The antithesis between good and evil, to be honest, is just the beginning. Fable is one of those rare and fascinating video game series that constantly generate conflicting opinions. Is it a superficial role-playing game, or perhaps a clever retelling with satirical intentions of the genre? It’s hilarious, with all those burps! Or maybe it’s just childish? Let’s face it: Fable is so easy that it seems like a ride for a ride, isn’t it? Or maybe it challenges the player in ways that go beyond mere difficulty? With all this bickering over every aspect of it, it’s no surprise that the world of Albion is often identified by a mechanic that isn’t even contained in the game.

As history once told us, if we find and plant an acorn when we are kids, a sprout will sprout from the ground. Years pass, after a long life of significant events and heroic acts we return to the place where we planted the acorn and in the place of the shoot stands a very tall oak. Don’t you also think it’s adorable the idea that a game can be so interactive and poetic at the same time, that it can notice our presence and somehow give it lasting importance, that it can grow thanks to our involvement? But of course there was no acorn in Fable. Consequently, not even a trace of the oak. Or was there this acorn?

When I heard a few weeks ago that a new development team would be working on the next chapter of Fable, I was hit by a whirlwind of memories so vivid, carefree, crazy and loving that for a few seconds I struggled to maintain the balance. . I remember the day of departure, when on a summer day, barefoot, I walked to a distant island with geared doors sticking out of the hillsides. I remember the moon watching the swamp from above through the gray darkness, while a moss-covered monster stood waist-deep in the mud. More than anything else I remember a house in which I lived with the previous owner for a long time. It doesn’t matter that I killed him: thanks to a fantastic glitch he kept me company for a long time, partially embedded in a wall of the upper floor. I then began to think about the challenges facing a new creative team to bring the series back to life. In a game with so many variables, often driven by oddities and, perhaps, even by chance, which single piece of Fable is absolutely essential? In which part of Fable does the true essence of Fable live?

And among all these questions lies another: what has allowed Fable to function so well since its inception?

Starting the first Fable means reliving the mourning for the dissolution of Lionhead again. It was an exceptional studio, able to follow their instincts and always eager to trust their voice. (This joke about the magic stones is particularly successful.)

It is not easy to answer these questions, especially at the beginning of 2018. Given the current tastes, in the memory of many Fables can be remembered in retrospect as a kind of anti-Dark Souls RPG, that is a series that, from Fable 2 in then, he could very well have sported the slogan “YOU WILL NOT DIE”. Still, reducing the series to a mere accessibility factor is a surprisingly difficult task to accomplish, because in truth nothing in Fable is that easy. Conceptually it is a forest, although very pleasant to cross. Sometimes it seems that half the charm of this series is the chatter that surrounds it. Slightly inflated PR statements, angry forum posts about missing acorns – it’s all part of Fable,

Once the vortex of memories has subsided, I inevitably think of the coexistence of two opposing mechanics in the name of Fable. There’s the linear story-driven fantasy adventure (though it’s struggling now to remind me of elements of the story) and then there’s all the variegated picaresque lining, chock full of optional quests, comedy, haircuts, emoticons, tattoos, fights a single key that actually requires three keys, moral choices and devastating consequences. How do these two mechanics blend together? The first element is gradually reduced, so much so that from the second game in the series you can experience the entire adventure following a single narrative thread. The orgy disorder of secondary objectives that surrounds it, meanwhile, has expanded in all directions,

Stop! We proceed calmly. Fable kicks off with childhood and with Oakvale, the perfect place to begin our hero’s tale. Oakvale is an idyllic village graced by a lazy spring buzzing with bees, with the shadow of danger looming on the horizon. It is enviably isolated (many of Oakvale’s streets lead back to Oakvale) and it feels like things never change in places like this. The ideal place, therefore, to learn firsthand that violence can make things change forever.

At the beginning of the adventure we are so young, so suggestible. We have long dreamed of success and greatness, but we still don’t have a clear idea of ​​whether our destiny is to become a hero or a tyrant. Both of these impulses coexist in us. We need the money to buy a birthday present for our sister. Our father suggests hard work, but another villager tells us that “being good is boring”. While we explore Oakvale we witness events that require our intervention, and each of our actions can have a very specific outcome, virtuous on one side and malignant on the other, which falls on the palm of our hand like the juicy half of a ripe orange. .

