The clue is in the title: Fable. It was supposed to be the game that let you write your own adventure. If this were a magazine given to swearing then that statement would be followed by an eight-letter word beginning with 'b' and ending with 'ollocks'. Fable lets you do nothing of the sort. It's probably best to get that major criticism out of the way first.
During the game's protracted development (over four years) we heard about how you could become good or evil, make decisions unique to your character and weave a story that would be markedly different to anyone else's. All nonsense. Fable has a linear plot that only diverges to a minuscule degree at certain points depending on your actions. Sure, there are occasional side-quests to undertake should you wish to, but ignore these and you could easily complete the game in 12 hours. Hardly the epic we were anticipating. Or is it?
You see, Fable may have been oversold to us but there's no question it's still one of the most absorbing RPGs ever made. While the on-rails plotting is disappointing there's so much to explore, do and see that it can extend the game's lifespan considerably. Indeed, once you've completed the story quest the game does not end and you are free to roam Albion looking in all the nooks and crannies you may have missed first time round.
There are 22 story quests to tackle, but these are bolstered by a handful of optional quests (approximately eight) and some open-ended challenges. This may seem meagre but each quest is meaty and absorbing and you never feel like the game is getting repetitive. Clearly, Big Blue Box found the advantages of having a story-driven game too tempting - the player is constantly motivated to see what's around the next corner. It would be cruel to give away narrative details, but there are some cracking missions ranging from protecting villagers to taking part in a massive gladiatorial arena combat.
What Fable does stonkingly well is make you feel heroic. In this regard the promise of designing your own hero, right down to his morality, has been met. Eat too much food and your hero gets fat, drink too much beer and he gets drunk, go around committing petty crimes and he will be outcast from the community (unless he pays a hefty fine). The good/evil dichotomy is not as sophisticated as in Knights of the Old Republic but your alignment will influence the story in minor ways and dictate how others treat you.
IN YOUR HANDS
There's no getting around the fact that this aspect is pretty basic. If you get a reputation for being evil then traders will charge higher prices for goods and people will cower in fear. Act like a goody-two-shoes and people will follow you, clap as you pass and generally be more accommodating. Later on in the game alignment changes can be swift depending on a few key decisions. However, the fact you can donate money to churches to make your status swing one way or the other gives you some idea of how watered-down this system is. Still, it's preferable to most RPGs that give you no control over character morality whatsoever.
Reputation is also a very important commodity in Albion and this can be increased in several ways. Completing quests is the most obvious, but it's also possible to boost renown by taking on 'boasts'. These optional stipulations range from completing quests naked to sparing the lives of those you vanquish. A successful boast will increase your renown provoking others to respond to you more favourably.