Aside from Fable: Pub Games, Fable Heroes is the first major departure for a Fable game from the core open world RPG mechanics that has made the series so popular. Fable Heroes is a four player brawler that puts you in control of a puppet version of one of many characters from Fable as you battle familiar enemies across several notable locations from Albion.
The puppets that you control are reminiscent of the hero doll collectibles from Fable 2. As one of the numerous unlockable puppets you can play solo with the computer or with friends locally or over Xbox Live. Fable Heroes is a competitive cooperative beat ‘em up game. You always travel with a party of four puppets and work together to defeat the armies of enemies and end level bosses. You will however compete against one another collecting coins from fallen enemies and objects in each level.
Coins represent the currency that can be exchanged for character upgrades. After each stage all players will be able to upgrade their character by playing a board game. The more coins accumulated during a level will grant the player additional dice rolls. Each board tile that the dice lets you move across is associated with a particular upgrade. The upgrades can be general damage modifiers, improve coin collection or specific towards certain enemies or bosses. Once you land on a tile you have the option to purchase different upgrades using the coins you’ve collected.
There are lots of different upgrades to choose from and should be the driving force behind the gameplay once every level has been completed. It will take much longer than playing through the game twice to unlock everything for a particular character. The upgrade system is pretty elaborate compared to the core battle mechanics of Fable Heroes.
As you traverse the familiar locations of Albion you will be greeted by hordes of enemies that have been adversaries in the Fable universe before. Hobbes, Hollowmen and Balverines are only a few of the different enemy types you will encounter. To get past these enemies and collect those essential coins you will have to strike down each and every one of them. The Fable games have always had elegantly simplistic combat systems and Fable Heroes is no different. The four moves available for the duration of the game is attack, flourish, an area damage move and roll. Flourish is a high damage move that requires a short period of time before it is executed.
The main issue with Fable Heroes is the combat system. While it is very easy to use the game begins to devolve into mashing the attack button to get through each stage. There is nothing apart from coin collection that breaks up the pace of entering an area and pressing attack until all the enemies are defeated.
Apart from the repetitive nature of the combat, each level presents you with two different stages to progress to at the end. Each choice is relatively the same throughout each level of Fable Heroes; either a boss battle or a competitive mini-game.
Stylistically each boss is unique to their particular arena and look quite charming using Heroes cartoonish art style. However each boss uses the same attacks and patterns as the last, creating a similar problem as the combat system: more of the same repetitive gameplay. Each boss will smash the ground, jump to damage players attacking with melee and summon minions. Every boss also has a ton of health making this repetitive process even more frustrating.
Alternatively the mini-games present a simplistic formula we have seen many times before. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the mini-games or how they are executed, their inclusion in the game doesn’t do anything significantly different than mini-games from five years ago. In effect what could have been a fun way to end a level by directly competing against other players turns into a tired activity we have played countless times before.
Many of the criticisms I’ve made above can be categorized under simplistic and repetitive. While this formula may be frustrating to some players it may have been intentional on the part of Lionhead. The game includes a difficulty setting geared to family play. This difficulty setting coupled with the general friendly cartoony art style of the environments and characters leads me to believe this game was built with families in mind.
I believe that Fable Heroes succeeds at being a game to keep kids occupied with its grinding nature but may fall short in the eyes of adults due to the expectations related to the Fable name. For those adults that due venture into the world of Heroes there is a darker and more difficult version of the game that is unlocked after the great game ending credit level is beaten.
After the credits roll Dark Albion is unlocked, which is a darker mirror image of each level of Heroes. Dark Albion uses the exact same level layouts as the regular areas of Albion but paints a dark gloomy aesthetic onto them. The visual differences between the regular Albion levels and the Dark Albion levels can be quite significant and it is one of the better aspects of Heroes’ art style. Apart from the being visually distinct, Dark Albion is also littered with enemies that are more difficult to conquer than those in the standard Albion levels.
Fable Heroes can be a fun competitive brawler if you can get past its repetitive nature. The board game like interface is a fun way to convey the upgrade system which is more elaborate than expected. The only downside to the upgrade system is that you will have to grind through the same levels, boss battles and outdated mini-games to make significant progress. Apart from a different look and harder enemies, Dark Albion is just more of the exact same game. As a family game Fable Heroes can be quite endearing but those who want a deeper experience may ultimately be disappointed.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of Fable Heroes.