I remember playing Fable for the first time years ago, mesmerized by the bucolic wonder that the first Xbox was suddenly able to conjure up. I was paralyzed for a few seconds, paralyzed by the infinite temptation of a world that, as it was clear from the start, would reward me regardless of my actions.

Among the many advantages, the world of Fable has always been varied and well characterized.

Do you want to leave childhood behind? Playing Oakvale nowadays, what is most striking is that this village is the closest to a vertical slice in a video game. This is not just a tutorial (in a surprising mix of game design principles and liberal philosophy, we are told that everything we do in Oakvale, that is in our childhood, will have no repercussions on our adult life. !), is a microcosm of everything Fable stands for.

All this seems to us today both ambitious and confused. Moral choices are small but have profound repercussions, as always when it comes to moral choices, and are often surprisingly thorny, so much so that a game like this, which ultimately does nothing but put another mark on the good or bad column, does not. can actually handle them. Take for example the adulterer, caught red-handed behind the farm. Do we tell everything to the wife or are we silent? I’m still not sure what I should have done on that occasion, but Fable has to be, he has to know which choice is right and which is wrong. And to make the decision acceptable, it is necessary to stereotype both the wife and the husband, introducing a form of explicit morality that removes the nuances and diminishes the sense of realism of the game world.

Fable’s moral issues get better as the game finds better ways to ask its questions. But even after long since leaving Oakvale, these tricks remain one of the hallmarks of the game’s supposed trademark. While replaying Chapter 1 this week I realized how little the moral dimension of Fable works, and at the same time, more importantly, I realized how little it matters that this dimension doesn’t work. Something that has never happened to me with other games in the past, the pleasure in this case comes from deciding that Fable works equally, from consciously believing in the fiction of the moral system and its effects, which enrich the dynamics of the game world, rather than focusing on lack of realism. I love Fable, but I wonder if much of my love is due primarily to his courage in trying to be Fable. The game conquers players precisely because of its attempt to be so much more than it really is and putting so much energy into this effort. Even today it is difficult to resist.

The first Fable is still surprisingly playable and is chock full of adorable ideas. I really like the way experience pours from downed enemies like a bunch of glowing marbles to collect before they disappear. Not really heroic, that’s it. And I love that magic is called willpower, and that the gaming hub is a gorgeous little Hogwarts to explore at our leisure.

It’s all so wonderfully strange and sometimes even a counterproductive thread. The narrative is adequately twisted and punctuated by moments of free-range humor, but the structure of the quests tends to take over for long periods of time and at times it is the frivolities, however pleasant, to delay the progress of the plot. The more you play Fable and the less clear it becomes some basic elements of the game. Above all, we arrive at this dilemma: despite the name, Fable, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand whether the game is more focused on narrative events, on the moral system or on the interaction between these two elements. So, what is the Fable series about? For once we had to wait for the rest to answer this question.

I was surprised to find how many things I normally associate with Fable 2 were already present in the original Fable, from the game map that tangles the individual paths around landscapes of enchanting beauty (kept at bay by a modest fence, à la Center Parcs ), to the roofs of the buildings that lean forward, as if to remember the tip of a witch’s hat. Right from the start Fable 2 evokes many classic elements of Fable, but it is more correct to see the sequel as a recalibration rather than a complete, it offers more character choices: you can play as a woman, there are more haircuts, tattoos and better clothes, and we can even have a dog of our own! Beyond that, Fable 2 just makes everything extremely linear. The pleasant fantasy plot a bit ‘thrown out of the first chapter (the greatness awaits us, but oh my god there is an idiot in the middle of the road) has been reduced in the following to a path of crumbs to follow that will lead us, with perhaps just one exception, from the first to the last cut-scene. Oh yes, and you can’t die in combat. A game about becoming a hero is actually a game about doing what we are told and following instructions. A disturbing mechanic that basically we find hidden in many adventure games, but in few titles it has been revealed in this way. And this openness to its own mechanics is so Fable! Suddenly it takes on a whole new sense that the first heroic act in the first game of the saga is to defend a picnic from attack by a swarm of wasps.

