Fable video games are supposed to operate around a promise. The three role-playing games spearheaded by former Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux dangled themes of changeable appearance, persistent consequence and pledge-keeping to pique players' interest. And, yeah, the knock on the Fable games is that they tend to overpromise and under-deliver. However, to my mind, it's always been better that they reached for something.
But Fable Heroes harbors no discernable promise. It doesn't dare to dream and suffers greatly for it.
Lionhead's latest effort looks adorable at first. You control one of four puppet warriors as they hack and slash through a half-dozen levels of a shrunken Albion. Players start off with four characters—two for melee and two for ranged attacks—and can unlock more skins with gold coins that they earn by smashing barrels and enemies.
There's no real strategy to the button-mashing combat. It's quick attack, flourish (heavy attack) and dodge/roll all the way. You can die in Heroes—and that happens mostly when you get lost in the on-screen chaos—but all it does is turn you into a ghost that can't pick up coins. Picking up a heart turns your puppet corporeal again and lets him or her get back to amassing wealth.
WHY: None of Fable's psychological-profile ambitions come through in Fable Heroes, leaving only a dull button-mashing action game in their absence.
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Version played)
Released: May 2nd (Xbox Live)
Type of game: Multiplayer hack-and-slash with light party-game elements.
What I played: Completed all levels in offline mode; spent about 3 hours playing in online multiplayer.
Two Things I Loved
- Racing to grab more coins than other players turns into a chaotic free-for-all, making it all the more satisfying when you come out on top.
- Turning the credits into a playable level made for a fun ending and the final face-off against a giant chicken made me laugh.
Two Things I Hated
- It never felt like I had to work with other people while playing Fable Heroes. We just ran through the same spaces in pretty meaningless ways.
- The squeaks and groans emitted by the puppets really do nothing in terms of imparting personality and wound up annoying me.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "The only ending you'll get for this Fable is crappily ever after." - -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com
- "Puppets everywhere should protest at the mistreatment their kind suffers in Fable Heroes." -Evan Narcisse, Kotaku.com
Grabbing gold is key to Heroes, since the Xbox 360 exclusive title operates on a competitive co-op template. You and your puppet party all fight bad guys but constantly hustle for coins to grab the top spot at end-of-level leaderboards. In addition, when the Kinect title Fable: The Journey comes out, you'll be able to siphon off gold from that game into Heroes. Coins also play into the mini board game where you roll dice to buy abilities. The board game is a nice idea initially but, after several rounds of it, I found myself frustrated at not being able to level up the specific character traits. If a dice roll turned out poorly for me, I was stuck waiting until the end of the next level before I could beef up the abilities geared towards assault strength, speed or enemy-specific attacks.
Heroes shares the cutesy toy-chest sensibility of LittleBigPlanet or Costume Quest but with much less charm than either of those games. The constant jockeying for position also reminded me of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, only without the tandem attacks and clever weaponry of Insomniac's most recent outing.