There are now over 600 backwards-compatible original Xbox and Xbox 360 games available to Xbox One owners. This includes many critically-acclaimed titles from the last generation but also plenty of lesser known titles that are worth a look for the curious. Performance is often improved or more stable, screen tearing is a thing of the past, and some original Xbox and Xbox 360 titles have even received enhancements on both the base Xbox One and X variant. With many older gamers keen to replay classic titles, and many new gamers experiencing the Xbox One as their first console generation, this weekend feature will look at some of the best backwards compatible games available.
For anyone following the press during the initial reveal of Fable - back when Peter Molyneux was associated with games like Populous, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper, and Black & White – it was an exciting time. We were given promises of complex gameplay systems, a world and story that evolved based on your actions, all powered by Microsoft’s new Xbox console. The promises made by Molyneux – and distinct lack of said features in the final product – would follow him for life and ultimately push him out of mainstream development. While the criticism was deserved, it was a shame given he was responsible for several great games with innovative mechanics and cynical humour - aspects lacking in many by-the-numbers “AAA” games.
I'm not sure if it can be taken as a compliment or not, but one of my clearest memories of Fable Anniversary was the fishing mini-game.
Fable would ultimately release as a simple but entertaining action-RPG, with a world that did respond to your actions - though this was rarely more complex than an NPC quip or slightly-altered quest dialogue. The prologue, in which you play as a small boy, set the scene, introducing you to the clunky controls, an emote system for interacting with NPCs, and a several binary good vs. evil choices. These early choices are indicative of the entire game; Fable is not one for subtlety, making the actual role-playing experience feel shallow. Thankfully, the combination of an impactful character progression system, powerful gear, multiple mini-games, and cynical writing salvaged the experience. In 2014, Lionhead Studios and Microsoft finally released Fable Anniversary, an updated version of the game with the Lost Chapters expansion bundled in, for the Xbox 360.
After surviving the destruction of your village, the player spends several severely-abridged years in the Heroes Guild, getting to grips with several key characters, the rubbish combat (a recurring problem with the entire series), and gets the chance to make more black-or-white choices. Once done, you’re finally set loose on the land of Albion to pick a title (I'd strongly recommend "arseface" for maximum entertainment) and become a great hero or dastardly villain. The plot - which has you chasing down an ancient villain, discovering your long-thought-dead mother and sister, and traveling the length and breadth of Albion - often feels like a sideshow to all the random crap you can do in the world. Every area is full of mini-games, hidden treasure, trading opportunities, and sidequests (which are either ridiculous, humourous, or a mix of both). There’s some dark humour too, but mostly of the absurd variety.
When any NPC - male or female - can be wooed with a few displays of farting, belching, hero poses, and a few gifts, it doesn’t take long to generate a sizeable fan following in every town.
Unfortunately, the bulk of these activities - and certainly every main quest - revolves around combat, either melee, ranged, or magical. Performing these attacks will reward you with experience orbs from fallen foes (after which you must hold a button to hoover them up – another series staple and annoying as hell). Slay an enemy with a sword, you’ll get Strength XP; slay them with a bow, you’ll get Skill XP (along with a portion of multi-purpose XP for any upgrade path). There aren’t that many levels to gain but each upgrade feels impactful, and each new spell, or spell-upgrade, feels powerful. It provides a great sense of progression, but that feeling can’t offset the fact combat is a clunky chore.
The stiff animations and unexciting weapon/spell effects are something I can accept as a limitation of the era, but it’s the inconsistent blocking/dodging, coupled with a truly[censored] lock-on, that I can’t forgive. Fable is a game that’ll assign you a quest to escort traders through a balverine-infested forest (i.e. werewolves), and happily allow your character to combat-lock on a distant trader, rather than the balverine in your face. One-on-one vs. a tough boss, the system works fine. Against a mob of enemies, it’s messy but manageable with spells. In the presence of any friendly NPCs, utter chaos. There are several powerful spells that I would suggest you completely ignore, as their capacity to kill friendly NPCs – possibly mission-critical ones – is just too great (and this is a problem regardless of whether you pick a good or evil playthrough).
Going up against a single large foe, the lock-on system works well at keeping you on target and ready to block or dodge incoming attacks. Unfortunately that all goes out the window when multiple enemies or friendly NPCs are present.
It’s a shame the combat grates, because while Fable's mechanics and core gameplay loop are far simpler than the game would have you believe, it still makes for good fun in short bursts. I’d play in hour-long chunks, dropping in to complete a side quest (like delivering increasingly risqué books to a school for “educational” purposes); try my luck at fishing; travel the length of Albion on foot to make a profitable trade deal; or attempt to open one of several demon doors - snarky stone doors with ridiculous requests you need to satisfy before they open and let you claim their loot (such as proposing to one with a ring, becoming morbidly obese, or engaging in flurry of emotes based around bodily functions). These moments were always more memorable than anything the generic “rise of a hero/villain” main plot could throw at me.
Fable Anniversary on the Xbox 360 provided the original with a much-needed coat of paint, transferring the code to the Unreal 3 engine, with new textures and a resolution boost to 1080p... and promptly ran like crap. Backwards compatible on the Xbox One, it both looks and runs like it was meant to, especially if you’ve got an X model, which gives the resolution a further boost. Played in 2019, the visuals still hold up surprisingly well (animations aside), while the audio, voice acting, and music remain are as entertaining as ever, especially with NPCs that have strong accents from different parts of England.
Each interconnected area is quite small, but together they make the world feel vast and diverse. You can’t roam off the path, but Fable Anniversary can still look pretty and feel vast in scope.
All that said, is Fable Anniversary still worth playing today? If you’re interested in experiencing the origins of this now-dormant series, I’d say yes. The clunky combat becomes more tolerable as you level up, and while the world only marginally changes based on your decisions, the non-stop barrage of snarky quips and cynical dialogue from quest givers and companions was enough to keep a smile on my face. Clocking in at 15 - 20 hours (depending on whether you stick to the primary quest or mess around with side activities), it’s also a much shorter than most RPG, making it easy to see everything on offer without taking up all your time. It also helps that it's often heavily discounted during sales, and you can pick it up bundled with the other two games in the trilogy (which are also backwards compatible).
Follow the link if you wamt to read up on some of the other games we think represent the best of backwards comaptibility.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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