Fable was always a divisive game. A franchise built on the loftiest of promises that just never managed to deliver on them, there was still something interesting about the world of Fable. A uniquely British role-playing game that still managed to have plenty of charm if you could get past the clunky combat and absence of features that were lavishly described and promised during the development cycle.
Fable games were also quirky, light-hearted experiences. But when Lionhead was considering a fourth Fable game, they wanted to take the series down a much darker route full of grim choices and macabre ideas. But that pitch was quickly dismissed. “We wanted to hit the late Victorian proper far out Jules Verne sh**,” Lionhead’s John McCormack said in a thoroughly lengthy feature on Eurogamer that is well worth a read if you were into Lionhead games.
According to McCormack, Fable 4 would have been powered by the Unreal 4 engine and introduced the “technological, industrial age, with tram cars and flying machines,” to the series. Fable 4 would have made use of British mythology of that grim Victorian age, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, prostitutes and Jack the Ripper. “And that was going to be Fable 4, and it would be darker and grittier,” McCormack said.
And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humour. I was like, ‘Man, this is going to be f**king brilliant, and everybody was really into it.
But that never happened. While Microsoft considered Fable to be profitable, it wasn’t profitable enough as the company tasked Lionhead with making Fable Legends instead. And that was the last straw for McCormak, as the rejected pitch was one of the reasons why he left Lionhead in 2012. “It was like, ‘You’ve reached your cap of players for RPG on Xbox and you need to find a way to double that, and you’re not going to do it with RPG,” McCormack said.
I thought, ‘Yes we can.’ I said, ‘Look, just give us four years, proper finance, give us the chance Mass Effect has, Skyrim has, the games at the time. They’re getting four years and a lot of budget. Give us that, and we’ll give you something that’ll get you your players.
What a pity. Fable 4 sounds like the one game in the franchise I’d have actually been properly excited for. Give the rest of the Lionhead retrospective a read if you have the time. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of one of the biggest game development studios to exist across multiple generations.