Fable: Heroes Hands-on Preview -- The Magic of Fable Seen Through New EyesBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 05, 2012
The story of how Fable: Heroes, Lionhead Studio’s newly announced/revealed Xbox Live Arcade title, came into existence is almost as charming and compelling as the game itself. It actually started out as an in-house project for the studio’s yearly “Create Day,” a sort of play session where designers break off into groups to see what kinds of fun, inventive, and/or silly ideas they can come up with in the given time period. In all previous years, these projects have remained within the walls of Lionhead. That was until Fable: Heroes came along.
According to the game’s creative lead, Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux was so impressed and delighted with Heroes that he gave the handful of designers behind it three months to see if they could turn the idea into an actual game. Molyneux and Lionhead’s other creative heads were even more impressed with what the team came back with that they gave them another five months to focus entirely on bringing Fable: Heroes to life. And so they did.
The game was officially unveiled at Microsoft’s Xbox Spring Showcase last week in San Francisco, and it quickly became one of the event’s most talked about titles. After spending a good chunk of time playing through a level set in the town of Millfields. The name should sound familiar to Fable players, as should every other location in the game since it takes place in the world of Albion. There are eight levels, but once you beat the game, you gain access to a dark version of the game board where each level has been completely reimagined and redesigned to not only look spooky but also be far more punishing than the light versions.
Now, while loyal Fable players will feel relatively at home in Heroes’ depiction of Albion, you should know that Heroes isn’t an epic fantasy RPG. It’s a four-player drop in/drop out, co-op, hack-n-slash, beat ‘em up much in the vein of Castle Crashers where players assume the role of puppets and battle across a boardgame-inspired version of the Fable universe. Saw that one coming a mile away didn’t you?
Heroes has a bright, cartoony, cel-shaded aesthetic that was originally inspired by The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. As you might have guessed given that you play as little puppet characters it has a LittleBigPlanet-ish charm factor to it (you can even change your characters’ expressions ala LBP as well). And the fact that the whole game is laid out on a table top, ala Toy Soldiers, adds to the adorable factor as well. Each level appears as a group of tiles on a giant board with appropriately themed elements around them like snow flurries on top of mountains for Mistpeak, or a mini mine cart track for the Hobbe Caves.
If that wasn’t enough care and attention for you, the leveling up screen is actually a board game where you role dice that you receive each time you collect a certain number of coins. The board contains a number of different gameplay-altering tiles on which your die will randomly land after you throw it. You then get to pick one of the options specific to that tile (i.e. increased strength vs. XP multiplier for the action tile). It’s just another of the numerous examples of the passion driving Heroes’ creators.
Jumping into the game, I took the role of a pistol-packing puppet fashioned after Fable 2’s Reaver, a ranged attack character; the other three characters are Hammer (heavy), Hero (sword), and Garth (magic). Each character has a regular and charged attack, as well as a super attack that uses up one of your health hearts, adding a little risk/reward management to the combat. The gameplay is a mix of side-scrolling and traditional third-person action like a Ratchet and Clank title. Everything you kill drops coins, and whoever collects the most coins at the end of the level “wins.” Should you lose, the game makes sure you and the other players know, thanks to the “Loser cam.” Smile!
The action is constant, colorful, and chaotic, with enemies popping up from all around, forcing you to be on your toes at all times. Should you die in the heat of battle, you reappear as a ghost, and even thougj you can still fight, you can’t collect coins until you grab a health/life-restoring heart. It’s a clever way to keep players constantly engaged while adding a little strategic twist.
Given the source material, it’s no surprise that Heroes has an abundance of goofy and random oddness to it. In addition to game tweakers like an option that makes your head inflate when you collect coins causing you to float until your head explodes into a showering of coins, each level contains powerups, both good and evil, too. One turns you into a giant, one disguises you as a Hobbe so they ignore you, another adds a thundercloud over your head that you pass onto other players by running into them, causing them to be electrocuted and drop all their coins; the good version of this last one causes you to rain coins.
There are boss fights, six mini-games, leaderboards, and you will be able to transfer the gold you collect in the game to Lionhead’s Kinect-only Fable: The Journey to give you a head start on your adventure. In short, Fable: Heroes is shaping up to be one of this year’s true XBLA gems, and you better believe we’ll be keeping a close eye on it as we move towards its release later this year.