Fable: The Journey Hands-on Preview from E3 2012 -- The Art of Casting SpellsBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Jun 07, 2012
I just killed a massive troll by driving a massive sword through its head and boy are my arms tired (rimshot). No seriously, my first hands-on look at the Microsoft Kinect-powered Fable: The Journey, Lionhead Studios’ most unique and, surprisingly, biggest Fable game to date, proved that possessing magical abilities can be exhausting. On the other hand, it can be a blast too.
The last time we saw The Journey, then Lionhead studio head Peter Molyneux introduced us to our horse, and showed off the healing ability that let us gently wave our hand over our horse’s wounds to heal them. We also got a brief taste of the spell/magical whip combat, but our E3 2012 demo was all about jumping and actually getting to control the first-person wizarding for ourselves.
As The Journey is a fully fledged Fable game, exploration plays a big part in the experience. Traversing the vast expanses of Albion on foot would pose certain logistical and technological problems, so your horse and buggy will be your primary mode of transportation in the game. So move you simply flick your hands at the screen and the virtual reins snap your horse into action. Light flicks are preferable unless you feel like being that guy who whips his horse until it bleeds and scars and despises you.
To turn, you simply pull your hand back in the direction you want to go. Steering took some getting used to due to Kinect’s slight delay in picking up my gestures. Still, it works far better than you’d think it would, and by the time I was frantically trying to escape a full on evil energy-fueled volcanic eruption, I was swerving around obstacles with a much better sense of control than just a few minutes earlier. Considering the game’s roughly 15-hour campaign, there will be plenty of time to get the hang of it.
Moving ahead, we could our first taste of the game’s magic-based gameplay. The tutorial challenge had us tossing glowing blue balls of energy at various points on a giant wheel to move the pieces into place in order to open the massive stone door blocking our way. Like the reins, there’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to letting the spells fly.
One flick tosses a single ball, but you can also rapid fire them by flicking wildly. If fire is more your think, all you have to do is twirl your hand in a circle or two, and voila, you have a fireball. You can also shout “Fireball!” and the Kinect will make the appropriate change (Pro tip: you can also shout “Flame on!” It’s one of the game’s many Easter eggs. Shh).
You can also pull off fanciest shots like throwing a ball away from an enemy and then quickly swiping down towards you to bring the ball back. This is a great strategy for getting hits on enemies with shields or just showing off. With more powerful spells, like the energy shard---which you throw like you would a javelin by pulling your hand over your shoulder and chucking away---this swipe changes the spell. In the case of the shard, it splits it into multiple projectiles for a wider range of attack.
With your non-magic throwing hand, you have an energy whip of sorts that lets you grab objects and/or enemies and toss them around. It can also be used to pull off shields, skeletal limbs, and even heads. You also use this hand to block and force push incoming projectiles back at their thrower. The fights in which I was defending and deflecting attacks with my left hand while casting spell after spell with my right were easily the most physically demanding, and by the end of the demo, my arms were understandably a little worn out, but it was also quite fun. Not sure if I’d think so after a four or five hour play session, but maybe.
As the game is also a RPG, you’ll be able to spec out your character in various ways. Once in the skill screen, you access, assign, and upgrade your abilities using hand gestures and/or voice commands. We didn’t get to see any of the other spells or upgrades, but considering it’s a Fable game, expect plenty of powerful spells and such at the higher levels.
The demo ended with us taking down a towering rock troll and swarms of various Fable-esque enemies, primarily hollow men. This was one of those frantic, tiring fights I mentioned earlier. Eventually, after force-pushing enough boulders back at the giant, it collapsed to the ground, and I was able to leash a massive sword that was hanging advantageously above the trolls position. With a swift downward motion, I drove the sword into the troll’s head, and let my arms fall to my side…for glory!
Everything from the new Unreal Engine-powered graphics to unique yet franchise-friendly Kinect-based gameplay to the expansive lands of Albion screams, “Take me seriously as so much more than a discount cash in collection of mini-games.” And while I think Lionhead certainly has some work to do to convince Kinect owners to recognize the ambition on display here, playing is most definitely believing. Lionhead is also counting on the $49.99 price point to weaken the barrier to entry that exists for all Kinect games looking to be more than…well, “just a Kinect game.”