Instead of collecting XP from downed enemies, you literally grab the gold that spills out of them when they die. That gold can then be spent on character upgrades in a dice-rolling minigame at the end of the level. Gold is not shared by default, and it disappears after a few seconds anyway, making combat a mad scramble to get what you can while the getting’s good. Then again, killing enemies without getting hit increases your gold multiplier, so sitting out and behaving selfishly the whole time won’t necessarily profit you most in the end. Also, ranged characters simply can’t get to the gold as quickly as their compatriots - quite a handicap. Thankfully for those who don’t like competition mingling with their co-op, you can opt to share gold equally among all players by choosing the Family difficulty. I much prefer Family’s sharing rules but wish we could enable them independently of lowering the difficulty.
As for the dice-rolling minigame, each player gets one or more rolls per level. Most spots on the board offer three or four abilities to purchase such as increased damage or speed, with a few special tiles that let you move to other spots. It’s a more random and drawn-out method of unlocking upgrades than Castle Crashers, for better or worse. When you’re down to just a few final abilities, you may have to beat several levels before you land on the necessary spaces to max out your character. Playing minigames can speed up the process though. Some take less than a minute to complete, and you still get to roll the dice at the end.
The awkward child of a party game and brawler, Heroes lives or dies by its co-op features. Lucky for the game then, it does not disappoint. Any combination of four online and offline people can play together. Everyone but the host can drop in or out at any time, saving their own character progress and earning Achievements along the way. One minor caveat –choosing to Play Offline from the title screen prevents online players from being able to join that session. Better just to host private multiplayer games and let friends come as they may.
While Fable Heroes doesn’t skimp on the multiplayer options, looks are another story. The simplistic player puppets not only appear to have fallen from the fabled Ugly tree, but they’re devoid of the series’ trademark personality as well. Fable fans will enjoy revisiting the famous locations that make up the game’s levels, each of which packs a fair amount of detail and variety. However, the backgrounds’ coloring is just plain garish and doesn’t contrast properly with the characters, often leading to confusion. A camera that loves to zoom too far out and occasionally awkward camera angles create a similar effect.
Fable Heroes looks bad on paper since it lacks the series’ heart and does few things particularly well. But rolling the dice and kicking around a few hobbes with friends or family can still be pretty fun. In fact, Heroes’ simple gameplay and party game elements make it a prime candidate for playing with the kids and/or a significant other. Opening up the Fable franchise to casual audiences isn’t such a bad thing; let’s just hope Microsoft and Lionhead play more to the series’ strengths next time out.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to four people can brawl together in any combination of online and offline players, dropping in or out at any time. Empty spots are filled by AI players. While the combat is cooperative, players ordinarily compete to earn gold for themselves. Enabling Family mode shares the gold evenly across the group.
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