Fable Heroes Review

By Matt Cabral - Posted May 01, 2012

The Fable faithful might love the look of this adorable take on the franchise, but those who favor gameplay depth over a fan-pleasing presentation, won't find more than thumb-blistering brawling beneath its charming exterior.

The Pros
  • Charming re-imagining of Fable universe
  • Mindless button-mashing with buddies
  • Will be able to transfer gold to Fable: The Journey
The Cons
  • Lack of challenge undermines good ideas
  • Tedious upgrade system
  • Shallow, simplified combat

Fable Heroes Review:

Announced less than two months ago, Fable Heroes is a title we've been anticipating with open hearts and anxious thumbs. Promising all the chicken-kicking charm of Lionhead's fantasy RPG series, coupled with cooperative Castle Crashers-styled gameplay, it sounded like a match made in heaven...or at least Albion. Unfortunately, while its adorable presentation has style to spare, its uninspired gameplay falls short of its potential.



Adorable Albion

Before players battle Hobbes and break treasure chests, Heroes hits them with its imaginative art style. Rather than recycling the franchise's defining look, Lionhead favors a fresh approach based on colorful board games, storybooks, and puppet-show theaters. Up to four co-op players―online or off―assume the roles of hero dolls inspired by the collectible playthings from previous Fable games.

Familiar faces, such as Hammer and Reaver, are back, but now sport Sackboy-like makeovers. From Hobbes to Hollow Men, Balvarines to Beetles, these cute characters fight returning foes through an Albion evocative of a pop-up book come to life. Side-scrolling through pretty 2D/3D hybrid worlds, from Millfields to Mistpeak, players soak in a rainbow-shaming color palette, collect more coins than Mario sees on a good day, and encounter enemies sporting Santa hats and tossing exploding jack-o-lanterns. And, of course, players get to punt plenty of poultry too.

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It's all pretty charming, especially when you've got a Fable-loving friend in tow to enjoy the fan-pleasing call-outs. Sadly, Heroes soon reveals itself as a style-over-substance affair, featuring unchallenging combat, even on the “Challenging” difficulty. More than that though, it lacks any sort of satisfying depth or rewarding progression system.

Each player gets one weapon with which to perform light and flourish attacks, but they’ll quickly learn the latter takes too long to execute and the former does just fine on its own. An evasive maneuver is similarly unnecessary since you rarely need to worry about dying. The one inspired gem in your arsenal is a powerful area-of-effect attack that takes out multiple baddies at once; featuring a cool risk-versus-reward aspect, it also siphons one of your life-sustaining hearts whenever it‘s triggered. Still, much of its appeal is sapped by the fact you can essentially complete the game by ignoring it entirely in favor of hammering on the attack button.

Fable Heroes

Battles Without Bite

You will die in Heroes, usually during boss battles, but your doll quickly resurrects as a ghost. The punishment for letting a baddie get the best of you is the inability to collect gold, the currency driving the game's upgrade system. This could’ve been a brilliant balance between killing off a player until the level’s finished or re-spawning them immediately, but because there's always an abundance of shiny coins, there's little consequence in leaving your corporeal self behind.

When each level concludes, players’ collected riches are tallied; on top of brimming your bank, the gold grants dice rolls to be used in the between-mission mini-game. Here, players move along a board, stopping on tiles to purchase upgrades and perks. These may include the ability to inflict more damage, collect more gold, or grant an enemy-specific skill, such as the power to kick Hobbes. In addition to the obvious problem of these bonuses being diluted by the game's lack of difficulty, they're just not that interesting or tangible.

Fable Heroes

We initially anticipated each trip to the board in hopes of unlocking slick new weapons, spells, skills, or anything allowing us to customize our character in a meaningful way. In fact, we purchased every available item on the outside tiles because the game hinted at better unlocks hidden within the inner board. Dozens of dice rolls later, however, we discovered this promise was as empty as Chesty, Fable’s attacking treasure chest. The later abilities were generally just glorified versions of upgrades we'd already purchased, leaving us disappointed and tired of Heroes’ genuinely promising, but ultimately underwhelming character progression system.

Attempts to inject some nuance and strategy do come in the form of power-ups. During missions, players can crack treasure chests to unleash items that temporarily increase their size, make them invisible, disguise them as a Hobbe, and pair them with a doppelganger. While it’s entertaining beating on Hobbes while dressed as one, there's no strategic necessity behind it.

Fable’s signature morality system is also represented by good and evil treasure chests; open the former and a cloud rains coins on you and your buddies, while the latter summons lightning that zaps players of their gold. Admittedly, conjuring the money-sucking storm yields some lighted hearted competition, as it triggers an impromptu game of tag forcing players to frantically attempt to pass off the curse. Similar fun is found in mini-games of chicken soccer, mine cart and boat racing, and a live-as-long-as-you-can challenge pitting players against endless waves of uglies until there's a single hero standing.

Fable Heroes

More Fun With Friends

Completing Heroes’ map--also represented as a colorful tabletop game board--takes just under two hours, but doing so unlocks a “Dark” version with tougher enemies and different environments. It's not an entirely new experience, but worth a play-through if you’re craving more finger-callusing action. Additionally, those wishing to access all unlockable characters, as well as their power-ups and abilities, will need to conquer the campaign several times.

Despite our overall disappointment, we recommend Heroes to serious Fable fans, if only for its fresh take on the franchise. Faithful followers will no doubt enjoy seeing their favorite characters and worlds re-imagined in this vibrant, living fairy-tale storybook. And the gameplay, while a far cry from our expectations, isn’t all bad.

Playing solo--with three AI partners--is a slog, but competing for coins, playing mini-games, and beating the stuffing out of minions and bosses alongside a buddy does provide plenty of button-mashing fun that’ll also net some easy Achievements. And, at the very least, your accumulated riches can be transferred to Fable: The Journey when it arrives later this year.