There are two ways to take on Fable Anniversary. You could have taken the original game, given it a visual update, polished the mechanics a bit and perhaps optimised the controls to give it some new shine. Or you could do what Lionhead has done. None of that. We had to pop Fable: The Lost Chapters into our PC to see if our mind was playing tricks on us, or if Lionhead had actually delivered something that only superficially meets the demands of an updated version.
The first improvement we should have been noticing are the graphics. The Xbox 360 is a machine that should have no problems running the original Fable, however that is not the case. When you move the camera, it shows its limitations. In the middle of combat, when running around the environment and panning the camera, we notice how the game struggles to remain smooth, resulting in short jerky bursts. Instead of improving, the technical side of things is decidedly worse.
There is something washed out and blurry about the graphics, perhaps an effect put in place to distract us from minor graphical issues. This pale effect, when mixed with a strong light source such as the sun, makes it near on impossible to see anything in that part of the screen. Fable is a game that made its name with saturated colours and a fitting touch of fantasy aesthetics, but the presentation in Fable Anniversary looks ugly and deteriorated, in spite of good modelling and higher resolutions. There are issues with pop-ups and textures and the lighting and colour palette come across as misguided.
Visuals aside, this game is almost ten years old and it shows in some areas. As we started playing the game the awful menu system becomes a sticking point. Everything is complicated to get to. Where you level up your skills, where your items are located, and how to read a book that appears in your inventory; everything feels cumbersome. Menus need to be intuitive and not present the player with problems - your focus needs to be on the adventure.
In Fable Anniversary we spent a good five minutes finding where we're supposed to read books we've taken from a library and tried hard to equip a katana we'd just been given. After much searching we realised there are items that only appear in the quick menus, not in the main menu. The katana issue turned out to be a simple bug, as it popped back later after I'd exited the menus and gone back in.
The first Fable title introduced us to a social system in its infancy, simple and dynamic battles that came close to the action genre while remaining accessible and easy to master. You develop your character down a path of your choosing - be it melee, ranged or magic - but in the end we wound up being able to excel in all areas, becoming almost invincible. And then there's the choice of good or evil, angel or bastard, and the consequences that manifest themselves on our character. Games before and after have offered something similar, but few games manage to make it such an integral part of the experience by influencing both the story and the physical appearance of your character, as well as how the world around reacts to you.
Finally, we need to mention some other issues that we encountered while playing, issues that had nothing to do with the mysterious ghost katana. Almost all of these problems were related to the dialogue scripting. You will come across characters that will stand completely quiet and still for two or three seconds before starting to speak. It happens often and sometimes they completely freeze.
Fable Anniversary fails at a very basic level to provide us with an update for a classic game. It won't appeal to those who never played the original and it stains the memory of an entertaining title that offered us new and interesting experiences. While actually not technically improved, it's furthermore hindered by a nefarious menu system that actively impedes you from knowing what you have at your disposal and accessing it. This has all the hallmarks of a sloppy phoned-in effort that only seeks to cash in on name and nostalgia.