The 2nd article about my visit to Lionhead Studios is my hands-on preview of Fable: The Journey including video that I recorded off-screen with an HD videocamera which you can watch above now, but it’s best watched in context of my written preview where I will bold the timestamp of the relevant part of the video preview. Also the sound was turned down so low that the videocamera only barely picked it up sometimes but most of the time you couldn’t hear it so I’ve replaced the audio with music from the demo. I know this is a little late so you can see it as a review of the first couple of hours of the game instead if you want, lol!
A Journey Begins.
I’m sure most of you have played the Xbox LIVE demo of Fable: The Journey already (if not then what are you waiting for?!) and are familiar with the magic combat but I’ll briefly go over it later in the preview anyway. What was unexpected in the full game though is that the demo isn’t in fact the start of the game, the magic tutorial is near the beginning of the game but the rest of it I never actually encountered in my preview.
The game starts with your character Gabriel and your tribe of dwellers and the first thing you have to do is call your horse over but actually calling “Seren!” in real life. I don’t have any video of this or anything else from the very start of the game as I was expecting it to just be the same as the demo so I hadn’t set the videocamera up yet (my Dad did the filming in the end) plus I wasn’t sure exactly what I was allowed to film at first. Anyway, then you get into some horse & cart riding gameplay as you learn how to control Seren.
You have to steer by pulling the reins to pull Seren’s head to the left or the right, just like you would in real life. It’s very accurate and responsive so you don’t have to yank left & right and if you do you’ll probably crash into rocks, trees or fall off a cliff, lol! You have 3 different speed modes (plus you can stop at any time, but you can’t turn around and go back the other way) which are trot (slow), gallop (medium) and sprint (fast), with sprinting also having a speed zone that you have to crack the reins with the right rhythm to keep the red level within the zone. There’s also a stamina bar, so if you crack the reins too fast and too much Seren’s stamina will drain and you’ll slow down to a trot, plus it can hurt her. And if you do it too slow and not enough then you’ll just drop down to galloping, so can get it back up to sprinting with another crack of the reins. You can also slow down manually by pulling both reigns to your chest. Stopping is done by lifting them above your head. You don’t have to have your hands/arms up all the time while travelling though, you just lift them up whenever you need to do a move then drop them again as Seren will obviously keep moving forward by herself anyway. But like I said before, it’s NOT on-rails (most of the time, more on that later) as you have have so much control and can stop whenever you want, which you can’t do in on-rails games as they just constantly move forward and change direction or stop totally automatically. This is basically like a driving game during the riding gameplay, in fact the controls are somewhat similar to podracing in Kinect Star Wars.
To make the travelling more interesting the roads aren’t just open spaces, they have obstacles like rocks, trees and sometimes cliff edges to avoid so that you constantly have something to do while riding. Crashing into them hurts Seren and you lose health. I don’t know what happens if you fall off a cliff as luckily I never did it, lol! (But judging by what Gary Carr said in the interview it sounds like you might die!) There’s also rough ground like very rocky surfaces where the speed modes come into play again as you have to slow down to a trot while travelling on very rough ground otherwise you’ll hurt Seren and lose health again. Another feature adding to the gameplay which also involves the speed modes is collecting XP orbs which help fill up your XP meter that gives you tokens for upgrades for not only your horse & cart but also for your magic gauntlets later in the game. The XP orbs come in 3 colours, green, blue & red. You can travel at any speed to collect the green orbs, as you can see in the video preview at 00:06, but you have to slow down to a trot to collect the blue orbs, which is at 00:32 in the video preview, whereas you have to speed up to sprinting to collect the red orbs, which is shown at 00:58 in the video.
Also, although the game is linear there are different paths to take later in the game, although I only noticed and took 1 alternate path during my preview, which you can see at 01:51 in the video. Plus later in the game there are glowing circles you can stop in if you want where you can enter side-quests and talk to characters. The side-quests I entered during my preview were incredibly short and couldn’t really be called quests at all as I just did a couple of things in the immediate area that only took a minute or so, but I’m sure they’ll be more in-depth later in the game. Plus I only encountered 1 character at a glowing circle stop during my preview, he was a fake fortune teller called Bernie the Magnificent and I don’t think he affected anything during my preview, but maybe he turns out to be more important later in the game. You can see a couple of clips showing the glowing circles at 02:34 in the video.
