Microsoft's Xbox Showcase gave us our first look proper at Playground Games' upcoming Fable reboot and the vibes are as good as it gets. The trailer stars comedian and actor Richard Ayoade, a fruit and vegetable farmer with a very low opinion of heroes ("wafters", he says, not unfairly). This is interspersed with clips of a Fable hero doing their thing, as she shanks a few bandits, sinks the odd pint, and seemingly wellies a chicken into the upper atmosphere.
Things take a turn after that and, if you want to see for yourself, watch above before reading on. A giant beanstalk grows, the next thing you know the hero's at a massive door, and It turns out Ayoade is in fact a giant. "Well, this is awkward" he says to her before a quickfire action sequence chasing the diminutive hero around his house. The sequence ends with the hero in his grasp, being raised to his mouth, and turning to the camera to say "fff-" which abruptly cuts to the Fable logo, before a neat little coda suggests the outcome.
It's deeply charming stuff and visually spectacular, with the realisation of Ayoade capturing his expressions, mannerisms, and deadpan delivery perfectly. There will be questions over the claim at the bottom of this that it's "in-game footage" though certain sequences involving the hero are certainly suggestive of stuff (the chase sequence with the giant definitely feels more of a CG fest).
Quite outside of what we can glean about the game's world though (villages with feckless and rude inhabitants, mythical beasts, a bit of drinking, some roughing up bandits, presumably at least one house-sized boss) what left the biggest impression on me was Playground's choice of jumping off point. Every kid in the world knows Jack and the Beanstalk (and if you have kids, check out Raymond Briggs' quasi-sequel Jim and the Beanstalk), it is one of the foundational fairy stories. When you talk about a handful of magic beans, everyone understands what you mean.
This makes an impression because Fable was always to me about those funny twists on the traditional stories, about suggesting another version of something you're familiar with, and toying around in that collective myth-hoard of fairy stories and fables. And it matters double because Fable is a series that lost its way after the first few games, almost becoming more traditional fantasy than whimsy at points, and drifted into side-projects like Fable: The Journey before Microsoft pressured Lionhead into making the live service Fable Legends, which was cancelled at the last moment at the same time as the studio was brutally shuttered.
So the road to here has not exactly been a smooth one and, of course, it is sad that we'll never see another Lionhead game. But if Fable is to live on as one of Xbox's marquee titles then all I can say is that the team at Playground seem to have understood the brief, and that Fable is anything but the standard fantasy action-RPG, and indeed should be much more. This is a series with innovation in its past, a series with the bravery to try out new ideas (like the player never dying in Fable 2, or infamously the dog). There's no indication from this trailer of whether we can expect such a bold approach from Playground, but I think the one thing we can say is that they seem to have nailed a particular tone that, for Fable fans as well as new audiences, will I think resonate. It reminds me of Shrek as much as anything.
The trailer gave no indication of when the game is coming, nor whether it would be exclusive for Xbox consoles for a time before coming to PC. It will however be available on Game Pass from release. This is only a trailer, and Playground may yet fumble the pumpkin. But from acorns like these, something beautiful may grow.