Yesterday Microsoft announced the cancellation of Fable Legends and the likely shuttering of Guildford’s Lionhead studios. Microsoft originally acquired the studio in 2007, tasking them primarily with churning out sequels to the Xbox and PC exclusive original Fable, although the company enjoyed some success prior to that with the Black & White series.
If Lionhead does close, which although unconfirmed looks almost certain at this point, it’ll be more of a psychological blow to the UK games industry than a material one. Fable ran out of steam a long time ago because it simply had nothing left to give. A third person action-RPG with moral naval-gazing might have been original enough in 2004, but now? It’s arguably the most common mishmash of genres around. Although the free to play Fable Legends strayed from this paradigm somewhat, with its ‘4-player-co-op-versus-omnipotent-dungeon-master’ approach, in my opinion, it was always on shaky ground, unsure of what it was actually trying to be.
No, the real shame here is the loss of another vital piece of UK gaming history. Admittedly, Lionhead’s creative focal point, the always controversial Peter Molyneux, left in 2012, but the company was, until yesterday, one of the ever dwindling list of British triple-A developers. Let’s not forget that Lionhead’s predecessor of sorts, Bullfrog, was itself chewed up and spat out by none other than Electronic Arts.
It’s hard not to be a little resentful when you see (mainly, but not exclusively) American gaming giants straddling the Atlantic at will, poaching developers, wringing them dry and then closing, mothballing or patronising them with projects far beneath their creative standing (case in point, Rare’s late 2000s Kinect Sports games).
While I might not miss Fable, Lionhead’s demise remains a saddening episode for the UK games industry, and regrettably, very much the rule rather than the exception these days.