead to different periods in his life.
"Choices" are the fuel for the game. Everything the player does has some kind of relevance, and even people the player meets on the road will spread reports back in town. Some decisions will be quite explicit, and the developers try to make it clear what each choice entails. Often, they will have some impact on the player's alignment. Similarly to Knights of the Old Republic, the player can be Good, Evil, or Neutral, based on how he or she plays. Even such things as how the player dispatches an enemy - either mercifully or deviously - affect alignment. There are less subtle influences too, and the developers have included certain quests to specifically challenge the player's alignment. Of course, alignment affects how NPCs treat the player. An Evil player would be shunned in town, but receive hospitality from bandits. Regardless, the player can always be guaranteed enmity from the Rival Hero. This character tends to take the choices opposite to the player's. Encounters with this character are common occurrences, sometimes in the formal setting of the Hero's Guild. Here, RPGamers can make bets with other heroes regarding certain quests.
Alignment equally exerts its influence on the avatar's appearance, and you had better believe that there is no shying away from "Good and Evil" stereotypes. However, other gameplay factors play a role in countenance as well. If the player spends a lot of time in the sun, the avatar will get a tan. A nasty hit will leave a scar. Of course, how one looks is only a small part of a person's development. Fable uses a logical skill-leveling system somewhat reminiscent to Morrowind. Using strength-based abilities will make the player stronger (and their avatar more muscular), and as the player gets older and wiser their magic skill increases (and the avatar's hair grays).
The world itself develops around the player. The NPCs possess personal traits, and the AI knows when children should be inquisitive, when shopkeepers should be angry, and so on. The NPC community is fully receptive to the player's role in their lives, as well. The player can proposition a woman (or even multiple women in different towns) to be his wife. On the economic side of things, the player can barter for everyday household goods, or take the path of the entrepreneur and buy a shop. If things don't go according to plan, then perhaps flooding the market and destroying the town's economy is the way to go. Be careful, though. The player may occasionally find that he has money issues on the domestic front. If there is any money left lying around the house, the player's wife may use it to make a few improvements around the home. The more sadistic RPGamers will be happy to hear that, in another parallel to Morrowind, NPCs can be killed without any hope of revival. Moreover, to keep the game interesting, the guards will have reduced memories, so criminal players will be able to do away with all that annoying jail time. Should the avatar get killed himself, he (and the player) will be happy to learn that he miraculously was only knocked out and rescued by a nearby villager. The save is maintained as well, but the specific quest that the player was attempting fails, and their renown goes down.
One limitation on Fable's interactivity is that the player can only form heterosexual relationships with NPCs. However, it has at least been jokingly suggested that there may be modifications allowing homosexuality when the game is released in different regions. Alterations to the hero's "Western" appearance are already planned for Fable's Japanese release.
It's all nothing without the battles, of course (though perhaps less so than in other RPGs). The developers have tried to keep the battles as fast-paced and realistic as possible, and to this end, they have employed an action-based system. The result is reminiscent of a hack n' slash title, but there are still RPG conventions present, like a target lock-on feature. Fable also wins cool points in the special abilities department with its "Will." Will allows the player to tap into the world around them to do useful things (including, of course, the necessary time slowing). The most basic Will skill is the ability to knock around enemies and objects, but even this skill can force the bones out of a foe's body in its advanced stage. Other kinds of abilities, including peaceful ones, can be learned by hitting a button after an NPC performs a like ability.
As one might expect for an Xbox flagship title, Fable's graphics are awesome. The bump mapping is beautifully implemented on a natural environment that teems with life-like plants, creatures, and shading. The characters are not portrayed completely realistically, however: the creative influence of the original artists still shows. They look at least on par with the much-heralded Halo and Half Life sequels. Also causing a pleasant stir is the fact that justifiably famous composer Danny Elfman will be responsible for the main theme (but not, presumably, the whole score) along with his hand-picked orchestra.
Peter Molyneux (along with his lesser-known - though no less distinguished - partners, Dene and Simon Carter) have sought to create a beast of a project. Understandably, the game has met with some delays, but players are getting impatient. However, it is not advisable to rush a potentially ground-breaking title. If Fable fails, then its unique innovations would risk being unappreciated. That would truly be a path towards evil.