Hanno Lemke, General Manager of Microsoft Studios Europe, today announced the closure of several studios, including the “proposed closure” of UK-based Lionhead Studios, the former home of well-known game designer Peter Molyneux. With the proposed closure of Lionhead comes the cancellation of Fable Legends, a free-to-play multiplayer title that would have been the latest entry in the famed Fable series. With this cancellation, there are no further upcoming Fable games announced, and the future of the series is uncertain.
The original Fable trilogy was a significant action-RPG series released between 2004 and 2010, built around the concept of creating your own character, moral choice, and building your own place in the fantasy world of Albion. In Molyneux’s notable hyperbole, these were not supposed to be mere games: They were to be singular experiences that players could invest themselves in emotionally over the years by minutely shaping their character thanks to innumerable options and choices.
Despite not living up to Molyneux’s lofty promises, the Fable games were well received and created a new pillar of Western RPG gaming. Often the systems integrated by the games were criticized for being shallow and under-designed, but the series’ almost insane ambition to try to be everything at once was charming.
After Fable III, Molyneux left Lionhead Studios in 2012 to start up studio 22Cans. Fable as a series seemed to lose all momentum and focus without Molyneux’s driving personality and ambition behind it. The games ceased to be a major AAA franchise, instead becoming something of a test factory for Microsoft’s various hobbyhorses. Fable Heroes was a family-friendly hack-and-slash released on XBox Live Arcade. Fable: The Journey was an action title for the (now mostly defunct) Kinect motion control device.
Legends would have been a multiplayer-focused dungeon crawler. It had potential to be an very entertaining title for what it was trying to be, but it never would have been Fable 4, and the fans knew it.
The Fable series that captured gamers’ imaginations and — for better or worse — attempted true, immersive role-play experiences ended in 2010 with Fable III. Lionhead Studios itself is no longer the studio that had created such titles as Black and White or The Movies in the mid 2000s, and though its closure is sad, it was also inevitable. Lionhead just did not have the capacity or the resources to continue to innovate gaming. Few were impressed by the trailers Microsoft had to offer for Fable Legends. They wanted Fable 4, which the current Lionhead could never create.
Peter Molyneux’s desperate-to-please attitude and ceaseless ambition were the true spirit and charm of Fable. When he left, Fable died. It only took Microsoft nearly half a decade of life support before they finally pulled the plug.