If I am completely honest with you, after Minecraft, Fable Heroes was the game from the Microsoft Arcade NEXT promotion that I was least interested in. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that it may just be my favourite.
An unusual entry in the Fable franchise, Fable Heroes has no story whatsoever; none at all. The gameplay is also wildly different than in previous games, although the hallmarks of the Fable series are there for all to see.
At it’s core, Fable Heroes is a side-scrolling hack and slash game, much in the vein of something like Castle Crashers; but the package that it is wrapped in makes it so much more. You start by picking your characters, which are all heroes from the Fable universe (hence the name); The Hero, Hammer, Reaver, Ben Finn are all there, as are many other Fable friends, many of which require unlocking via the upgrade screen.
This time however, they have all been made into puppets, minus the strings. As the game is a four-player adventure even in single player, the AI will take control of those that aren’t being controlled by a human. The four heroes are then dumped onto a map of Albion. Well, I say “map,” but it is actually a tile-based grid that’s starts off in Millfields. As you venture through each level, the grid expands, and you can progress to the next area. You’ll visit places like Bowerstone, Hobbes Cavern and Aurora. Each level is about 10 minutes in length and requires you to make your way through the region, slashing down familiar enemies as you go with a combination of light, heavy and special attacks; each unique to every puppet.
You can expect to see all of the miscreants of Albion here; from Hobbes to Hollow Men and even the odd chicken or two. As you defeat your foes, they will, in turn, drop coins, which are the most important thing in Fable Heroes. There are also treasure chests that are found throughout the levels that will give you temporary power-ups, such as invisibility, super speed or even shrink and enlarge your hero. There are also good and evil treasure chests littered throughout, which you can use to help or hinder the team. At the end of each level, your path will split in and you will have the choice as to which road to take. Depending on your decision, you will either be presented with a boss battle or one of several mini-games, such as racing or chicken kicking (yes, really). Both are good fun and mean that you will need to play the levels at least twice to discover both paths.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a four-player game, with the AI taking charge if there aren’t enough breathing players. The AI does a pretty good job of looking after its characters, but it sometimes struggles to keep up pace with the real players. This can result in a bit of frustration, but if the AI players fall behind too much, they will just warp to where you are. It can also get a little crowded on screen at times. Enemies attack in packs, sometimes as many as 10-20 in one go. With all of that action on screen, you can sometimes lose track of where you are. However, you can toggle indicators though, which will help you gather your bearings in times of crisis. But if you want to get the most out of this game, then either get online, or get some mates round. Even with everything happening on screen, there is still so much fun in either working together to take down a big boss; or griefing each other as you try to steal another player’s power up or coins.
The game can also suffer from the odd bug or two. The main culprits seem to be a random loss of character audio and also some heavy frame rate issues when playing with another person (online or local). It’s nothing to worry too much about, but a shame to see, as everything else seems to have been given a great deal of love and care. The music and the art style seem to be a perfect match, and the characters, although in puppet form, are a cute homage to their normal counterparts.
One of the things that surprised me with Fable Heroes is the upgrade mechanic. After each level, you are awarded a number of dice rolls based upon how many coins you collected. These dice rolls are then spent on upgrading each puppet. The upgrade screen is a board game; you throw the dice and move to the relevant square on the board. You then get a number of upgrade options to choice from, based on the square you landed on.
There are spaces that will improve your attacking, speed and damage. There are also squares that give you boosts against certain types of enemy. It definitely is a different way to upgrade, and in means that you can’t just go and get the good upgrades first, as the squares you land on are random. The upgrades cost gold to buy, which makes the square that boosts your gold collection even more valuable; as upgrades aren’t the only thing you are earning them towards (more on that in a bit).
The upgrade board has an outer track (the one you start on) and an inner one. At the start of the game, the inner track is empty; but by earning achievements you also unlock squares for the inner track. Once you have fully upgraded your character on the outer track, they can them move to the inner one. These squares give a ’one game’ boost, such as attracting coins or even enemies.
Once you have completed all the levels, you unlock ’Dark Albion’ mode. Dark Albion mode is more difficult, but rewards you with more coins. It also gives the game a different look and rewards you with a new character. By having this mode, the game promotes multiple playthroughs, which is very important as one of the levels, The Cloud, doesn’t get unlocked when the top 100 players reach 1,000,000 total each.
As of the time of this writing, I have yet to unlock The Cloud. In fact I’m not even half way there. It is something to work towards if you want to 100% the game. It’s also worth pointing out that if you accumulate so much money and don’t know what to do with it, the game also provides you a way to transfer your gold in to the forthcoming Fable: The Journey game (along with keeping two puppets locked until you buy Journey). How thoughtful of them.
A game with great local and online multiplayer, two versions of the main game and a fun and unique upgrade system, Fable Heroes does a great job of keeping you entertained, whether you are young or old. Just a word to the wise, make sure you play the end credits, the boss battle is awesome.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.