In the first three Fable games, the player's character has essentially been a blank slate, a hunk of marble waiting to be chiseled by player choices (and the occasional player mistake). It has always been up to the player to decide what their hero specialized in, to choose exactly how their hero looked and to govern their hero's morality. The character was yours from top to bottom.
Fable Legends, just announced for the Xbox One, is taking a different approach. You'll still be able to customize your hero to a certain degree – at the barber shop, etc. – but Fable Legends ditches the blank slate of previous games for more defined characters. They all have unique voices, personalities and abilities. Yes, that means the sorceress you see in the video above will always be a sorceress. This more rigid character system is a fundamental change to the Fable formula, but the interesting part is it may not even be the most significant departure. Regardless of how you choose to play it, four heroes are always present during the quests of Fable Legends. If you play by yourself, you'll be accompanied by three AI companions, or you can play with four human players or any combination of AI and humans. Obviously, the game places a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, with players expected to blend the abilities of different heroes together in ways that best suit a given quest. Incidentally, while there are only four different heroes on display in the Fable Legends announcement trailer, there will be many others in the final game, each with unique personalities and voices.
My hands-off demonstration – which was beautiful despite assertions that Fable Legends is still very early in development – showcased the four heroes from the trailer questing through a typically verdant part of Albion. There was a lithe swordsman, a gruff archer, an icy sorceress and a heavily-armored, shield-bearing knight. They worked together to take down fairy tale foes, combining their abilities to slay goblin-like Red Caps and a huge ogre. For example, the mage shot frost from her hands, freezing enemies in place, after which the archer filled the surrounding area with exploding arrows, blasting the Red Caps to bits.
Despite its multiplayer-centric approach, Eckelberry says story still plays a big part of Fable Legends. "We're emphasizing story, whether you're playing single-player or not," he says. "The story's really important to us. It's really a part of Fable." Eckelberry also noted that the game won't have an open world in the traditional sense, another change from previous Fables. "It's going to be pretty seamless to users. They get a quest, they run out [of] the city gates and they find that quest. But it's not like a giant, World of Warcraft-style open world [where] you would leap from quest to quest and that kind of thing." Even so, Eckelberry assured me that "all those Fable activities," things like tormenting villagers in towns and playing mini-games, are still a part of Fable Legends.
Without seeing all of elements that exist outside of the quests, it's hard to say just how far Fable Legends strays from the usual formula. Eckelberry was also emphatic that the game is still very early in development, so there are bound to be changes and tweaks before its (unannounced) launch date. My personal advice to Lionhead, if it wants to avoid a fan riot: Keep the farts.