Fable Legends might just be what the series needs to reaffirm its place as an Xbox staple. Lionhead Studios' upcoming RPG had a noticeable presence at this year's E3, and the UK developer seemed eager to show off what they had been working on. This isn't Fable 4. Instead, Legends takes another break from the ongoing storyline of the dying Archon's Bloodline, heading back several hundred years prior to the events of the first Fable. For the first time ever, players can actually take the role of the villain, creating a rather unique 4v1 multiplayer setup against those who fight on the side of good (or self-interest).
This is an age when Heroes were still commonplace (the "Dawn of the Heroes," as game director David Eckelberry puts it) and scattered about the lands, still without a Heroes' Guild to guide them. Players will choose from a wide array of Hero characters, of which Lionhead are still revealing over time, or the villain who aims to tear them down. The unexpected result is "Fable meets tabletop RPG," a connection that I drew while villain designer Lewis Brundish was explaining the premise to me, and he was pleased that I'd drawn the conclusion.
I should mention that I went in with very few expectations, more curious than anything else about this new Fable game. What I ended up with was this newfound excitement, after experiencing the joys of playing the villain, the dungeon master with her plans all laid out. It's an RPG fan's ultimate fantasy -- assuming you're the sort of person who enjoys the classic D&D interaction. You know, when one person repeatedly guides a party to their potential doom?
Every "dungeon" has room for a variety of creatures (Balverines!), both ranged and melee, their abilities and deadliness differing by unit. Traps and other variables can also be placed, and it's really up to the villain here to work the environment to his or her advantage when placing troops or setting up traps. Since my time with Fable Legends was limited, I used templates made beforehand by the developers, but was also informed that in the final game, I would be able to design my own instances to use in either online or off.
The Heroes' side is considerably more straightforward. Choosing from a number of protagonists -- Lionhead is aiming for twelve by launch, split evenly by gender -- players will form teams of four and tackle the same obstacles created by villain players. Of course, both sides do have AI options, if you're not keen on taking the adventure online.
So far, we've met the four Heroes of Strength, Skill and Will, known to us as Sterling, Inga, Rook and Winter from the announcement. Two more male characters, Leech and Shroud, were introduced just last week, and Lionhead confirmed the next wave of Heroes to be announced will be women, keeping up with their 50/50 gender ratio. Each Hero has a detailed backstory that's appropriately humorous (even the assassin Shroud), staying in line with the whole Fable tone. If you're worried about a lack of character customization, the Brightlodge town hub will offer the usual kinds of features in this regard, like hair and clothing. Also chickens.
I won't deny that I'm still looking forward to a Fable 4, a new chapter to further the existing storyline in some fashion or another, but Fable Legends is a proper substitute. Like with every new Fable, Lionhead have successfully reinvented the series once more, and while their habit of doing so hasn't alwasy been a popular one, Legends has proven that change can be good... and fun.
For now, much of the game seems to be up in the air and subject to change. That's the impression I got, anyway, when given the chance to ask the devs some questions. A multiplayer beta is currently expected to launch by faull, so we'll no doubt be getting a better look then.