Fable 2 is a magical game, and it still is after all this time, despite the fact that it can sometimes feel like it’s the other way around. It’s magical because of the fantastic art design and animations, the abundance of humor and charisma. But it is especially magical because it is one of those rare cases in which it is possible to see the developer in the middle of the process of understanding what are the true potential of the title he is working on. Speaking of Fable 2 and doing what you are told, go where you are directed, hold your position and smile, we are tempted to say that more than a game of heroism it is a game of stardom. Still, even though we’ve all had the pleasure of entertaining a crowd by burping, Fable is always pretty weak when he tries to make us feel popular. His applause is a kind of perverse humiliation. Indeed, the essence of Fable 2, the essence of the entire series, is the celebration of oneself. It’s the game about the eternal adventure of being who we are, as we think about what the implications are and what we can become in the future.

So forget the ancient prophecies and the whole business of the elect. Forget the blind seer (if only more games had the good taste to cast Zoe Wanamaker) and the man in the big castle who deserves the ultimate blow. All this stuff doesn’t interest us anymore once we decide how to cut our bangs. Rather, Fable’s real concerns are those closest to home. How much do we want to own? How many people do we want to marry? How do we want to pass the time? What do we hit people with? How do we want to look?

Fable 2 remains an incredibly beautiful game, a charge of shameless charm, and with no limit to its desire to make us have a good time.

This last question is crucial because in Fable moral choices are ultimately aesthetic, almost sartorial choices. Good and evil give the character a different aspect, and in a game that absolutely doesn’t want to shorten the fun, customization becomes the ultimate goal until we reach the final minutes of the narrative. Of course, there are other factors at work too: Albion reacts to our appearance, as well as the population and even our dog, but in the end the theme is always the same. All these reactions are nothing more than mirrors that allow us to see ourselves in ever new and amusing ways.

True, these are characteristics that many RPGs have in common. Role play is the genre of character evolution, slow-motion sculpture, condescending refinement. But the genius of Fable is to elevate these elements to a position of prime importance. Everything is seen and interpreted through the lens of one’s self, and it has always been so in Albion. The comparisons make it so obvious: Skyrim begins when we escape from prison; Fable instead starts after we are explicitly asked if we are ready to leave childhood behind. It is still unsettling to read this question on screen.

On this basis, Fable becomes a series of games intimately linked to the act of being seen. (And also, for the sake of completeness, the restrictions of being seen: from the very first moments in Oakvale, it’s the appearance of our actions that matters, not what we actually do, and no one asks why we do it.) This connection is present in every aspect of the game, from the very satisfying combat system, which does not identify special moves as ultra or critical hits but rather calls them flourishing moves, to the modifiers for the quests in the first Fable, disguised as strutches. Not only will we save the kingdom / traveling salesman / picnic, but we will do it without taking a single hit, or using the sword, or naked.

This can help us understand why the Fable games seem so light at times, why rather long game sessions can provoke those scruples of conscience typical of prolonged satisfaction, as if we were at a buffet where every dish is consisting of meringues. Fable’s settings are beautiful, from the desolate coastal areas of Rookridge to the glittering pools of Gemstone Grotto, but they often clash with each other and don’t convince like real spaces. Although the names and language are gloriously British (Oakvale, Knothole Glade, the assortment of regional dialects, the loving spoken), nothing suggests the existence of a lore of any weight. Rather, the settings do what they were made for: they add cohesion and concreteness to the nostalgia for a partly legendary provincial Britain and a pinch of convenient social and political amnesia. Taken as a whole, the world of Fable only holds up for the time it takes us to cross it, delighted by ourselves. It reminds me, in part, of the way 3D games save energy by rendering on screen only the portion of the world that is in front of the character.

The authors of Fable 3 undoubtedly enjoyed creating these posters, designed by Mike McCarthy.

Why should we want more? Without death and with the path of crumbs to follow, within the game we have nothing to think about but ourselves. And thinking about ourselves here is wonderful. I don’t remember the storyline of Fable 2 but I remember what happened to me, I remember what I looked like at the beginning of the game and what I looked like at the end. And I also remember that in my first game, I went evil by accident. This was the greatest emotion: discovering that the things I had done, even the smallest, had made me ugly and grim. Fable’s moral system may be full of stereotypes and compromises, but it nevertheless casts a spell on the player.

