Fable Heroes is developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Microsoft for XBLA. It is a 4-Player action adventure game set in the Fable universe where you control doll versions of various characters from the series. While some of the game is very basic it is layered with some unique takes on standard mechanics and the gameplay improves once you have invested enough time into the levelling.
The game has been very heavily influenced by other games; it plays like the Lego games or Castle Crashers but doesn’t quite have the same depth. The game progresses through various areas throughout the three games; though a single level that needs to be unlocked by the players is still locked at this moment in time.
The game has you choosing one of 12 characters (a choice of 4 to begin with; others get unlocked through various methods) out of a team of four and taking to Albion and killing numerous monsters along the way. The game is 4 player co-op both online and offline and playing with others is more fun than with bots. The controls are relatively simple; you have a light attack, a flourish (heavy attack) an area attack and a dodge. What your attacks are depends solely on which character you chose. There is two of each weapon set, with two unique weapon sets which combine melee and either magic or ranged.
Melee characters are broken down into sword or large weapons but it seems to be mainly cosmetic but may have different animation patterns for attacks. Ranged weapons are on three characters and each has to reload after a few shots; forcing a small pause between volleys. Magic on the other hand seems to be slightly weaker but generally has the best range and fastest attack. Most magic is lightening but fireballs are weaved in amongst the attacks too after a few upgrades.
Enemies are made up of the various series staples such as; Hobbes, Hollowmen and Balverines, as well as some from Fable 3 like the clockwork enemies. Some have the same sort of attack patterns but some are different and each has different finishers that can be performed on them for a gold boost. While your characters are of lower levels the enemies are much more difficult to deal with but as you progress and up your attack damage they become much easier to defeat.
Bosses are much more difficult to defeat as they have much larger pools of health and do summon minions to fight for them while they hide. They are creatures of habit though and have distinctive attack patterns that become easily dodgeable once you pick up on their routines. They do become the most boring enemies to fight though as they take a lot of punishment and aren’t that rewarding to defeat on the lower difficulty levels. On challenging they do pick up a bit but not by a huge amount.
There are three difficulty levels: Family, Normal and Challenging. Family has one score and things are generally easier to defeat. Normal is the standard mode for four players to compete against each other, seeing who can earn the most gold. Challenging has less life and if all players die then its game over; you do earn more gold though so it’s very risk reward based.
Dying isn’t the end in Fable, if you pass to the other side you become a ghost that is invulnerable and can still attack but you will not be able to collect or earn coins. As the coin drought severely wrecks your score and coffers at the end of the level you need to scrounge a single heart to bring you back to life. You will however only come back with the one heart so death is still at hand if you should be unlucky. On challenging difficulty if all players die then the level ends but in normal and family you can continue to finish the level.
Progressing through levels is essentially killing all enemies in an area before moving on to the next area. Along the way you will build up a score multiplier which determines how much gold you earn from killing enemies and picking up coins. There are chests along the way which drop various enhancements such as extra dice, gold, make your hero giant or super-fast; some boxes are actually sons of Chesty and will attack you. There are occasionally good and evil chests side by side that can contain unique surprises that help the team or cause chaos but taking anything other than a good one is only for the ultra-competitive play between friends. Coins are picked up throughout the level as they drop from objects and enemies alike but picking them up is a chore since you need to move directly over them to get them.
Towards the end of a level there will be two paths to choose from: one which will take you to the levels boss and the other will take you to a competitive minigame. The minigames all differ slightly though some use the same ideas over and over again such as the mine cart and sled slope games. They all give gold to each player depending on what place they came in and the loser will always get 1 gold so they don’t walk away with nothing. In Dark Albion all prizes double so you’ll get a larger dice reward for 1st place. Minigames give the top two players more gold than the boss fight would but boss fights distribute gold more evenly even though it is less.
The upgrade system is very unique and is easily one of the most interesting things the game has going for it. After each level you play you get a number of dice depending on how much gold you earned in the level. When you get to the upgrade board each die lets you move a specific number of squares. Each square contains a number of abilities or options including ending that turn. Upgrades are always the same for a character and eventually you can earn all the abilities and enter the inner board. The inner board contains squares that are only unlocked by achievements and they confer bonuses that last for one level only. They make it easier to earn higher scores as well as give bonuses that make it more fun.
There are other bells and whistles that make the game more interesting like the game modes that can be turned on and the compatibility with Fable: The Journey. Coins that explode if they aren’t picked up, big heads, colour-blind mode and a few more are there to make a playthrough different. Exporting coins to Fable: The Journey is a plus for some and any dolls that you earn all abilities for will be displayed on your stagecoach. Finally there is also a Jack of Blades mask as an avatar award to sweeten the deal.
The game is definitely inspired by multiple games but comes across as a mix of Castle Crashers and Little Big Planet due to the dolls. The levels are all recognisable areas from the Fable series and the characters are too but unfortunately some of the Dark Albion levels have some really poor choices for colour schemes and it all becomes very difficult to focus on and it all looks a mess.
The audio is something of a more Banjo Kazooie theme rather than a Fable theme, it is all very cute and the characters make little grunts and shouts that sound very unlike the sort that is typically associated with the series.
Presentation and Audio
The game features some beautiful scenes and cute characters that are recognisable from the series. Unfortunately some of the Dark Albion levels are just completely ruined by the awful colour choices which make it difficult to see, even with colour-blind mode on. Audio has more than a hint of Banjo Kazooie in it and lacks the Fable score that was expected but it does suit the more light-hearted nature of the game.
The game snowballs in terms of how fun it is; this is due to you needing to work up enough gold to get those all-important upgrades. Once you have a few characters with some reasonable upgrades then playing them is more fun as you won’t get so bogged down when large groups of enemies set upon you. The unique upgrade system really does make the game more interesting and the inner board brings more interesting results for earning high scores. The combat can get a little grindy at times due to its simplicity but once you go for high scores the complexity of your attack patterns make it more interesting.
A good variation on difficulties and interesting upgrade mechanic set it apart for the games it is inspired by. The combat can be simple but so long as you are reaching for the high scores and not just getting through a level as quickly as possible then you will find enjoyment in it. It is a game best enjoyed with others and although bots can be boring to play with it is a wise idea to play using them when you are grinding coins or abilities.
It is a departure for the series just like Fable: The Journey but it is by no means a bad thing. The unique levelling definitely adds a twist to the game which I really enjoyed. Being lead to buy abilities that you’d usually leave until last was good as it varied gameplay a little. It point of the game is to go for the high scores so even though the levels are short they are there to be replayed, ever vying for the top spots on the leaderboards or at least the gold medals that can be earned for a level.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.