Sable Review: Not Quite Ready
There’s nothing worse than wasted potential. A game where all the important things are right, but little details consistently bring it down. That’s sadly the case with Sable. There’s a truly excellent game in here, and maybe eventually we’ll get to see it. For now, though, we’re left with a fascinating title that wasn’t quite ready.
Sable is a young girl of a nomadic tribe. Having reached the age of her Gliding, she must leave them and travel the world. All people here do this when they reach a certain age. It’s how they figure out who they are, choose an identity. Throughout your journey, you’ll experience many possible paths, only to ultimately have to choose one way forward. You won’t be alone on your trip, though.
One of the first things you do in Sable is build your trusted hover bike. These bikes are one of the main ways people get around in Sable’s world, and they have a life of their own. They can come when called. Characters frequently talk of feeling their messages and the life from them. Here the spiritual and the mechanical aren’t separate things at odds with each other. Faith and science sit together, creating something new.
While you start out in a desert, you’ll travel mountains, forests, lightning storms, a wide variety of areas. You’ll find abandoned stretches and the remains of villages. You’ll find cities and settlements, though few will be large. These aren’t a people who place too many roots. Ancient temples provide puzzles to solve and secrets of the universe to unveil.
Or maybe you won’t do any of that. Sable provides only the loosest of goals. The Gliding is about having the freedom to choose, and that comes through beautifully in its gameplay. While the game’s short opening has very specific goals, once the Gliding starts those go out the window. You start off with a suggestion of something you can do, but you’re free to ignore it. Even if you follow it, you’ll soon find yourself going in a million directions. Tons of people will give you quests you’re free to explore. Or don’t. There’s nothing forcing you to follow any set path. There’s no real story here. Environments will tell you about the land and you’ll learn more about the history of this place, but this is a game about the journey. There’s never a moment where the stakes grow; you know what you’re in for from the start.
Who Are You?
The ultimate goal of the Gliding is to figure out who you want to be. You could be a cartographer, riding high in the sky using balloons and creating maps to sell others. Or a machinist who works on hoverbikes. Perhaps you’d rather be a merchant, traveling the land and bringing your wares to others. There are many options, and you can explore as many or as few of them as you want.
Who you are in Sable is represented by a mask. You’ll gain a mask of your Gliding right at the start of the game but as you explore the world you’ll find everyone wears one. These masks tell the world who you are. As you complete objectives for others, you’ll receive badges that tie to their masks. For most of them when you get three badges you can go to a mask caster, strange and mystical beings, who create a new mask for you based on those. Your ultimate goal is to create masks until you have the ones you want and then choose one. There’s no hurry, though, and how you do that is always up to you. Craft just one or two and then end the game? That’s fine. Craft them all? Also a great choice.
My Friend Simoon
Moving around the world of Sable is a joy. While I sometimes wished Sable herself moved a tad bit faster, she’s fine. Sprinting only felt slightly faster, though. She can climb almost anything in a way that feels firmly pulled from Breath of the Wild. You’ll often come upon towering structures that seem insane to try climbing. Yet with a little ingenuity and patience, you’ll find your way to the top.
Riding your hoverbike likewise feels great. They maneuver well with a steady hum. The bike really does become your best companion, letting you cross large areas relatively quickly, yet not so quickly that you can’t take in the view. If you’re eager to get somewhere faster, there’s also a fast travel system which lets you almost instantly return to any landmarks or settlements you’ve visited. It’s simple and works great. The only core element of Sable that really doesn’t work is the navigation option which lets you place navigation points in real-time. It’s clunky with a strange camera angle and never felt good. You can easily place these points using your map in the pause menu so it was rarely an issue.
A Beautiful World
Speaking of the game’s views, Sable is absolutely stunning. This world is impeccably designed, with an ethereal quality few titles have ever matched. The closest comparison I can make for it is something like the Panzer Dragoon series, with a sense that we’re so far in the future that a lot of things have looped back around to the start. Graphically this is an absolutely stunning title with an art style that sings and also feels completely unique. The way the world changes with the light gives the world so many shades. Its really beautiful. An ambient soundtrack created by indie rock group Japanese Breakfast is distinctive and perfectly sets the mood wherever you go.
Trouble In Paradise
While so much of Sable works, it’s hard to overlook the state it is releasing in. Minor bugs are something I don’t focus on too much but it feels like I can’t go five minutes without an issue here. Dialogue options randomly don’t appear. Merchants’ shops appear to be empty. Though you can still cycle through items and buy them, they just don’t show up. Objects vanish, or you clip badly through them. I got stuck in the environment or had my character not grab onto things on multiple occasions. These aren’t issues that come up now and then; they happen regularly.
Even when I managed to go an extended stretch without finding a bug, performance like this is unacceptable on a system a powerful as the Series X. Slowdown is everywhere, in many areas I couldn’t even move the camera without things slowing to a crawl. This isn’t a fast-paced action game and it rarely became an issue in terms of playability, but its bad enough to be highly distracting which isn’t ideal when so much of what’s appealing about Sable is the atmosphere its creating. I want to get lost in this world. Far too often, I found myself pulled out of it by these issues.
Sable does so much well that it’s a shame that these issues consistently distract from its stunning world. This is the sort of game that may be easy to recommend in a few months after a few patches, but I can only rate the game as it is. There’s still a lot to like here if you’re willing to put up with some frustration along the way. Just know that if you purchase it now, you’ll be dealing with a less than smooth ride.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Xbox Series X(reviewed), Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Raw Fury; Developer: Shedworks; Players: 1; Released: September 23rd, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Sable.