A few years back we were surprised to find out that a prequel to developer Lionhead Studios’ Fable franchise was in the works titled Fable Legends, and that it would be a co-op game instead of the single-player RPG faithful fans of the series originally fell in love with. To make matters worse, it was made clear that the Fable IV everyone wanted and had been waiting for, at that time, for three years wasn’t being worked on at all. Said fans were confused, but many tried to remain open-minded.
Then came another surprise. A little over a year ago, when Fable Legends seemed close to a release and was even being played in a closed beta, the game was canceled and Lionhead closed.
It’s now been nearly seven years since Fable III was released, and while the current state of the Fable franchise is quite depressing, it seemed unlikely such a popular franchise it would stay dead forever. Unfortunately I can’t report today that the series is being revived, but a comment from the head of Xbox recently did not rule out the possibility.
When asked about Fable IV on the Twitter, head of Xbox Phil Spencer offered this brief but positive response:
I personally was a fan of the entire Fable trilogy, though nothing came close to matching the first game. Others aren’t so kind to the sequels. As the world of Albion evolved, straying from what made the original great along the way, appreciation for the games dwindled.
Fable IV was, at one point, being visualized, and the plan was to continue the series’ evolutionary path in an extreme way. In a detailed history of Lionhead by Eurogamer, the over-the-top fourth game was described like this:
John McCormack was the chief architect of the pitch. He wanted to switch to Unreal Engine 4 and move the series into the technological, industrial age, with tram cars and flying machines. “We wanted to hit the late Victorian proper far out Jules Verne shit,” McCormack says.
In the first Fable, Bowerstone was a small town. In Fable 2 it was a big town. In Fable 3 it was a city. In McCormack’s Fable 4, Bowerstone was London, vast and dense. Jack the Ripper would run the streets, a Balverine in disguise.
The game would lean heavily on British mythology. McCormack planned to take Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, give them a Fable twist and drop them in “this kind of weird fucked up London environment”.
“And that was going to be Fable 4, and it would be darker and grittier. And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humour. I was like, man, this is going to be fucking brilliant, and everybody was really into it.”
That vision died as the cancerous (yet prosperous) “games as a service” began rising, and Microsoft decided that was what the future of Fable should be. In retrospect, the right move might have been to let Lionhead work on Fable IV while another studio worked on a lower-budget Fable Legends (it’s said around $75 million was spent on the project before cancellation—ouch) as a side project, if that was something they were intent on doing. Something along the lines of what Bethesda did with ZeniMax Online Studios in making The Elder Scrolls Online.
The full article is a lengthy read but well worth it for anyone who wants an in-depth peek behind the curtain of Lionhead, including its rise and fall and how Fable Legends came to live and eventually die.
Even a fourth game that sounds as bonkers as the one described above would have been worlds more exciting than the doomed-from-the-start Fable Legends. That said, I for one would much rather see the series go back to its roots—perhaps a real prequel or something set between the first and second games—back to before the arrival of guns and cities and industries.
I always dreamed of a Fable in which you start as a child, much like the original, and then play through that character’s life. Go on many exciting adventures, battle many infamous beasties and villains, become a hero, start a family, and so on. Then, when you reach the end of that character’s story, they pass away. But the game doesn’t end there; you would then continue on as one of the children. Over the course of multiple generations, you would create a lineage, and the things you did as your previous characters—good or evil, in true Fable fashion—would become tales told as you continue the family’s story many decades later. This of course would be pretty unrealistic for any game developer to take on right now. But some day? Who knows!
No matter what, I’m sure fans would agree that if another game ever does find life, it should be focused on being a single-player RPG above all else. Even if there’s also a multiplayer mode, such as the Mass Effect series introduced into a previously single-player only series, priority number one has to be that single-player campaign: the escape from an “always connected” existence, where it’s just you and the world of Albion.
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