Sable is one of those games where I became hooked the moment I saw it. I didn’t even need to see gameplay to know that I was going to play it when it released. The game takes direct inspiration from artist Moebius, and it’s breathtaking to look at. Moebius’ surreal otherworldly aesthetic translates perfectly to this alien planet video exploration game.
I was getting a little worried that it might not release this year due to COVID, but thankfully it managed to quietly release in the final weeks of September. Now I can spend the first humid weeks of Autumn gliding through a sun-kissed desert, leaving a cloud of dust in my wake.
A Sci-Fi Coming of Age Story
Young Sable has just turned to traditional gliding age, which means she must take her own glider and head out on her own journey of self-discovery. The goal is to meet with different people around the area, challenge herself and learn from both the present and the past. In the end, she must return to her tribe and choose a mask that will dictate what occupation she will take for the rest of her life.
A pretty daunting task, but the freedom that she is given for her journey means that she can take as long as she sees fit to make her choice. Her life is in her hands, and that means the player has a surprising amount to experience. Sable has a quest system to earn “cut” the game’s currency as well as dyes, bike parts, and masks; however, the quests aren’t anything special for the most part.
Many of them are simply fetch quests, but there are missions where you will be challenged to navigate certain sections of geography or have to find a way to unlock old spaceships to plunder. Learning how to navigate the environment was my favorite part of Sable, which is a good thing because there is quite a bit of it.
While the main draw is the glider and riding around the different desserts in Sable’s world, the glider can not climb mountains like a Skyrim horse, and there are a lot of high places to explore. Sable takes a lot of inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it shows.
Climbing drains your stamina bar and upgrades to stamina circle around the original bar. Sable can even whistle to call her glider to her like Link calling his trusty steed. There is even a gliding mechanic, but instead of a paraglider, Sable uses a bubble that manifests out of a magic stone.
The magic stone is something that is passed down to gliders who are ready for their journey and is used to make the passage safer for the children. When the glider is ready to return to their tribe for the final ceremony, the stone will lose its powers, and the glider will no longer have that safety blanket in their life. The final ceremony is when the game ends, but there is no rush to attend.
You are free to delay it until you have done every single thing there possibly is in the game. Don’t leave a single mountain unconquered because trust me, you’ll regret it. Sable’s at its best when you challenge yourself to see everything because it will often reward you for doing so in one way or another.
And when you do finally return, you will be able to choose any of the masks that you collected during your journey. This is another great way to encourage that the player tries to do everything that they possibly can before they return back to their family tribe. I would hate to be stuck being a scrapper the rest of my life.
An Opportunity to Define Yourself
The entire purpose of Sable is to define who Sable is over time, and luckily, there are a number of ways that she is able to do that before the end of her journey. The first few that are immediately available to the player are through her clothing and bike parts.
Clothes can be obtained at shops and scattered throughout the wastes in obscure locations. They can represent the people that reside in those lands, the different clan functions, or the ancient people who were lost long ago.
The clothes have a history to them, and it felt like when I put on part of an ensemble that I was representing that group even if they were no longer around. The bike parts can function in a similar way, but they play a much bigger role in gameplay.
Each part can affect the speed, acceleration, handling of the glider while also making the bike look very cool. Each of the parts can be dyed to add another dash of customization.
For most of the game, I was rocking the speedster setup, but once I completed “The Ancient Race” and unlocked parts from a civilization long ago, I knew I had something that proved my willingness to explore every facet of the desserts.
I wanted to roll up to the tribe reunion, looking like a completely different child than the one that left. Though it may not be the best set of parts in the game, they do look very otherworldly.
Finally, the masks are unlocked in several ways: collecting badges, completing quests, or, in one strange instance, finding it. Badges can be earned by completing quests for people within that specific faction, so completing quests for a Machinist will typically earn you a badge for them. You need three badges to earn a mask, but there are more than three badges for each mask scattered around the world, so it’s pretty easy to get the minimum.
The quest-specific masks are the most interesting ones, like the climber’s mask, which challenges Sable to climb to some of the most difficult areas of the map. Or gathering scrap around the world to turn in for cut, which eventually rewards the player with a mask as well. I had a lot of fun exploring the world of Sable finding out all of these details, but there certainly were a few issues with this charming title.
Sable stutters a lot when you are gliding through parts of the map which is a huge disappointment because it interrupts a lot of the serenity of the travel. I was most looking forward to losing myself in long glides through the desert, but constant frame drops made me sick and stick to mountain climbing for the majority of the game. The game also crashed once or twice, which seems a little ridiculous for such a small title.
However, I can largely forgive this for two reasons: The game is great overall in every other area, and it was made by a super small team of new developers. This is their first release, so it’s understandable that there are going to be some hiccups, and I’m sure it will get an update at some point to help improve performance. Full disclosure that I’m playing the game through Game Pass, so I’m not too pressed that it isn’t perfect right now.
I felt like I was on an adventure, and Sable gave me the same feeling that Journey gave me all those years ago. Getting lost in this world and soaking up its setting, lore, and characters is the entire point. There were times where I would simply sit in a cave with a storyteller, enjoying every second of being immersed in this charming world. I look forward to whatever Shedworks has in store next. 8/10