If I remember correctly, during the beginning part of the game Gabriel falls asleep so doesn’t keep up with the tribe but a thunderstorm wakes him up and you have to sprint (riding the horse & cart I mean, not on-foot) in the rain to catch up to the rest of the tribe who have crossed a bridge, but unfortunately for Gabriel lightning strikes and destroys the bridge so you have to find a new route to get back to your tribe and thus begins your new “journey”.
The NEW Journey Begins!
The first thing that happens on your new journey is that you almost literally run into Theresa, the blind, psychic witch-type character from all the Fable games. You let her travel with you and you have to escape “The Corruption” (or at least I’m sure I read/heard it was called that before, but during my preview I’m pretty sure Theresa just called it “The Darkness”) and this is the reason you can’t turn around and go back on yourself in Fable: The Journey as The Corruption is taking over Albion and is always right behind you even when it’s not specifically chasing you, so you wouldn’t be able to go back even if you wanted to. This part of the game is also one example of why I said the riding is mostly not on rails, as during chase/escape sequences (where you’re being chased or have to escape things, or at least in all the sequences I played) it switches to being on-rails and you can just move left & right to dodge things while being chased, or having to escape things attacking you like the Troll in a cave. That’s not the Troll boss fight, I didn’t manage to get to that during the time I played and I’m not even sure if this is the same Troll as it had orange glowing bits rather than blue glowing bits. I don’t have video of the Corruption chase sequence but you can watch a clip of the Troll escape at 03:18 in the video.
Look after your trusty steed.
During the Corruption chase Seren gets injured by a shard so after the chase you have to ride to a rest stop then carefully pull the shard out. The rest stops are marked with horseshoe signs, one sign as you’re approaching the road with the rest stop then another sign at the rest stop itself so you know where to pull over. I don’t have footage of that sequence but I have some of another one where I had to pull an arrow out. It’s very precise as you have to really carefully and slowly pull the arrow out what seems like millimetre by millimetre. There are pain rings (that look like markers in the Virtua Cop games that warn you when the enemies are about to shoot) and if you don’t do it properly it hurts Seren and she rears up in pain. You can also get upgrades while at the rest stop if you have tokens for them. You can watch a rest stop sequence at 03:54 in the video. As you can see, you also get to heal Seren a little later once you’ve got the magic gauntlets.
I won’t spoil what happens until this next part but you eventually get to the magic tutorial and get magic gauntlets. Your dominant hand (so right hand if you’re right-handed) is used for your primary magic attacks. I only had the blue bolt during my preview but there are all kinds of other magic like the fireballs and magic shards which featured in the demo. You aim and shoot by pulling your and back then throwing it out at the position on the screen you want it to go. You don’t have to do a big throw, you can do small ones like throwing darts. And I found that it was best to sort of point out as you throw (a bit like a “pew-pew” gun pose with your hand/fingers) at eye-level with the end of your finger aimed at the exact point on screen you want to hit as you look across your hand at your finger in front of you. Your other hand controls your green “magic whip” which you can use to push & pull enemies & objects in whatever direction you want. It also seems to be able to stun enemies. You can use the magic whip on certain objects to interact with them including using them as weapons. For example when you encounter the Rockmites you have to pull down rocks into their emergence holes to block them and stop more Rockmites coming out, like when you have to throw bombs into Locust emergence holes to seal them in the Gears Of War games. Plus you can bring the rocks down on top of the enemies to kill them, although I think I kept missing when I first encountered the Rockmites and only managed to seal emergence holes as you can see at 06:17 in the video. Another example is during a section in a mine where you can pull minecarts across tracks to hit oncoming enemies, which you can see a brief clip of at 07:15 in the video. Plus you can block attacks by holding your left (if you’re right-handed) arm up across your body like you’re holding a shield and strafe left & right by leaning left & right.
