The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out more than a year ago, which means enough time has passed that we’re starting to see its influence on other games. One upcoming game that draws heavily from Link’s adventure is Sable, a new title from Shedworks, a two-person indie team from London. Development on the game started around the same time that the Switch launched last year, and when the team played Zelda for the first time, they realized it was built on many of the same core fundamentals as their fledgling project. “We’ve learned so much from Breath of the Wild,” says Daniel Fineberg, lead programmer on Sable.
The titular lead character in Sable is a young girl who sets out on a pilgrimage of sorts. When people reach a certain age in this world, they head to the desert to meet new people and understand different cultures. But before the story kicks off, the first thing you’ll probably notice is how incredible the game looks. It’s like a comic from Jean “Moebius” Giraud has been brought to life in three dimensions. The version of Sable that I played at E3 was still fairly early, but even with some technical hiccups, the world looks gorgeous. It’s the kind of place where there’s always something cool-looking just over the horizon, begging to be explored — which is good, since that’s the core of the game.
Sable takes place in a fairly open world, and you aren’t given explicit directions on where to go or what to do. The idea is to follow interesting things — a tower far off in the distance or the glow of fire from a nearby camp — and see where they take you. Sable is a narrative-driven game, but the developers say that there isn’t one single defining story. Instead, it’s more like a collection of smaller tales that you learn as you encounter people in the desert. (The story is being written by Meg Jayanth, who penned the excellent choose-your-own adventure-style game 80 Days.)
This lack of direction and the sparse, immersive world are reminiscent of Breath of the Wild, and there are other similarities as well. For one, you can climb on just about anything in Sable, limited only by your stamina gauge. Sable also has the ability to slide down big sand dunes. The game has a very holistic design, where elements of the gameplay are largely there to serve the story, and vice versa.
For instance, Sable, along with just about everyone in the world, rides around the desert on a hoverbike. (They look a bit like Rey’s machine from The Force Awakens.) It’s fun to speed around on, but more importantly, it’s an object that’s of great importance to the people in this place. It’s akin to a camel or horse, and you are able to customize your speeder to really tailor it to the character. The developers want you to form a relationship with it, much in the same way that players did with the horse Agro in Shadow of the Colossus. “It’s an important part of the culture and society of this world,” says Gregorios Kythreotis, lead designer and artist on Sable.
There is, of course, a difference of scale when compared to Nintendo’s grand epic. One of the reasons the Shedworks team chose a desert setting is because it’s relatively sparse, and thus much easier to pull off for a small team. (Kythreotis and Fineberg are the only two full-time people working on the game, but there are multiple contributors, including Jayanth, who are helping to shape things like story, animation, and sound.)
But perhaps the most notable difference is that there’s no combat in Sable at all. Instead, the focus is entirely on the story and exploration. In addition to speeding around the open desert and talking to a few kind desert folks, I was also able to explore an ancient ruin, which mostly amounted to solving a few simple puzzles while searching for a mysterious set of armor. The result is a peaceful, beautiful game that won’t take 100 hours of your life in the way Breath of the Wild did, but it still captures the feeling of discovery in a smaller, lighter package.
Sable is coming to the PC and Xbox One in late 2019.