The Average Gamer

E3 2011 Preview – Fable: The Journey. It’s Not On Rails.

I was completely wrong about Fable: The Journey. The game is absolutely jaw-dropping and is everything I’ve been hoping for from Peter Molyneux and Lionhead since the day Kinect was announced.

Just so you know where I’m coming from, this is what I said about the game previously, based on the two-and-a-half minute demo during Microsoft’s E3 2011 press conference.

“Virtual fucking horseriding? Are you kidding me?”
“Oh, there are some spells. Woo! Hope it comes across as more urgent in gameplay battle coz that was kinda… dull.”
“Would be great fun but for the fact that it’s on rails. I don’t think you can even aim.”

This evening we were privy to a Q&A with Peter Molyneux wherein he explained to us what Fable: The Journey is really about. It’s as far from being on rails as a game could possibly be. The watchword for Lionhead when building this game is “freedom” with the press conference demo intentionally restricted to rails in order to show off the spellcasting and combat system. As Molyneux told us today “You’re free to navigate and move round however you like. Free to take different pathways, free to go off-road. This is your main form of navigation; you’re free to stop wherever you like and make camp. In camp, you can get off your horse and carriage – groom and feed your horse.” The thing to remember is that Fable: The Journey isn’t designed to be traversed on foot. If you go too far from your wagon “terrible things will start happening”, rather like leaving your female friend in ICO.

Yes, you do have to mimic using the reins to drive your horse but not for long. If you speak while commanding your horse, his ears will prick up. He’s listening. Repeat the same words with the same command a few times and soon enough your horse will respond to your voice. You won’t even need the reins. For someone like me who taught her Nintendog to sit back and raise his right paw in response to “Heil Hitler”, that’s pretty bloody exciting.

“We’re trying to make this horse feel real, feel alive. We’ve done this before with the creature in Black and White and the dog in Fable 2. The more alive he feels, the more you realise that he will feel pain and that means that there’s a consequence to you pushing him hard. You can [travel] through this game as fast as you like,” Molyneux told us. “You can push a horse till he collapses from exhaustion but that’s going to be a little bit cruel. If you really want to, you can take a whip out and whip your horse to make him go faster.

“That is a moral choice you’re making within Fable: The Journey and that moral choice is going to have impact on the gameplay.” No word yet on what that impact will be.

When it comes to combat, you have full control over your magic. What didn’t come across in the demo was that you still control fireballs after they’ve left your hands. Keep your hands out to continue in a straight line or lower them to drop a ball of flames onto your wretched victims below. Use different gestures to create and throw a spear in the same fashion or draw a magical shield and then deflect incoming blows with your shield-arm. The one thing that’s unlikely to be in the game is swordplay. According to Molyneux “for me, what’s difficult on Kinect is anything you already know how to use really, really well. Swords are problematic for me because they’re physical things. It would be ridiculous to fight with swords sitting down.”

A big part of freedom is the ability to slouch in your seat while gaming, or have a beer of an evening. Lionhead understand the importance of gamers relaxing in their gaming time. Rather than forcing you into awkward positions and rigid gestures, they want the game to feel like a natural extension of your movements. Fable: The Journey will allow you to slouch all you want while continuing to play.

Finally, the question everyone wants answered is how do you move if the interface is used for magic? Quite simply, really. You can either lean in a direction to turn the camera and start walking that way, or reach out and point the way you want to go.

There you have it. Fable: The Journey. It’s not on rails.

Edit: For those of you who don’t take Molyneux at his word (can’t think why ;), Lionhead will be showing a not-on-rails demo at GamesCom in August. No official word on a release date. When questioned, Molyneux responded with “Hmm… maybe next year.”