Fable Legends Is Indeed Free-To-Play — And It’s Not A Bad Thing

Fable Legends Is Indeed Free-To-Play  —  And It’s Not A Bad Thing

To be honest, the first time I ever saw Fable Legends — Lionhead’s 4v1 multiplayer remix of Fable, due out later this year — I could have made a confident educated guess that it would be free to play.

Its reliance on team play and selection of different, customisable heroes suggested a splash of LoL and DOTA might have found its way into the design document. The developer has now officially confirmed it, shortly after announcing that players on PC can join Xbox One owners in the same matches.

For fans already thrown by the idea of multiplayer-only Fable, this might not seem like the most reassuring news, but it certainly appears that Lionhead aspires to the Valve model of free-to-play as opposed to, say, the Candy Crush model — or, worse, the increasingly prevalent “paymium” model, where a developer asks for £45/$US60 up-front and then also tries to tempt you into micro-payments. This inspires confidence, at least in me.

Fable Legends Is Indeed Free-To-Play  —  And It’s Not A Bad Thing

The game itself, which was already promisingly fun when I played it last year, is a convincing action-orientated arena combat experience when you’re playing as one of the team of four heroes and a reactive strategy game when you take on the role of the villain, placing enemies for them to slaughter (or succumb to). With ten heroes now in place it’s got a robust selection of playstyle options. The combat was never the best thing about Fable — not by a mile — but Legends’ fighting spans a variety of third-person action styles: playing a ranged character, it feels like a Gears-style third-person shooter, whereas some of the sword-wielders have a touch of Devil May Cry flavour.

Here’s how things will work: any PC or Xbox One player will be able to download the game for free. There will be a whole story’s worth of quests at launch, with more to be released episodic-style every few months, and continuous updates. There will be no paywalls, no limited game time, no horrible “energy bars” or “gems” or whatever that take time to recharge. There will be 4 heroes available to play at any one time, and they will rotate every 2 weeks. Then, if you want to keep playing a character, you can either wait for them to come back into rotation (with all your XP and equipment intact), or pay to unlock them permanently. You can pay either with earned in-game money or real money, and you can also pay for cosmetic items; everything gameplay-related can only be earned through play. Same goes for villain players: different villain monsters will rotate every few weeks, and you can pay to unlock them permanently.

Creative director David Eckleberry clearly wants Fable Legends to lead the way for high-budget free-to-play games on consoles, in terms of value and fairness as well as, presumably, popularity. “The right version of F2P is a very good thing for the world. The wrong version is kind of an abomination, but if you’re very fair to your players and they can play as much as they want, then it seems right.”

Fable Legends Is Indeed Free-To-Play  —  And It’s Not A Bad Thing

Statistically, usually 90 per cent of players of free-to-play games never spend so much as 50 pence on a new hat, which means that any successful game needs to have a pretty huge player base. “We need scale,” says Lionhead’s studio head John Needham. “PC gives us that scale element, but even with the core Xbox audience, we’ve got a lot to work with there.”

“[We need] millions, probably,” reckons Eckleberry. “But then, previous Fable games have hit those kinds of numbers. We’re taking on a lot of risk, I accept that and so does Microsoft, but there’s no risk for you, as a player.”

Of course, the biggest problem for Lionhead and Fable Legends might not be the business model, but the challenges of making an online-reliant game that launches without enormous game-breaking problems on two platforms simultaneously (Xbox and PC). Making a multiplayer game at all is new ground for this studio, let alone one with 4-versus-1 gameplay that relies on servers. With disasters like Drive Club and Halo: Master Chief Collection fresh in the memory, how can Lionhead ensure that Fable Legends launches well?

“The honest answer is a really long beta,” says Eckleberry. “There’s a lot of new stuff for us both in game design and technologically: cross-platform, Windows 10, all of the networking we have to do is mostly new to us. We run into game-crashing bugs frequently in our beta. But we want to find them NOW, so we have time to fix them… a bad launch week sticks with you forever. Nobody ever forgets — and they shouldn’t, I think fans are right not to forget it. They might forgive it… but I don’t blame fans for saying “dude, you screwed this up”. I don’t want to be in that place.”

Fable Legends Is Indeed Free-To-Play  —  And It’s Not A Bad Thing

To that end, Fable Legends has no solid launch date beyond “2015”, and is unlikely to get one until much nearer the end of the year. That way, Lionhead can gradually open up the (currently closed) beta to more and more people and launch when there’s confidence that everything is working at scale. It’s never going to be a 100 per cent sure thing, but the studio is giving itself ample time to ramp up Fable Legends gradually.

Multiplayer-only Fable will always be a tough sell for some, but the game’s fun, crucially, the fairytale Fable feel is definitely there, and the barrier to entry is low, so anyone can try it out (and then walk away with wallet intact if it doesn’t appeal). Free-to-play actually seems less risky to me than asking people to pay £45 for a multiplayer-focused take on a series that’s got such strong single-player memories attached to it. The beta is likely to expand its player population in the coming months. If you’re curious, you can sign up here.

Fable Legends Is Indeed Free-To-Play  —  And It’s Not A Bad Thing

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.


  • I’d rather it wasn’t free to play. I still prefer to spend my money and unlock all the core content. I would have bought killer instinct if it were a one time purchase instead of the season free play style mess it is.

    • I didn’t mind Season 1, especially considering it was only $26, but Season 2 is starting to shit me given we still don’t have any real “story mode”. The one that the old dev added was just horrific 🙁

      That being said I really don’t play fighters. KI is the only one I can string a combo in!

  • I will give this a go when it comes out but my hopes aren’t that high for it. I would much rather they released a proper fable game in the vain of the original trilogy (maybe leaning more towards the first game) then all these spin off they keep making hell fable 3 came out in 2010 that’s almost 5 years without a main title and would have been another reason to play on the xbox one not another rubbish spin-off.

    • Yeah I believe the series was strongest when it was set in the ancient past, rather than the industrial revolution time period of the third game. I loved the idea of the heroes guild and that ancient setting, with swords and bows. There’s less fantastical elements in a world that is closer to our own time-period.

      And nothing compares to the mystery and intrigue of the first game, with its winding paths and forests and lakes just outside your reach, ready to explore if only you could jump that waist high fence blocking you out. I still remember the first time I walked into Greatwood, goddamn.


  • They say everything can be earn in-game, but they haven’t said how quickly or easily.

    Do you get silver every game you play, win or lose?

    Do you only get it when you are the best on your team?

    Only when you win?

    How much silver does it take to buy an upgrade?

    Is there an arbitrary cap on how much silver you can earn a day?

    Can you LOSE silver?

    All of the questions need to be answered. It’s not enough to say you can do it in game, it’s a matter of answering all these specific questions and more.

    That said, i’m cautiously optimistic about this game. It’s one of the few Xbox One games i’m really interested in and I loved Fable 1 and 2 for their atmosphere and setting especially. It’s clear that remains in this game, even if the single player progression does not. And the graphics / art style look ridiculously good.

  • I’m glad it’s free to play, it didn’t look like something I wanted to pay for.
    Call me when an actual Fable sequel is made.

  • I think it’ll be fine but I’d actually like it if they got Super Monday Night Combat on the Xbone which operates on a similar system of rotating characters

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!