Fable Fortune: The Big Entrance (Xbox One Early Access)
Before I even start to discuss Fable Fortune, it’s important to address the elephant in the room; Hearthstone changed the landscape of online collectible card games (CCGs) and since then, everyone has tried to imitate its success. What Hearthstone did was to take a beloved RPG series with a dedicated fan base, expand on a card game that already existed, and bring it to the digital market with as much polish as possible. It even attracted players who had absolutely no idea about the characters or lore of WoW but gave the cards enough character that you really didn’t need to play WoW to appreciate them.
Fable Fortune pretty much looks to do with Fable what Hearthstone did with WoW – although it very much feels like Fable Fortune lives in Hearthstone’s shadow. Then again, Peter Pan’s shadow was always far more interesting than the character. What I am trying to say is that there is a mischievous side to Fable Fortune, a wonderful set of nuances that only greatly benefits from Hearthstone hogging in the limelight.
If it wasn’t clear by now, Fable Fortune is a CCG. Each player creates a deck comprising of 30 cards and plays other players online in the hopes of climbing a PVP ladder. Depending on what class you choose, of which there are currently 6, you will have access to unique cards as well as a bank of cards that can be used in any deck called neutral cards. And with nearly 160 neutral cards and 21 cards in every class, there is a whole load of depth to explore in creating decks.
Right about now, you’ll probably be thinking that there’s literally no difference in Fable Fortune and Hearthstone and you’d be forgiven in thinking so, because at its base they are the same in that 2 players fight each other with a deck of 30 cards and have 30 points of health, even some of the key words; Big Entrance, Last Laugh, Deflect, and Rush are exactly what you’d expect from a CCG. But Fable Fortune has a few tricks up its sleeve, and they aren’t just the Safeguard and Eulogy key words. Fable Fortune implicates a mechanic called the morality system, which can present itself as a key word but it is so much more, and it leaves its imprint at the very core of the game.
The morality system governs everything in Fable Fortune. Throughout games of Fable Fortune, you are able to pick between 3 quests that are based on the current PvP arena and upon completion of your chosen quest, you are able to adapt your hero power to one of two moralities; good or evil. It’s an interesting way to implement what Fable was once renowned for. Based on your choice, your power will upgrade to one of the two choices, you’ll receive a quest completion bonus, and you’ll be presented with a new quest in your next turn. This means that players can adapt their decks to suit the current board state and change their powers to best suit the match up. Being able to change your hero power up to 3 times in a match is massive, means that players need to adapt in even the most unbalanced match ups to make sure that they close out the wind as the rewards of the third quest can be exactly what the losing player needs to turn the tide of battle.
Some of Fable Fortune’s cards also play off of the morality system, offering bonuses based on how much morality you have while transforming into different variations of the card.
On top of the morality system, Fable Fortune’s cards also ground themselves in the lore with tribes: Hobbe, Hollow Man, and Bandit. Balverines, Knights, and Peasants are all part of the make-up of Fable Fortune but they are not in the typical tribe structure of other CCGs. On top of these standard cards, Fable Fortune also opts to introduce a new take on the “coin” mechanic in other CCGs, most notably Hearthstone, in which the player going second received a temporary token to represent an additional mana. Instead, Fable Fortune allows the player to choose from one of several Trophy cards that all have different effects. One trophy card might offer a one of heal for 5, while another provides a 2/1 minion with rush, and there is even a card that allows you to buff a minion for 1 attack and 2 health – all of which are free to cast.
But what else does Fable Fortune do to set itself apart from the ever increasing number of CCGs? Well, instead of starting at the traditional starting place of 1 resource, which is gold in this case, you start with 3 and negate the early reliance on a good curve that some other games thrive on. Although, like any card game, it still relies on process like curving out, but there is slightly less focus and you don’t need to stack decks quite as heavily with 1 cost or 2 cost cards as you might in other games, and instead these lower cost cards can help pad out awkward turns more.
Early on I rhymed off a few key words and the eagle eyed among you may have noticed one glaring omission; taunt. Taunt isn’t quite the role in Fable Fortune as it is in Hearthstone and that’s due to the guard system, a system in which enemy minions are prevented from attacking your hero directly. Instead of designated cards exclusively having the guard keyword, like taunt in Hearthstone, any card can be used to defend your hero at the expense of 1 gold and certain cards with the ‘safeguard’ keyword will gain extra bonuses from spending the 1 gold to give them guard. But, this also means that you can only give one card guard a turn, with one or two exceptions, and may result in overwhelming board states being extremely hard to deal with.
