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PREVIEW

FABLE LEGENDS

Does five times the players mean five times the fun? We play hero and villain in our hands-on with Lionhead's latest.

Legends takes the vivid flair of Fable's visuals and transposes them into a core dungeon crawler, four adventurers defined by their class roles tackling goblins and ogres through multiple arenas. Co-op smarts are needed to best benefit from each character's abilities, but also to outwit the dungeon keeper, or Villain, as a title card above the one isolated game booth in the group of five would have it.

While the foursome play third-person, the Villain controls an overview of the field akin to a RTS, placing units in the three to four arena areas that together make up the dungeon proper, then deciding each unit's method of attack when the travellers wander onto the active arena's turf. There's a point system limiting your spend, but you can switch any units unlocked in and out anywhere in the arenas - Lionhead suggest if you want to start with a single boss ogre, you can.

Converting mouse and keyboard precision to controller input is a well-worn issue in porting the genre to console. Lionhead's idea is that while left stick controls reticule direction, right stick camera pans and zooms, units are colour-coded to the controller face buttons. You just hit the right button at the point you want a particular unit to advance to, and you're done. Right trigger plus button initiates a unit's special attack, left trigger and button a retreat. A fairly simple system, though in retrospect you realise this means you've only four possible unit types on the field at any one time.

We finish as the Villiain, but start with a couple of plays from the hero side. Funnily enough while the company rep compares the experience to Left 4 Dead, with the heavy emphasis on co-op and limited potions leading to the group scraping through the dungeon's end, they nearly say "League..." instead.

Fable Legends

We immediately follow that unspoken name through and take a fresh look at Fable Legends. Because as much as the game references Dungeon Keeper, it does also have similarities to League of Legends. Character classes cover tank, rogue, support, long-range. Maps have multiple paths, and there are glowing stone pillars on the map that heal enemies. As the Villain you're summoning creatures to kill, or at least push back, the heroes,.

While treasure chests are first come, first serve (in the demo we played, spitting out showers of coins everywhere), playing together aids the situation. Each character has their special abilities mapped to the face buttons, with mana or slot charge bars situated below the top left health gauge.

We first play as the tank Inga, a heavy shield and broadsword-carrying warrior whose specials taunt enemies to attack her, or just yank them nearby. She can cast a shield wall (and toggle it on and off at any time) that protects any other player within its bubble from long-range attacks. Inga herself can use her physical shield to block attacks, and she can soak up damage.

Sterling's the opposite end of the melee attack paddock. He's about as safe as a bunny on a motorway when it comes to damage, so dodges are in order. He comes equipped with a Slap that breaks enemy blocks, and a charging Royal Flush move ends in a launcher to get enemies off their feet. He does have some long range ability with his dagger throws, and LT and RT do heavy and light attacks respectively.

One thing we notice early on is the chaotic nature of combat, as players scrunch in when attacking enemy groups; it's hard to distinguish who's doing what where. Winter's attacks are long-range ice showers, frosting up the immediate area, and coupled with the Villain's ability to drop smoke bombs or arrow barrages (the incoming rain of which indicated by a glowing red circle around your feet) and at times you can't see what's happening. Divide and conquer seems the best way to go, but we can't quite break up enemy groups effectively (perhaps as they work as one under the Villain's control), and arena traps - wooden barriers, mines - are set up to keep the team split if any peel off, so to attack the solo.

Of more interest then at this early stage is the Villain. Unit number on the field may be restricted to four concurrently, but Lionhead explain you can tinker with dungeon unit layouts even before you're in a game, letting you deploy tried and tested templates from a saved playlist. And while we're not down close to the action (again in retrospect, we wonder if you'll be able to switch to a POV view on a unit or even control them directly) and there's little to do when your troops engage heroes other than watch them die (likely with time and skill you'll be able to do pincer movements with troops, fake a fallback and get other units to ambush heroes as they go past) it's enjoyable.

Fable Legends

Questions are raised about the longevity of the experience, and that's entirely down to unit and dungeon variety. On another side of this Microsoft event sits Evolve, which has a similar idea but a different experience. From time spent on that, we know its a hardcore game that expects precision and teamwork from all sides. Fable Legends currently feels like the easier entry point to this sub-genre that's seemingly bloomed at this year's E3. As with Evolve though, we wonder how long the attraction of the game can hold our attention for. And whether we can get four other like-minded people to stick with the game to play properly.

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