Along with rushed development and changing tastes, this emphasis on self-discovery explains why Fable 3 was a disappointment compared to previous games. The third chapter is by no means a bad game, playing it back this week I have been able to appreciate so many details that only Lionhead could have made work so well, but as soon as he moves away from the concept of himself the game falters, it appears somewhat weak.

I wonder if they didn’t pick the wrong story to tell. In Fable 3 a time jump occurs: the hero of Fable 2 is dead. With his sons in charge the Albion kingdom is in decline. Playing as a prince or a princess, our task is to organize a revolution that can overthrow the mad brother. And once we have the throne, it is up to us to command and keep the promises made during the insurrection so that we can survive an invasion from overseas.

There are issues in all of this that spoil the experience. The transition to the industrial age has severely weakened Albion’s bucolic charm, and the theme of rebellion conflicts with the linear mechanics of the crumb path. At the beginning of Fable 3 it doesn’t help that the protagonist is already a prince, even if one who is about to escape from the castle: perhaps this is the boring second act of a lively life, a bit like the era of purposeful pop. .

Strange and beautiful, Fable Legends appears to us as a great videogame tragedy. And what can better express the complex nature of the artistic compromise carried out by the Anglo-American company, if not the decision to give it all in a pumpkin patch?

The real problem, however, is that as the third act looms, when we finally have the keys to the kingdom, Fable 3 turns out to be a game about work, rather than about self-realization, or self-realization through work. There is a basic misunderstanding with the pleasure glimpsed in the first understood and fully grasped in the second. It’s as if we’ve always been Trump, and now that we’re finally in power, the White House feels cramped and stuffy.

Another way to put the problem is this: if the show has always had a hard time putting forward an interesting story so far, it has suddenly gotten too good. There is no time to stop and belch when there is a riot to command, and while Fable 3 has genuinely emotional narrative moments, for example when we lead a blinded ally to safety as they fight their own terror, these moments somehow manage to diminish the fun. The narrative stimuli take us away from the motivations that push the character, and once seated on the throne we realize that Fable is no longer a fun to play.

So is Fable 3 more about leadership than about being a hero? Is this a game about the consequences of being a hero? Those are clever arguments, and Fable 3 is definitely a clever game. But it’s not always a satisfying game. He struggles to properly convey the drama of the process that leads to the command of a country. He struggles to make the act of governing dynamic. Once you are in charge, it becomes difficult to get a clear idea of ​​what is at stake: Albion suddenly appears abstract and distant. And the game’s end-game mechanics kind of kill our hopes, leading us to the conclusion that good governance is solely due to the state’s coffers full of gold; thank you for the lesson, but the spark of Fable 2 has long since gone out. Although, after all, it is nice to see that in a triple A title there is room to discuss economic aid for families with children. Certainly a particular context for such a topic.

Let’s take a step back. After playing the various Fables over the past few weeks, I’ve been wondering what the future of the series might be. In the meantime, I got to try out a new game that, strange as it may be, has some unexpected similarities to Fable. I’m talking, of course, about Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Surprisingly, I just realized it’s not Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood, with the Saxon genitive; it is Kim Kardashian Hollywood, portrayed with all the embarrassing bluntness of a child’s wish or spell. Listen: on the touchscreen of my iPhone I can play another surprisingly hilarious and fun game focused on rising to power. At the same time, we can add, he is a smart RPG that deals with clothes, haircuts, wardrobe and, ultimately, of the power to be seen. Is it about stardom? If I had to answer superficially I would say yes. Me in truth, and stop me if you have already heard something similar, every day in Kim Kardashian Hollywood we improve ourselves, to see our selves grow in a more defined, more coherent, more powerful, and in some more mysterious and more attractive way. .

The presence of Hobbes is less noticeable, but we are just at the beginning.

Here too we go back and forth. Ourselves and selfies! Imagine how cool it would be if social media entered the world of Fable: retweets, followers, likes! Evaluate the trajectories for a moment, as a Beverly Hills shopping assistant in Kim Kardashian Hollywood and as an Oakvale teenager in Fable.

And think: maybe we were the golden acorn from the beginning, and once planted, with due care, we grew up.

Buy Fable III from Amazon