Other than its Fable elements, the game feels a lot like Castle Crashers and looks a lot like Lego Star Wars. Fans of these 2.5D, hack-and-slash, co-op centric titles will likely find a week's worth of fun gaming in Fable Heroes.
Gameplay is quite simple. Characters move through individual levels attempting to fight and kill enemies without taking damage/dying themselves, all while a shower of shiny gold coins rains down after each kill. This can get a little overwhelming in large groups of enemies with 4 players--sensibly navigating through teammates, groups of Fable beetles, and an endless carpet of currency was a game all by itself. Levels get gradually more difficult as the team progresses, usually culminating in a somewhat long (and sometimes tedious) boss battle.
Perhaps the most fun aspect of Fable Heroes' co-op heavy focus is the subtle use of character classes, hidden within the nature of the character/doll that you choose. The Hero wields a sword, and is arguably the standard that the other dolls are based upon. The Hero is medium in speed, damage, and range. Hammer wields--what else?--a big ol' hammer, and is slower but more powerful than the Hero. Garth covers magic and AoE-style damage, and Reaver's draconian pistols lend the party the most range. Players must each choose different dolls, which forces the team to implement some of the more basic strategies behind class-based party play. It's a neat way to make combat more interesting, but it's also subtle enough that players can slay just as many Hobbes by mashing the X button.
Despite the RPG-lite elements of the Fable games, there's not a lot of customization to be done in Fable Heroes. Players can't swap weapons or change/alter character attributes (at least, these things weren't available to us at the 2012 PAX East showcase). Making morality choices was always the selling point of the Fable series, however, and is (sort of) an option to players in Fable Heroes. During tougher levels and especially during boss battles, players are incensed to work together, sharing heart drops and power pick-ups. But the overall scope of the game spells out a constant competition to achieve a higher score than your friends, prompting the short-sighted play style of "grab as many coins as possible." We can only imagine Lionhead intended the game to use a mix of both competitive and cooperative gameplay.
Like the rest of the game, the controls in Fable Heroes are very simple. Tapping the X buttons triggers a quick attack; tapping Y results in a flourish attack. Evading/rolling is mapped specifically to the B button, which makes it easy to roll all over the screen (much to the annoyance of your friends). The A button is used to open giant treasure chests while everyone else is too busy fighting the stage boss. Pressing RT executes a power attack that drains 1 heart from the user, but deals considerable damage to the area immediately around the character.
Multiplayer is, obviously, the meat and potatoes of a game like Fable Heroes. It allows for local and online 4-player co-op, and is arguably meant to be played that way. While it's hard to tell yet how well online partying will be implemented, we hope that Lionhead will learn from its past mistakes and allow full profile and data use for all players involved in a game. Nobody wants to be a henchman.
As far as graphics go, Fable Heroes is quite pleasing. It infuses the bright, vivid colors of the Fable games with the rounded, cartoon-like edges you'd expect in a world populated by dolls. Animations are tight and enemies are detailed along a median so as to be visually sound while not dragging down the game's framerate.
The game itself carries a lighthearted atmosphere that doesn't lend a lot of weight to your place in the world or the actions you're taking part in. It's a pick-up-and-play kind of title; we'd even venture that players needn't have any prior experience with the Fable games to get an immediate feel for the game and its intentions.
Unfortunately, there's no real story here whatsoever. Kind of like Super Smash Bros., you're a troupe of heroic, combat-hungry dolls: end of story.
If there's any real story going on in Fable Heroes besides "Venture forth and slay yon badlings," we didn't see or hear a word of it. Granted, stories are often swept under the rug in fast paced co-op titles like this one; if anyone knows what actually happened in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, they were probably playing alone. Between the variability of stages, the frantic action of co-op baddy smashing, and the eternal fount of gold that's thrown around like it's mere silver, we doubt many players will notice the lack of story.
For 800 Microsoft points, Fable Heroes looks pretty good. While it's certainly not going to take anyone's breath away, it could probably look a lot worse. Despite its rounded, almost ethereal looking presentation, there's not much clipping to be seen. Even amongst the wildest melees and gold pile-ups, the character dolls and enemies maintain good visibility and clarity. In a 4-way co-op fest like this one, usually all we can ask for is to be able to see where we are on the screen and which enemy is about to trounce us—but the game still looks great, especially on the rare occasion that everyone's standing still and nothing's on fire.
There wasn't an awful lot of noteworthy BGM in Fable Heroes, but perhaps that's because all we could hear was the sound of swords and spells hurling Hobbes to their quick end. The sound effects--weapon flourishes, exploding spells, and scuttling beetles--were all well rendered and audible enough. We would've liked to have heard some more of the classic Fable music (or at least an excerpt from Lute Hero), but the game's a little too frenetic for anything classy. The stage music fit the environments well, however, with generic up-beat jams keeping us hacking and/or slashing in time.
Fable Heroes is somewhat contradictory.
On one hand, it rewards players who have played the previous Fable games by being chock full of characters, locales, and the quirky humor we've come to expect from Lionhead's flagship series. On the other, its gameplay mechanics and overall design are immediately accessible to almost anyone who picks up a controller.
If players so choose, they can grab some friends and beers, jump into a stage, and frantically mash buttons until the end credits roll. But Fable Heroes also allows for subtle decision making concerning party set-up, as well as forcing players to decide between favoring competitive or cooperative gameplay.
Its graphical style is bright and cheery, with each character doll strutting small wardrobe-based details that stay crisp in the heat of battle. Yet the linearity and predictability of the game made us feel that we could probably play the first few levels with our eyes shut. Enemies are somewhat varied, but we hope Lionhead threw in more than Beetles, Hobbes, and Hollow Men; Jack of Blades, anyone?
Finally, Fable Heroes is not just a precursor to Fable: The Journey, but rather is an interactive counterpart—some items and additions in Heroes can only be accessed and used after the player has accrued certain achievements in the latter title, which lends a rare replayability to a game that most players will have finished in a week or two.
The bottom line is, no matter how you choose to play, Fable Heroes is a lot of fun. On May 2nd, for 800 Microsoft points ($4.99), players can fight and frolic through Albion all over again.
Meet the testers
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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