The Fable series is renowned for three things – moral choices, a decidedly British sense of humour, and an unnerving ability to not quite deliver on its massive promises. The trilogy of games that Lionhead have released so far have been wildly ambitious, and whilst none of them have managed to do everything they’ve set out to, they’ve still been hugely enjoyable experiences.
Fable Heroes is a different kettle of fish altogether. A side scrolling, hack and slash beat-em-up featuring puppet versions of some of the characters from the main games, it takes you on a whimsical whistle stop tour of Albion’s major attractions, and puts its emphasis firmly on enjoyable multiplayer shenanigans.
You control one of a quartet of puppets, selected from a roster that includes Reaver, Hammer and Garth from Fable 2, as well as the hero of Fable 3, and a variety of other bit part players that you unlock as you fight and explore. The other three are either controlled by the computer, by online acquaintances, or by friends playing on the same console.
With your hero chosen, you work your way through a stylised world map that looks like a cross between a board game and Geppetto’s workshop. Each major city of Albion, from Bowerstone to Aurora, is represented, and you have to fight your way through the vile minions that have overtaken them.
Combat is simple and repetitive, but packs enough of a punch that it doesn’t get boring too quickly. Defeated enemies, smashed scenery and unlocked chests spew out golden coins, which can be spent on making your hero tougher once the level is finished.
Towards the end of each town your path forks and you’re given a choice. One way leads you to a boss battle, the other to a party game. Kicking chickens, racing down rivers and sledding down mountains are just some of the treats waiting for you, and whilst they’re not the most sophisticated of sections, with a few friends around they can be a lot of fun.
The bosses all follow similar patterns, and there’s not much to defeating them other than hammering your attack buttons and dodging at the right time. Much like the party games, they’re nothing special, but the streak of humour that runs through Fable Heroes keeps them interesting all the same.
Death isn’t a particularly grand obstacle, as running out of health just turns you into a ghost. You can’t collect gold when you’re a ghost, so it’s unlikely you’re going to finish the level ahead of your playmates, but collecting a heart will bring you back into the land of the living, and the game is pretty generous when it comes to doling them out.
Ultimately Fable Heroes is generally fun. It has no grand aims, and no singularly brilliant ideas, but its hacking and slashing are simple enough that anyone can join in, and its mistakes, where it makes them, are small enough to forgive. As a single player experience, it’s a little flat, but throw some friends into the mix, and you’re left with an addictive, if shallow, multiplayer knees-up.