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Fable: The Journey preview: Speak and spell

Shortly after Fable 3 was first announced, Peter Molyneux announced that it would include support for what was then called Project Natal. Of course, the final game abandoned that ambition with Molyneux explaining that in order to do right by both Kinect and Fable, his team at Lionhead simply needed more development time. So when Microsoft announced a Kinect-exclusive Fable game during yesterday's press conference – titled Fable: The Journey – it might seem obvious that some of that jettisoned Fable 3 content had been repackaged as a standalone Kinect title ... except it hasn't. "Whilst we thought about doing a gimmick or two for Fable 3, it was always in the back of my mind that it would be great to do a Fable for Kinect," Molyneux explained in his second demo ever for the new title.

In fact, the team working on The Journey isn't even the same as the team that made Fable 3. When he explained that the Journey team had two years worth of experience developing for Kinect, we had to ask you know what. "A lot of the team were working on Milo," Peter admitted after getting a nod from the game's marketing manager in the back of the room. "A lot of the Milo tech we're not showing off. This is the first outing of this so we're keeping some of our big stuff safe behind. A lot of the stuff you can do in Fable: The Journey is some of the stuff that was originally found in Milo."

Gallery: Fable: The Journey (E3 2011) | 6 Photos

That unique DNA is found elsewhere in the production. For example, instead of using the Fable 3 engine or even the Milo project's impressive engine, the Journey team being led by Lionhead veteran Gary Carr is using Unreal Engine 3, which Molyneux explained "has proven to be fantastic, because you can craft things so much quicker." The Milo engine, while impressive, only had to succeed in crafting a handful of locations, like Milo's bedroom. The Journey, on the other hand, covers over 300 miles of Albion, Carr says.

So The Journey team has effectively started from scratch, building an entirely new Fable experience in a new, admittedly streamlined, engine. And they've created something that manages to capture some of that Fable aesthetic, while looking unlike anything else in the franchise's history.

The game's primary mechanic is driving a horse and carriage. "The real inspiration was sitting down in a chair and driving a horse and carriage," Molyneux explained. "As soon as we solved that, everything else seemed simple." The process of driving the horse is a relaxed affair, one that Molyneux says he intends to be playable with your arms down. If you don't even feel like doing that, you'll be able to use voice commands to instruct your horse; for example a stern "whoa" to slow it down or a click to giddyup.

You play the role of a dweller; in the grand tradition of Fable games you're ... well, you're not in that grand tradition. Your dweller isn't a hero, and doesn't have heroic blood coursing through his veins. "You really are just an everybody," Molyneux says.

A lot of the stuff you can do in Fable: The Journey is some of the stuff that was originally found in Milo.- Peter Molyneux

Long-standing Fable character Theresa is mortally wounded and, while her ability to peer into the future might normally inform her ability to seek out the help of a real hero, she's forced to settle for your decidedly non-heroic dweller. And while you're not genetically destined for greatness, you do have the ability to use magic. What about the Fable series' two other offensize components, shooting and melee? "It's just magic," Molyneux said. "You will be able to make things which you'll more associate with melee stuff like spears."

In a battle we saw, our non-hero was able to conjure magic and form it into a spear, which he then aimed and threw right into an enemy Hobbe which not only skewered him, but exploded the entire platform he was standing on. Our demo guide used his hands to make gestures – making a ring activated a Slow Time spell – and molded magical power to create spells, which could then be pushed out towards enemies and even controlled mid-air. Keeping your hands close to your body lets you mix your magic, while holding your hands away would aim and fire your attacks. The system looked surprisingly reactive, and what initially seemed like flailing revealed itself to be a little more nuanced.

In addition to forming spears, Molyneux said players will be able to create shields, hammers, fishing rods, and telescopes, which hints at even deeper experiences in this pseudo-core Kinect offering. "This game definitely has been made for people who maybe haven't had the courage to play a controller-based game before," Molyneux said, quickly adding, "and those people who really love controller-based games." It's far too early to say how close Fable: The Journey gets to the promise of creating a competent core Kinect title, but our short time with the demo showed us that we shouldn't count it out.

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