You can use both hands’ magic at the same time too so you can grab enemies with the magic whip and shoot them with your primary magic while you’re holding them still or you can throw them up in the air and shot them with your primary magic while they’re in the air. Both the primary magic and magic whip can also be used to blow up exploding barrels, you can either just shoot them on the spot with your primary magic or push/pull them in any direction with the magic whip so that you can move them to a group of enemies if they not already near enough to the barrels to be hit by the explosions if the barrels where shot on the spot. Although you don’t have to both move and shoot them as the magic whip causes them to blow up at the end of your move anyway. You can see some explosive barrels being blown up using both magic attacks at 07:21 in the video.
The first enemies I got to use magic on were the previously mentioned Rockmites. Not long after leaving the cave they were in (where I also found 1 chest in that requires you to open with your hands just like you would in real life, as you can see at 08:06 in the video) I encountered some giant hornet-like insects called Stingers, which you can see at 08:28 in the video. The only other enemies I got to fight in my preview were Hobbes, but there are definitely more enemies in game as i only got to play a couple of hours. There are a few different types of Hobbes, for example there are some that man bell towers that you need to kill as they keep alerting the others, which you can see in a brief clip at 08:55 in the video. Another type of Hobbe are the Shield Hobbes which have shields that you have to pull back away from their body using your magic whip and shoot them with your primary magic while your holding the shield back, although I don’t think you can actually pull the shield off them like you can with the skeleton knights in the demo. You can see a couple of brief Shield Hobbe clips in the video at 09:12.
The combat isn’t always on-foot though, some of it takes place while riding your horse & cart and this is the other example of on-rails riding as you can’t control Seren at all during these parts (or at least the parts I played) and can only control your magic like in the on-foot sections. You can watch some riding combat at 09:41 in the video. I also played another section that was quite literally on-rails as it was a minecart section, lol! It was a little bit similar to Sega’s Rail Chase arcade games but not as much to do in the section I played. You can see some clips of this section at 10:17 in the video.
Carry on camping.
The other significant part of the game I encountered was a camp. The camps are small areas (unless there are larger ones later in the game, maybe with other characters in too?) that you walk around by leaning left & right. It has a chest that probably has various different things inside each time you visit a camp, an apple tree so you can pick apples and feed then to Seren, a water trough that Seren can drink from which you have to fill by turning the handles of a pump with both hands and a post that I’m not sure what you can do with, maybe it was just decoration. You can also clean Seren and heal her wounds at the camp like at rest stops. When you want to leave the camp you just walk over to the cart and lift up the yoke. You can see video of the camp at 11:06 . This wasn’t the last part I got to though, it was actually quite early in the preview. The last part I got to was rescuing a villager but it might be too much of a spoiler to talk about it so I’m leaving that part out.
Overall the game was great, it definitely seems like it will easily be one of if not the best Kinect game available! Sure, it might have been even better if the on-foot sections weren’t on-rails and if you could actually talk to characters via voice recognition (if that’s definitely been cut, you can still talk to Seren though) but as it is it’s still a lot of fun and very immersive which is the experience the best Kinect games give you. Apart from the aforementioned slight disappointments of what isn’t in the game, I honestly can’t think of anything negative I found in the game. And no, I’m not just saying that because of the invite, lol! I was genuinely generally impressed. The only nitpick I can think of is that the aiming was a little dodgy a couple of times, but Gary Carr did say that there were actually a few aiming bugs in the build I played that were being fixed in the final build so I overlooked them and they actually seemed to happen more at the beginning of the game anyway, after I first got the magic gauntlets, so it could just be Kinect/the game getting used to me as obviously they weren’t mine. Oh yeah, another minor semi-nitpick, the menu cursor aiming is totally different to the main game’s aiming, which was weird. :/ So like you have to make much larger movements with your hand to move the cursor around the screen compared to when you’re aiming magic or doing any other in-game movements.
So thanks again to Microsoft and Lionhead Studios as well as Clemens and the 123KINECT team for passing on the invite. 😀