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Citing the linearity of the game's missions and the player's inability to interact with the surrounding world in any way outside of his main goal, many were quick to blame KOTOR's omission of core "RPG elements" on the fact that it was developed simultaneously for Xbox and PC. And so the great debate about console vs. PC droned on, the flames fanned by the slew of console titles based on the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance engine released early this year. Hardcore RPG enthusiasts have begun to feel that the trend toward releasing game with "RPG elements" for consoles has dumbed-down a genre once made by and for the intellectual.
Can the two sides be reconciled? Or will "real" role playing games go the way of strategic war games, becoming so arcane and esoteric that only those willing to earn a PhD in Medieval Fantasy Studies will be able to play them. Peter Molyneux hopes not. Yes, the man considered to have put the "quirk" into such games as Populous, Dungeon Keeper, and Black and White has decided to make his mark on the world of console RPGs. His game Fable, known once upon a time as Project Ego, is currently being developed for Lionhead Studios by freshman developer Big Blue Box and is expected to ship sometime after May.
Despite being in development for four years, little is still known about Fable's gameplay. We know that it's supposed to offer exactly the kind of experience that, on paper, would satisfy both PC and console RPG enthusiasts. The game claims to have fast-action twitch-type combat that involves special moves and the like, but also an incredibly reactive character and environment that evolves based on the gamer's play style as much as his moral and ethical decisions.
Fable's hook is that any action you take will affect the rest of the game. If you consistently choose to use your sword instead of your magic abilities, your muscles get bigger. If you spend a lot of time doing nothing, they get flabby. If you get scarred in a battle, the scar lasts for the rest of your game life. If you save a damsel in distress, the people of her village start to follow you around like you're a celebrity. But doing so causes a rival hero to decide to do something about the fact that you're muscling in on his territory, since the people who once followed him now follow you.
Eventually, your character becomes the sort of legendary hero we expect in an RPG; although, oddly enough, he won't earn a single experience point along the way. In a genre where many gamers expect to be told just how to make their avatar an ultimate bad-ass, it's easy to see why Fable is being hyped as a ground-breaker. Though still shrouded in mystery, early indications point to Fable becoming the closest thing to an actual role-playing experience available on a console system to date.
Perhaps because Mr. Molyneux has such serious intentions of bridging the gap between the console and PC RPG experience, he's kept Fable in development for four years and still refuses to give a solid timeline for its release. Of course, he's not the only one who has a stake in Fable's success. Fable's publisher, Microsoft, has always been a master of tooting its own horn, even claiming the successes of Morrowind and KOTOR as its own. If Fable becomes a hit, Microsoft and the Xbox will finally have a franchise to rival Nintendo's Legend of Zelda and Sony's Final Fantasy. As an RPG fan, I'm actually rooting for them. Fable seems like just the game the genre needs to be a hit, and it certainly looks like Peter Molyneux won't accept anything less.