Within minutes of starting Sable, I managed to sequence a side quest while avidly exploring a lovely desert landscape, and from that point on, I was hooked. I’ve watched Shedworks’ serene open-world play from afar for years, after immediately falling in love with its low-poly art and the way its crimson protagonist cuts through the heavily inked horizon with a hoverbike. Sometimes the visual language of a game grabs you, and after a glance I knew Sable was my jam. Now that I’ve been able to play it for over an hour, I want it more than ever. That’s quite the look it is in the trailers – even more beautiful in motion, if anything – and it also packs a gripping narrative in an inviting world.
You play as Sable, a young girl who has just reached adulthood – what an age, I don’t know, but apparently an appropriate age to take a hoverbike and soar with some kind of energy bubble born from a technology. Ancient. This is all part of a rite of maturity called Gliding, which I guess is customary in Sable’s clan of masked nomads, the Ibexii. The Gliding is billed as a sort of quasi-religious pilgrimage – a worldly journey of enlightenment filtered through both steampunk and bio-organic technology, like Eureka Seven via Journey. All I can say for sure is that young Ibexii are given a hoverbike and a slide bubble before setting out to explore the world and decide for themselves the purpose and value of their trip. When they find their answer, or when the energy that powers their glider runs out, they return to the clan and build a more permanent life for themselves.
I only know this because I have spoken with other Ibexii to hear stories about their gliding. i say i know, But believe is probably more precise; Sable shows more than it says, and what it tells you is rooted in traditions that I am still understanding. Either way, I guess some Ibexii miss the freedom of gliding while others are happy to have settled in, and they are all eager to see Sable leave his mark on the world. The clan is a big family and their colony is a warm starting point for the game 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 conversation brings a healthy selection of possible interactions that allow you to personalize her personality in small but meaningful ways.
A day in the life of Sable
Sable begins with our titular heroine getting ready for her own gliding flight. It’s a day filled with revelations for her and me. Revelation number one: you can climb whatever, provided you have stamina. Instantly, it turns the world into a fun playground to roam around besides being a pleasure to witness. Low-poly doesn’t do Sable’s art justice. Shedworks pulled off a striking combination of harsh lines and cel shading that I can’t look away from. It emphasizes the details that matter by removing the details that don’t, and it fits perfectly with the ethereal emptiness of this world.
My first quest – and I mean a real quest which is followed in a quest tab – is to activate my Sliding Stone on an ancient altar on the outskirts of Ibexii Camp. To that end, I’m given a test hoverbike that smokes at a rate that makes Mad Max’s clunkers look eco-friendly, but even that old rusty glides smoothly across the sandy plains. I wasn’t able to pilot the iconic hovercraft in Sable’s many trailers during my demo, so I can’t wait to put it to the test in the full game.
On my way to the altar, a visibly scalable tower catches my eye. After a few unsuccessful attempts to run and jump between the pillars, I finally reached the top of the tower, and with another running start and some luck, I jumped over a huge gap which I know it now, was designed with the all-important glide bubble. in mind – the bubble that I haven’t unlocked yet because I haven’t been to the ruins. But with a little elbow grease and a little mountaineering riding on Skyrim, I manage to get through. On the way up, I grab a chum egg from a cute little floating worm. When I reach the top, I loot a chest for 100 denominations – the currency of this world – and take atomic power from what looks like the remains of a ship.
I don’t know at this point, but I just completed pieces of several side quests that I didn’t even discover. Later in my demo, I can use the Chum Egg to attract beetles so I can catch them and trade them in for a piece of my current hoverbike. I can, but I don’t; instead, I’m just taking the thing from the hiding place of the sneering kid who stole it from a crashed ship before I could. Steal from thieves; just call me Sable Cooper. Cuts, on the other hand, are used to buy a map of the region from a finicky cartographer. A dialogue snippet for this quest assures me that a young girl getting ready for her gliding wouldn’t have any cuts to spare, which makes me smile blissfully with my big wallet. The power supply is also used for my hoverbike which gives me another leg up on my shopping list when I start to assemble it.
By sheer coincidence and curiosity, I was able to dip my toes into several quests and areas way ahead of schedule, and all of this within the first hour of the game. That’s about the highest praise I can give a open world. A good game world is filled with opportunities to find your own way, and according to my demo, the world of Sable is as big on personal freedom as its history. Storytelling and design harmonizing with a central theme – you love to see it.
I’m also continually stunned and thrilled at how much of a video game Sable is. Don’t know what I was expecting, but I know I wasn’t expecting a formal quest system, customizable outfits, unattached climbing, an energy bubble straight out of Gravity Rush , world maps with custom waypoints, chests filled with cash, and a branch dialogue. Maybe it was the floating, atmospheric trailers, or maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention, but I never thought Sable would be such a rich open-world experience. I would have stayed just for art and music, but Sable is so much more. I can’t wait to see what else he has up his crimson sleeve.