Tuesday, 18 July 2017 00:00

Fable Fortune Early Access Review

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Fable Fortune breaks free of closed beta and into the free-to-play wild on July 25, 2017. Should you feed it or shoot it? Is it good or evil? Most importantly, can you kick chickens? You, your rich auntie, and your dog are cordially invited to the grand opening [1] of this (a) Fable franchise inspired (b) collectible card game — albeit one with room for improvement on both of those fronts.

The developers of Fable Fortune originally worked for Lionhead [2]. After Lionhead closed, these former cubs leveled up, just like a creature in Black & White. They grew wings and flocked anew, under the banner of Flaming Fowl. The young studio then partnered officially with the developers of Hatoful Boyfriend, Mediatonic, who supported Flaming Fowl's work on Fable Fortune even before that bird left its nest and bathed in gasoline [3]. Perhaps Molyneux finally drove his team mad in Lionhead's eleventh hour, forcing them to seek comfort in pigeon dating sims, and that's how the studios connected; how such an odd alliance formed in the first place is anybody's guess.

Fable Fortune patterns itself after titles such as Hearthstone and Shadowverse. Like other entries in the trending collectible card game (CCG) genre, it appeals to aficionados of an existing franchise as well as fans of CCG gameplay. In other words, players who load Fable Fortune up are looking for at least one of two experiences: Fable fans want to feel the Fable, and CCG players want deckbuilding, balance, and strategy at least on par with other genre entries. I'm a Fable fan who'd let Albion burn to save the Dog, and I've logged hundreds of hours in Shadowverse, so Fable Fortune has every possible opportunity to entertain and impress me.


You do get a hint about your opponent's strategy from the deck leader around whom they build their deck, as each leader has a unique special ability. In Fable Fortune, for example, Temple is a necromancer who can summon extra skeletons to damage you every turn. Sand, on the other hand, is a cleric who heals his own units, powering them up in the process. In total, Fable Fortune offers six different heroes to lead your decks to victory or pound you into the ground: Necromancer, Prophet, Shapeshifter, Merchant, Knight, and Alchemist. Each has their own special ability, class-specific cards, and backstory. They're new characters rather than familiar faces; Fable players won't recognize them from other games. My personal favorite is Barter, a former slave-turned-swashbuckling Merchant who employs cutthroat business tactics. He's graduated to buying and selling, just as he was once bought and sold, with flavorful cards only he can use, such as “Blackmail” and “Kidnap.”

As the game progresses, you can summon more follower cards and play more spell cards per turn, by using Gold. On your first turn you get three Gold to spend, on your second you get four, and so on, up to a maximum of ten. It's a faster curve than most other CCGs, where you start your first turn with their version of a single Gold piece. You reach your big, costly cards more quickly than you would in most other CCGs, facilitating combos and nudging genre veterans to modify their early game strategy [EN: Kids these days.]

After you fulfill certain conditions in a match, called Quests — such as summoning a handful of followers, playing a couple damaging spells, or spending a large sum of gold — your chosen deck leader levels up along Good or Evil lines. You choose between two options to power up your special ability in a Fable themed way. In Barter's case, an unmodified special ability gives him one Gold to use later — at the cost of two Gold now. A Good level-up changes his ability to also power up units he holds in his hand, whereas the Evil choice means his ability will also reduce the cost of a card in his hand.

Good and Evil affect your cards as well, causing them to become more powerful in a Good or Evil fashion if played from hand after your deck leader levels up. It's a fun and fitting system, but one which is currently underutilized. Morality effects increase interactivity and your ability to adapt to your opponent's strategy when you get the chance to play them, but those chances are rare. Additionally, while your hero can level up and change alignment multiple times, your special ability receives no enhancements beyond the first. Your first point of Morality matters the most. After that, you're just farming it for occasional card effects. Right now the average game feels like a slog, and Morality effects offer a tantalizing and obvious solution.


That upgraded hero ability makes a big difference. The good news is, in every competitive season, the quests change, and you know exactly what they'll be before you choose your deck for your match. The bad news is, these quests favor some classes over others, causing imbalance and dramatic shifts in the meta. Once Fable Fortune enters Early Access, developers will gain a larger player base to provide them with feedback, and should be prepared to make adjustments should these trends continue. Meta shifts are normal and healthy, but not to the extent that one class predominates or others hardly see play.

In comparison to the background music and sound effects, the voice acting connected to follower cards is hard to hear. I usually correct this in other CCGs with a separate voice volume slider, but Fable Fortune offers no such audio option. I enjoy the voice acting so much in Shadowverse that I have just about every card's barks there memorized by this point. Fable is a franchise built not only on Morality systems, but on a certain complementary spirit and attitude, and while most cards possess variable lines that succeed in livening up play for me, I can hardly hear them.

As a Fable franchise fan, I have my favorite factions and NPCs, and I want to acquire and play with their cards. However, the only big reference I've seen so far is Sir Walter, and he was in my co-op match partner's hand. I don't even care whether they're particularly powerful. Where are my gypsy buddies from Fable 2, and why can't Barter make deals with Reaver? Why can't I hand my Peasant an enchantment like the Hammer of Hammer? “Bowerstone Guard” and “Chicken Vengeant” don't cut it; we want names – at present, it seems like missed opportunities are plentiful. Say what you will about the flaws of Heartstone, but if nothing else, that CCG has franchise nostalgia down. You'll find your frustration here compounded by skimpy, infrequent rewards that further reduce your chances of opening a card pack containing your favorite character.

In a recent update [4], Flaming Fowl responded to player feedback and reworked the stats of hero archetypes and cards. CCGs require frequent maintenance of this kind, and in order to build an experience that lives up to developer promises and player expectations, Flaming Fowl may need to make many more changes, both sweeping and delicate. This title would benefit from more time to develop its potential — a potential clear to see even in its current unpolished state.

1. http://store.steampowered.com/app/469830/Fable_Fortune/
2. http://steamcommunity.com/app/469830/discussions/0/1456202492185602633/#c1456202492185831952
3. http://store.steampowered.com/app/310080/Hatoful_Boyfriend/
4. http://steamcommunity.com/games/469830/announcements/detail/1420173755385144539 as a Fable franchise entry and as a CCG.


The Verdict

Fable Fortune implements familiar CCG gameplay with a Fable-inspired twist. Interactive Morality effects encourage dynamic strategy, and a faster curve than most other entries in the genre means players are more free to set up combos early in the match. These systems, while promising, require more follow-through, and combine with archetype balance issues and inconvenient client errors to create an experience lacking in quality of life; this release enters Early Access with promise and room to grow.

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Kelsey Erwin

Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.