And if you are looking for more to set Fable Fortune apart from the crowd, you have the cooperative mode. Every season in Fable Fortune puts you and a partner up against an unspeakable evil from Fable’s lore. Doubling down on the quest mechanic and allowing players to team up to beat a tough enemy with 3 differing difficulties is great fun and you are justly rewarded for doing so. Successfully completing a cooperative boss with a class for the first time nets you a medal based on the difficulty; 1 medal for easy, 2 for normal, and 3 for hard. If you manage to complete the fight on hard with every deck you will be just rewarded with silver (Fable Fortune’s card crafting currency), a few packs, and some hand picked rare cards – this medal system also applies to Fable Fortune’s PVP mode but with longer seasons and far more rewards.
It’s these rewards that hold the staying power in Fable Fortune, with every win drawing you a step closer to growing your collection of cards. You can even unlock cards from levelling up classes, with new cards being awarded for reaching level 2 and level 5, although it isn’t very clear that this is possible and with no way to view your character’s rank easily – it was very hard to work out. The same can be said for the card experience system, which tallies up after every match. There was so little explanation as to what it would do that I had to google it and test it myself. For what it is worth, the levelling system for cards is very superficial. You can even get super lucky and pull some shiny cards from packs, although their rarity isn’t enough to save them from the god awful blue base and hue that denotes their rarity, which is truly a missed opportunity and design faux pas when you consider that it’s almost identical to the blue that represents the good morality choice. There rare cards do however net a far higher amount of ink than standard cards.
Ink is used to create new cards in Fable Fortune, and just like Hearthstone the rarity of the card dictates the salvage value. Where Fable Fortune differs is in the number of types available, with 6 compared to Hearthstone’s 5. These types are; Basic (white), Common (green), Rare (blue), Epic (purple), Mythic (orange), Fabled (red) and each costs a fair bit more than the previous and also returning more when salvaged. Salvaging will become quite a common interaction in Fable Fortune, but it is far from an enjoyable one. As each card has an assigned experience value based on its use you have to individually select the card from the library to salvage it. It’s horribly time consuming and every single Hearthstone player will be begging for the return of a mass disenchant button that automatically selects the card with the lowest experience value on it. This is exasperated by Fable Fortune’s generosity in packs as you can earn them at an alarming rate, which is both a blessing and a curse when you consider how much game time is lost to fiddling with the salvaging process.
The salvaging process isn’t the only issue holding Fable Fortune back in its current state. As it is only in closed beta/early access, it lacks the ability to play with friends and the player base is lacking – I often fought with the same 4/5 people at the weekend – as well as a few clearer ways of explaining its mechanics, although it has been promised that a full tutorial will eventually make its way to Fable Fortune. On the bug front, it seems that Fable Fortune is prone to crashing in its current state, especially when a player concedes when you deal the final blow alongside the occasional crash when you are opening a card pack. Although it is still early doors for the game and these kind of bugs can be ironed out before the full release.
Like any CCG, Fable Fortune knows how to tap into that part of your brain that have you itching to open more packs and experiment with as many decks as possible. Where Hearthstone fails in its current form, with matches often being overly reliant on RNG, Fable Fortune soars as it puts your ability to adapt and work with your hero power and the morality system to tweak your approach mid match. But, for all the good it does, Fable Fortune still falls a little flat. The cards look great and the game boards have a lot of character, yet it lacks a certain x-factor. Something to pull it all together. The experience often felt like it needed more atmosphere beyond the ambient background noises of the graveyards or forests that surround Bowerstone, maybe more interaction from the heroes or prominent dialogue from the cards. A little bit of ‘oomph’ to hit home that bit harder. Regardless, I absolutely adored Fable Fortune, although more time is definitely needed before I can talk about balance. I think it has a lot of promise, especially with the premise of rotating quests for every PvP arena that challenge players to create new decks every season without flooding the game with large swathes of new cards. But, Fable Fortune could do with a few more features, like; clear daily challenges, a way to indicate how many cards are left in your deck, a way of viewing actions in previous turns or even a way to play with friends in coop.