Within minutes of starting Sable, I managed to sequence break a side quest while hungrily exploring a lovely desert landscape, and from that moment I was hooked. I've monitored Shedworks' serene open-world game from afar for years, after immediately falling in love with its low-poly art and the way its crimson protagonist cuts the heavily inked horizon with a hoverbike. Sometimes a game's visual language just grabs you, and after one look, I knew Sable was my jam. Now that I've actually been able to play it for over an hour, I want it more than ever. It's every bit the looker it is in trailers – even more beautiful in motion, if anything – and it's also packed an engrossing narrative into an inviting world.
You play as Sable, a young girl who's just come of age – what age, I don't know, but apparently an appropriate age to get a hoverbike and glide around with some sort of energy bubble born of ancient technology. This is all part of a rite of maturity called Gliding, which I gather is customary in Sable's clan of masked nomads, the Ibexii. The Gliding is presented as a sort of quasi-religious pilgrimage – a worldly journey of enlightenment filtered through technology both steampunk and bio-organic, like Eureka Seven by way of Journey. All I can say for sure is that Ibexii youths receive a hoverbike and gliding bubble before setting off to travel the world, and to decide for themselves the purpose and value their journey holds. When they find their answer, or when the energy that fuels their Gliding peters out, they return to the clan and build a more permanent life for themselves.
I only know this because I spoke with other Ibexii to hear stories about their Gliding. I say I know, but believe is probably more accurate; Sable shows more than it tells, and what it does tell you is steeped in traditions that I'm still wrapping my head around. Anyway, I gather that some Ibexii miss the freedom of Gliding while others are happy to have settled down, and they're all eager to see Sable make her mark on the world. The clan is one big family, and their settlement is a warm starting point for the game's world. My interactions with the Ibexii, meanwhile, are a promising slice of the game's branching conversations. Sable's inner voice is kind and fascinating, and each chat brings a healthy selection of possible interactions that let you tailor her personality in small but meaningful ways.
A day in the life of Sable
Sable starts with our titular heroine preparing for her own Gliding. It's a day filled with revelations for both her and me. Revelation number one: you can climb anything, provided you have the stamina. Instantly, this turns the world into a playground that's fun to wander on top of being a pleasure just to witness. Low-poly doesn't do Sable's art justice. Shedworks has managed an eye-popping combination of hard lines and cel shading that I can't look away from. It stresses the detail that matters by removing the details that don't, and it fits the ethereal emptiness of this world perfectly.
My first quest – and I do mean an actual quest that's tracked in a quest tab – is to activate my Gliding Stone at an ancient altar on the outskirts of the Ibexii camp. To that end, I'm given a trial hoverbike that billows smoke at a rate that makes the clunkers from Mad Max look eco-friendly, but even this rusted oldie glides smoothly over the sandy plains. I wasn't able to pilot the iconic hoverbike in Sable's many trailers during my demo, so I'm looking forward to putting it through its paces in the full game.
On my way to the altar, a conspicuously climbable tower catches my eye. After a few failed attempts at running and jumping between pillars, I eventually reach the top of the tower and, with another running start and a bit of luck, leap over a huge gap that I now know was designed with the all-important gliding bubble in mind – the bubble I haven't unlocked yet because I haven't gone to the ruins. But with some elbow grease and a little Skyrim horse-style mountain climbing, I'm able to pass. On my way up, I snag a Chum Egg from a cute little floating worm. When I reach the top, I loot a chest for 100 Cuts – the currency of this world – and grab an atomic power supply from what looks like the remains of a ship.
I don't know it at this point, but I've just completed bits of several side quests which I haven't even discovered. Later in my demo, I can use the Chum Egg to lure beetles so that I can catch them and trade them for a piece of my in-progress hoverbike. I can, but I don't; instead, I just take the thing from the hideout of the sneering kid who stole it from a crashed ship before I could. Stealing from thieves; just call me Sable Cooper. The Cuts, meanwhile, are used to buy a map of the area from a wayward cartographer. A snippet of dialogue for this quest assures me that a young girl preparing for her Gliding wouldn't have Cuts to spare, which gets a smug smile from me with my fat wallet. The power supply is also used for my hoverbike, giving me another headstart on my shopping list when I start assembling it.
Through sheer coincidence and curiosity, I was able to dip my toes in multiple quests and areas well ahead of schedule, and all within the first hour of the game. That's about the highest praise I can give an open world. A good game world is filled with opportunities to find your own path, and based on my demo, Sable's world is as big on personal freedom as its story is. Narrative and design harmonizing with a central theme – you love to see it.
I'm also continually gobsmacked and delighted by just how video game-y Sable is. I don't know what I expected, but I know that I didn't expect a formal quest system, customizable outfits, no-strings-attached climbing, an energy bubble straight out of Gravity Rush, world maps with custom waypoints, chests filled with money, and branching dialogue. Maybe it was the floaty, atmospheric trailers, or maybe I just didn't pay close enough attention, but I never thought Sable would be such a full-fat, open-world experience. I would've stuck around for the art and music alone, but Sable is so much more. I can't wait to see what else it has up its crimson sleeve.