Figuring out what we want to do with our lives isn’t easy. What we’re good at, what we love doing, what’s available to us — all of these vary wildly and greatly influence the path we decide to take. Sable is set in a post-apocalyptic world, but it’s not about saving it. It’s not about a struggle to survive or anything like that either. Instead, it’s purely about peace, introspection, and choice. The way forward is found simply via picking a spot on the horizon and traveling to it, which makes it one of the most tranquil, rewarding open-world games you can find.
Sable is named after the game’s main character. She’s a young woman who’s part of a camp of nomadic travelers. Upon reaching adulthood, the people of this land set out on a trial they call the Gliding. They obtain a stone that allows them to, well, glide. It also lets them fall from any height without any harm being done. The point of the Gliding is simply collect three badges to acquire masks that align with a profession, such as machinist, merchant, or climber. There’s no antagonist, no danger; just the world and your hoverbike.
Although there isn’t a focused narrative as such, Sable still has engaging writing. Dialogue isn’t voiced, and Sable herself doesn’t talk out loud much beyond the dialogue choices you select. But her internal monologue is rich and does a wonderful job of demonstrating what sort of person she is. There are some other subplots with certain characters, plus you can hunt down terminals on crashed ships that fill in the pieces of what happened to a doomed crew. All of this is of similarly high quality. Of course, you don’t need to concern yourself with anything that doesn’t spark your interest.
Off in the distance
During Sable‘s introduction, you explore the region around her tribe’s camp. Your main goal here is to scavenge materials to build your hoverbike, which you’ll use to get around. The game gives you a single breadcrumb that leads you to your first badge and a nearby settlement, but after that, you’re on your own. There’s very little handholding, although the game is quite clear and players aren’t likely to get stuck. The game’s world is divided into six regions, and you can go anywhere you want, whenever you want.
The world is large and the stretches between points of interest are often barren, but this is a post-apocalyptic wasteland after all. The long and short of it is that you’ll pick a direction while keeping your eyes peeled for these said points of interest. When you find one and explore it a bit, it’ll get added to your map and you can fast travel to it at will. This game isn’t interested in wasting your time, which I greatly appreciated. Since you want badges, your best bet is to find settlements and accept quests. Completing many of these rewards you with a variety of different badges.
And I do mean a variety. There are a lot of different masks to unlock, and many of Sable‘s quests aren’t the easiest to find — players will have very different playthroughs. Acquiring badges can become fetch quests, sure, but the tasks may surprise you. At one point, you’ll do detective work to solve the mystery of who shut off a town’s power. Or maybe a guy wants you to steal some eggs from a bird. The quests are interesting and different enough that I was always looking forward to what was next.
We are who we are
Once you have three badges you deliver them to a, machine person of sorts? Sable then reaches into its face and pulls the new mask out. That sounds about right. Once you have a few masks, the game lets you choose Sable’s career and see the ending. Of course, you don’t have to do this at all. After beating the game, your save returns you to the point just before you embarked on the final section, so you can’t miss anything. I adore how everything is purely up to the player in Sable.
As for the general gameplay, it’s engrossing. The hoverbike is kind of slow, but driving it has character. The game itself is practically a platformer, as you’ll constantly be climbing, jumping, and gliding while exploring to get around. You climb by approaching a rock surface and pressing forward, which causes Sable to start scaling it. Let’s not mince words, it’s just like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. One can think of Sable as Nintendo’s game without combat or crafting — this is a more meditative experience. Of course, what would it be if you couldn’t increase your stamina along the way?
Early on, you’ll (hopefully) find the Chum Nest. It’s home to the Chum Queen and she’ll grant you tears once you find enough Chums out in the world. There are a lot of these things and they’re all over the place. Each tear increases Sable’s maximum stamina. I know the other aforementioned game started this, but I still loved it in Sable. Despite being made by just a couple of people, Sable has a lot going on. I put a dozen hours into it and saw a lot of what it has to offer. But there is still much that I didn’t see, as I didn’t find several masks, and I was missing a lot of Chums by the end.
Fashion in the wasteland
Speaking of masks, the game is heavily focused on outfits. You’ll also find currency and clothing items while exploring. You can use the currency to purchase new clothing items, dyes for your bike, or bike parts. I made my bike look like a boat and then mixed it with the default bike to give it wings. Then I dyed it multiple pastel colors. There are tons of outfit items and I enjoyed mixing and matching them with all the masks. Some of the bike parts can be quite pricey, though.
Of course, Sable has a distinctive, Moebius-inspired art style. It looks good, but it’s also quite basic, with low polygon counts and cel shaded textures. Despite how rudimentary the graphics are, the game runs quite poorly however. The performance is pretty much the only thing I didn’t like about the game. Framerate can dip to the low 20s on my setup. I’d like to point out that Kena: Bridge of Spirits came out the day before, and that game runs much better despite having vastly more complicated visuals. Sable‘s in-game movements appear to intentionally have very few frames of animation. I don’t really understand why this was necessary, as it’s jarring.
Technical issues notwithstanding, I loved my time with Sable and will absolutely be going back to do some more exploring to buy more outfits and get more masks. Anyone who loves exploration, the idea of driving a hoverbike in a desert, or climbing anything and everything should absolutely give this game a look, as it’s more than worth a purchase, even if you have no intention of deciding what to do with your life. After all, sometimes it’s fine to just wander alone.