Peter Molyneux comes off as the type of person who dreams big in the same way that Walt Disney or Nintendo dream big. It’s an admirable enough trait, and the man has rightfully garnered a certain amount of respect for his vision, even if his execution rarely reaches expectations. At this point, his whims and ambitions are typically consumed with a grain of salt because, when you get down to it, his games often feel hungry and starved for resources as a consequence of all the things he and his team want included. I guess managing realistic expectations for a project you’re passionate about can be difficult when all you want to talk about is how great the idea in your head could be.
Peter left Lionhead back in 2012, so the things they promise now might hold more credibility. But after playing their upcoming title, Fable Legends, I get this sense that his spirit somehow remained in the studio to influence the development team philosophically. Everything so far reeks of grandiose, game-changing Molyneuxism and the knee-jerk reaction of cautious optimism feels justified in some way.
On paper, everything sounds great. Fable Legends is an asymmetric multiplayer experience that feels reminiscent of Nintendo's vision for the Wii U. Taking place 400 years before the events of the main series, Fable Legends displays Albion in a more primal age where technology is hardly existent, magic isn't regulated, and heroes are just starting to blossom from a timid, burdened population. Of course, the idea of heroism can't be present without its polar opposite: villainy. The multiplayer experience is meant to reflect this paradigm, with four players cooperating to thwart a player controlled villain and his veritable horde.
It's certainly striving for something different, and the existing marketing is certainly careful to stress that. But as much variety as Fable Legends promises, we've yet to see much of what's under the hood. Sure, it's very early in the game's launch cycle, but when something intends to be ambitious it should give consumers a larger taste of what's coming. Right now, Lionhead's reluctance to show more of what they've built has me uneasy. Consider how much Bungie revealed when they first started talking about Destiny. That announcement trailer combined with the live playthroughs they recorded not only promised a lot, but showed it in action.
From Lionhead, all we've seen is the same level with the same character roster shown at two separate events: Gamescom and E3 2014 .A cavalcade of journalists have gotten their hands on it and most of them have the same exact things to say about their time with Fable Legends. And really, how much could their experiences differ from one another? What is going to be done to make the matches more dynamic and less, well, cookie cutter? The answer could be hidden in a large amount of quests, a unique social hub, or a wide array of ways for players to customize their characters. But we haven't seen any of that yet, even though it would make sense to dispatch of these fears early.
Other information that seems lacking is the pay structure of the game. From what I've seen of the game so far, it seems built to compliment a free-to-play structure akin to Microsoft's reboot of Killer Instinct. Quests seem motivated by a lust for loot over narrative progression. What we know of the hub world indicates an emphasis on showing off. Will there be costumes and gestures we can buy? What will make a finite amount of missions keep from getting tiresome? And, of course, there's the fact that the game hinges on its online experience.
What also concerns me are clues indicating a possible lack of resource management. When Fable Legends was first shown at Gamescom, there was an emphasis placed on the ability to control the Villain’s RTS style gameplay with a tablet. A short time later at this year’s E3, that technology was nowhere to be found. Why the change of heart, Lionhead? Is the technology just not ready or was it deemed unfeasible within the confines of a budget?
If the tablet is cut, then Lionhead has removed an integral control device for making the Villain side of the experience compelling. During my hands on time with the game, the game was tipped considerably in favor of the heroes. It’s not that the Villains weren’t competent players. In fact, the players I spoke to mentioned not having enough control with the game pad or resources to properly overpower the opposition. In a game that advertises cunning as an essential mechanic to approximately half its formula, a lack of options can be a bit disconcerting. It may be remedied later in the game (or through f2p options) but from what I could tell, it was entirely too easy for a team of four to mindlessly hack and slash their way through the singular demo mission while the villain impotently watches. Is it just the implicit inexperience of the show attendees or a mismatch of genres?
I really do hope I’m just being paranoid. Fable Legends seems like it could actually be a lot of fun and, according to the official forums, seems to have a lot of heart put into the world and character design. But until much, much more of the game is revealed, the attention we pay to it and the time we spend talking about it (oh, the irony) could be better invested elsewhere. Maybe on some quality indie games without the budget to generate hype with their elevator pitches, for example?