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     " ...A fun, though unquestionably not groundbreaking, rpg. "

      Title: Fable by Microsoft

      Format: Xbox RPG

      Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters

      The Hype: Unless you've been in a cave, if you have an Xbox you've heard of Fable. Microsoft's most hyped non-Halo game to date, this thing's been everywhere. If, by some miracle, you've managed to avoid all that PR, the short version is that Fable was designed by the noteworthy Peter Molyneux (Dungeon Siege, Populous, Black & White) who has a quirky way of making unique games, and this is supposed to be his piece-de-resistance. Is it? Read on and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: Given to a rather unique pastel-colored shiny brilliance, Fable is unquestionably one of the prettiest games we've seen on the Xbox to date. That said, it is a bit unusual in its renderings and the almost cartoonish style may not appeal to everyone at first. Once you've been playing it for a bit, however, the incredible lighting effects, intriguing landscapes, and solid consistency will become unquestionably impressive. Really, after dozens of hours of play, my only complaint lay in the lack of model diversity that plagues Fable much as it does most games in the genre. 4 out of 5

      Playability: Alright, before we get into the Playability, let me take a second to address the hype that so many of you have unquestionably gotten involved in. First, forewarned, I will not be addressing its impact on the game beyond this little preface. Why? Two reasons. The first is, simply enough, because our job is to review what a game is, not what a game was going to be. The second is because there's no way to know what hype you're taking into account and Fable is one of those games that has been the source of considerable so called alpha-hype and speculation, which are both too numerous and too varied to address in bulk. Instead, we try our damndest to look only at what a game is and make our judgment from that.
          Which, in Fable's case, is a fun, though unquestionably not groundbreaking, rpg. Using a number of interesting, though not original, gameplay concepts it guides you through 15 to 20 hours of amalgamated gaming principles which draw from some of the best games in the genre. Almost feeling like a greatest hits more than a game of its own, it uses a real-time combat system very similar to the new Legend of Zelda games, a free form occupation concept much like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a morality modifier akin to Knights of the Old Republic, and an advancement system similar to Vampire.
          None of which means that the game is anything less than entertaining or that it doesn't successfully meld the various elements, only that those looking for a new or unique experience won't find it here. What you will find is a very solid rpg based on some of the best concepts we've seen from other games. The action, certainly the heart of the game, is a wonderfully fluid almost platform-game system that employs the full range of the Xbox controller to allow you to hack with a katana in melee combat, roll away to your next opponent, fry him with magic, and then plunk a third with your bow all without skipping a beat. This earns you experience that can be spent both advancing your stats, which become harder to advance the higher they get, and earning special abilities and effects. It would be a great and truly memorable system except that the AI does little to challenge you-in fact you'd have to be a pretty amateur gamer for their to be much serious challenge-and the way both the AI and experience system is balanced it becomes far more logical for you to be a jack of all trades than a master of any one. Thus, players should expect to take on the role of a magic using sword fighting archer, rather than any specific type of combatant. Which, at the end of the day, probably isn't a bad thing…but it does serve to pretty substantially limit your gameplay options.
          Also present, though not nearly to the degree you might expect, is a morality system that allows you to choose through both direct and in-direct action how relatively good or evil you are. From stealing to bullying to blatantly murdering or mugging people at sword point, every little action you do seems to be magically heard about by the villagers and townsfolk and they will react to you based on that information. Run roughshod on the backs of the workingman and expect people to be scared and treat you badly. Do lots of good deeds and people will flock to you with praise and adoration. That said, there was a universal sense of disappointment in our office as, regardless of the scale and scope of our behavior, the game really didn't care much one way or another. Sure, both have noticeable, and amusing, effects on your character's appearance and lead to some minor story and interaction variances, but all in all it really doesn't matter. Which is too bad. While, I grant you, having two or three very different games would have been a bear to program, that's really what the concept demands to be noteworthy, right?
           Unquestionably the most amusing aspect of Fable, however, comes from the little extras that are riddled throughout the game. From side quests to indulgent jobs, and careers to relationships, the open-ended goodies are second only to Morrowind. There are hours and hours worth of goodies to pursue and play with, and while they do little to enhance the story or really affect your play, you will find a good time in playing with them all. 4 out of 5

      Story and Drama: Nice, but unquestionably generic, the story of Fable is told through a combination of voiced over mural displays and in game cut scenes. It is tried and true faire, setting your orphaned hero out to discover the mystery of his parent's death and the insidious plot behind it all. It's serviceable and mildly interesting, but certainly won't have you longing for the movie adaptation any time soon. 3.5 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: As you'd probably expect there is no multiplayer present. And at 15 to 20 hours of gameplay it's hard to fault Fable for its lack of replayability…though, to be sure, there is little motivation for you to play it again once you're through. By the end of the game you'll have had all the money you needed to buy anything that caught your fancy, will understand the full range of story available, and will have long since mastered the combat and art of bitch-slapping the AI…so it'll likely end up collecting dust on the shelf ever-more. 3.5 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       At the end of the day Fable is a solid and praise worthy rpg that will please most any fan of the genre…but anyone who is expecting a landmark title or bought into the early hype will be disappointed in the solid, but stoic, gaming Fable offers.

      The Good: Pretty and featuring a really tight real-time combat system

      The Bad: Unfortunately suffers from a whole lot of "me too-ism"

      The Overall Ugly: I played it and enjoyed it, and you probably will too.

      What it's Worth: Market, though I'm sure you'll find used ones for sale real soon.

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