When Shedworks first revealed Sable at E3 2018, we were immediately captivated by its unique art style and character design. Very little information was known about the game, but even then, we began drawing parallels to Journey, another adventure game in a desert setting with strong themes of solitude and exploration. Fast forward to more than three years later, Sable has finally arrived. While it delivers an excellent story with some compelling themes, it’s not without some gameplay issues.
Time to glide
Sable is named after its protagonist, a young woman on the cusp of adulthood. Belonging to a nomadic clan, Sable looks to begin her Gliding, a rite of passage that sees young members of the clan depart and explore the world on their own. As a part of her Gliding, Sable will need to build her own hoverbike, a popular mode of transportation across the world’s vast landscapes. She’ll also need to choose her mask. The characters in the world of Sable wear masks, and they’re often used to signify a person’s profession or role in society.
From its earliest moments, Sable is drenched in lore. After spending just over an hour with them, I felt like I had known the clan for as long as Sable had. From her sweet relationship with Jadi, an older member of the clan that’s a mother figure for Sable, as well as Saima, a younger child that looks up to Sable like an older sibling. I felt the same sorrow and longing that Sable did when she had to be away from her people. It made me think of when I left for college, or when I moved out of my parents’ home to go live on my own.
There’s also a great bit of world-building in just about every aspect of Sable. When she assembles her hoverbike, it’s given a name, Simoon. Sable is told that bikes have emotions and thoughts, just like we do. As you play through the game, you can feel Sable develop a tangible relationship with Simoon, and you even start to feel it yourself.
Sable is entirely text-only, and just about every character wears a mask that obscures their face. Despite that, the game still expertly conveys emotion, a testament to how well the dialogue is written. Though Sable speaks very frequently, we don’t usually see exactly what she says. Instead, she tells us the gist of what she’s saying to somebody, while also revealing her thought process and adding observations. It’s a nice touch that gives more insight to Sable as a character and how she perceives the people and world around her.
Where the wind takes you
Sable is a game that truly wants you to play at your own pace. The expansive world of Midden was inspired by The Force Awakens’ Jakku, and you’re encouraged to roam the sandy lands just as Rey did. The story isn’t linear, as the player is meant to experience it in different parts, in no particular order, using what they learn to piece together the greater narrative.
Of course, you could try to pinpoint story beats and mainline the narrative, but it’s not in the spirit of the game. Sable is best when you cruise around on your speeder, interacting with parts of the world that catch your interest. It’s incredibly laid back, which may not work for some players.
There’s also no combat in Sable, as it’s puzzles are the primary mode of gameplay. As you explore ships and abandoned ruins, you’ll need to solve puzzles in order to acquire items and reach certain destinations. A lot of puzzles feel like platformers, with players having to use Sable’s climbing skills (strongly influenced by Breath of the Wild), in tandem with her Gliding stone (which lets her slowly float through the air) in order to reach locations.
I found Sable’s puzzles to be fairly hit or miss. Some were kind of clever, but a lot just felt like redoing the same thing from a previous puzzle. They usually weren’t too challenging, though it’s fair to say that the game isn’t necessarily meant to be difficult.
As I made my way through Sable, I found that the game’s navigation interface could use some work. Players can bring up a 3D compass around themselves, which features quest objectives and personal markers. However, the markers weren’t consistently accurate. Often times, the marker wouldt teleport back and forth when I got relatively close to a target, leading me to wander around an area looking for it.
Poetry in motion
Sable gained a lot of attention just off of its visual presentation. The game’s hand-drawn style and use of lines made me feel like I was playing through a storybook. It’s a very minimalist approach, yet every building and piece of environment feels thoroughly defined. The game excellently uses color to give life to the characters and creatures met along the journey. When the sun goes down, colors get muted and flushed out. When I looked off into the distance, I could see tiny outlines of massive structures just beginning to form on the horizon. Every frame of Sable is a piece of artwork.
The entire experience is enhanced by an impressive original soundtrack. Indie rock band Japanese Breakfast created the music for Sable, offering some amazing tunes for what is mostly an isolated journey. The music was almost haunting as I explore abandoned ruins, and bursting with life as I zoomed through the desert on my hoverbike.
Finding your way
Sable is a beautiful story about self-discovery. It’s themes of solitude and what it means to be independent strongly resonated with me. The game is bolstered by a one-of-a-kind art style and an excellently crafted original soundtrack. If you can handle a slow burn and push some UI issues aside, Sable is an overwhelmingly pleasant experience.
This review is based on a digital Steam code provided by the publisher. Sable launches on September 23, 2021 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X for $19.99 USD.
- Strong characters and themes
- Mesmerizing art style
- Excellent original soundtrack
- UI could use some work
- Puzzles were hit or miss
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, Sable review: The journey beyond
Pretty excited for this one. Being on GamePass helps also!
Donovan: did you "beat" the game and if so how long did it take?
For sure for sure ... No doubt no doubt
Cool cool cool cool cool