Fable, Oblivion and the sandbox gameplay.

Fable is a game developed by Lion head studios and to be honest I missed out on it a couple of years back when it first came out. Interestingly it was my bout with Oblivion that actually first piqued my interest in this game; since the game seems very similar to Oblivion, and yes Oblivion is pretty high on my list of all time favorite games. Fable is interesting because it just seems so much like what I have in my head as to something I might be working on. A very cartoonish backdrop, a very serious and in-depth gameplay with, what can be called as, dark humor. I have only very briefly played the game and it seems like a well designed game overall. I like it, and like it a lot. While not exactly same as Oblivion, some similarities do exist between the two and, well, it’s hard not to compared the two.

For one, although Fable is open-ended, Oblivion allows you more freedom, definitely more than Fable does. (Those of you who don’t know what an open-ended or sandbox style game is read this.) You can play Oblivion at your own pace and the game can play differently depending on the choices you make quests you complete and how you interact with world (and NPCs). Fable does allow you something similar and does have a sandbox style play, but unlike Oblivion it has a more linear gameplay, or should I say, more linear than Oblivion. Fable is actually an older game as compared to Oblivion, so it wouldn’t be fair to compare them outright, since of course the game predates Oblivion by almost 2 years. Then again 2 years isn’t such a long time after all.

The one thing I didn’t like about Fable, or should I say, didn’t appreciate too much, is that fact that you can’t deviate from your play area, meaning you can’t go anywhere and everywhere in the game world. Exploration is kept to a confined area and the player is not allowed to go beyond that. In Oblivion you are free to explore every corner of Cyrodiil which, I must say, can take quite a while. I played the game for 8 months now and I still haven’t had time to go to every place on the map. The world along with every cave and dungeon is just simply huge. I can understand the technical limitations for such an approach, but Oblivion addresses this very subtly and elegantly. Coming back to my point about exploration; I think exploration is a critical component of any sandbox style game. It gives you so much freedom or should I say gives you an illusion of total freedom and that is something I have come to appreciate a lot after playing the Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind and Oblivion).

In support of Fable, it has a fantastic combat system. I would place it better than Oblivion and I can safely say Fable allows you to have a more balanced combat game. I can give you an example; both Oblivion and Fable allow the use of Mêlée and Ranged weapons, but for some reason I didn’t find the use of ranged weapons in Oblivion all that intuitive. I can’t really explain why, can’t really put a finger on one particular reason, but while playing the game I used to get clobbered if I used a bow & arrow. In Fable I use both to an equal degree. Both games are sandbox games and both games build the player character by the choices the player makes. In Oblivion I ended up being a beefy guy with little resistance to ranged attacks from other NPCs. In Fable my character seems to be a great balance of both. Now I can take down NPCs with proper planning and lure them into traps by using a combination of mêlée, ranged and magic. On the whole Fable does allow you to build a more all-round character.

Fable’s graphics are top notch. Spells and magic, combat system, weapon augmentations and teleportations are all done wonderfully. Even the cartoonish world is built beautifully and so are all the NPCs, of course considering the triangle budget and the fact that the game runs flawlessly on a Geforce 6200 with an impressive frame-rate I must add. The camera navigation and the cut-scenes are also pretty good. Graphics complement the gameplay very nicely and that’s what is important. Graphics are not over done and that’s good. You will find games that are galore with graphics that do nothing more than slowdown the game for no apparent reason and have no particular function other than to please graphics “fanbois”. Fable does none of that. The only thing I really hate about Fable is it’s game-save system. You can’t save your game in the middle of a quest. All you can do is save the skills you have learned. I can’t understand the reason for this, just defies logic. I generally play games only for 20 to 30 mins and quests take significantly longer to complete. So this “feature” is a real PITA. This is probably the only real complaint I have with the game.

I am a fan of sandbox style gameplay but my interest in Fable was 2 fold; it’s true I like playing games, however this time around my interest in the game was more of an academic nature; as a student of game design. I wanted to see how the game was designed overall. Yeah! I have this crazy idea of actually making a sandbox style game some day (long time in the future… or maybe not so long) and Fable seemed too hard to resist. Mind you I haven’t fully played the game yet but I am already pretty impressed; and the same goes of Oblivion too. Baring little quirks, I think both games are equally good in presenting the player with a out-of-the-box experience. Both games allow you to build the player character in unique ways (, sometimes not so unique) but non-monotonous none the less. Both game are “different” and it would be unfair to say that one is better than the other. True they each have their good and bad points, but both games are equally enjoyable.

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