Sable review: Better than your action-packed adventure
SableYou can even sit back and admire the scenery. You don’t have to stand and watch your main character do a silly animation that makes him squat. To make your main character, the red-cloaked one, cross-legged you can push a button. This little flourish isn’t key to completing the game — you don’t need it for quests, or to solve puzzles — but it captures the ethos of the game perfectly. Sable’s world is gorgeous and vast, and part of the joy of playing is simply taking a moment to sit and take it all in.
Sable is the debut game from Shedworks — a two-person team based out of the U.K. consisting of Daniel Fineberg and Gregorios Kythreotis. It’s a sweeping, third-person open-world adventure set in a vast desert landscape where you play as a masked girl named Sable. Throughout the game, you’ll explore its world by climbing and gliding Take a deep breath of the wildHumming on your hoverbike is a great way to express yourself. Sable isn’t your typical action-packed adventure, though — it’s a game whose beauty comes from the joys of slowing down and appreciating the current moment of life.
The game starts off by sending Sable on her rite of passage called the “Gliding.” In this ritual, Sable gets a stone imbued with a power that allows her to glide through the sky in an orange-red bubble. With this power, she can leave her tiny village, and see the larger world — embarking on a journey to figure out what type of life she’d like to live. The solemnity of leaving Sable’s camp for the first time, mixed with the feeling of possibility, reminded me of leaving home for college. It was bittersweet to think of the anticipation that I would be going, as I remember the moment I pulled out from my driveway.
You leave Sable’s camp to explore stunning landscapes, created with detailed linework and cel-shaded graphics and visuals inspired by movies like Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the WindI. My first area was full of subtle pinks and oranges. It reminded me of sunsets. Each region has its unique color scheme and themes. This world is vast and offers many possibilities. There are merchant camps and giant machinery that has been decaying, as well as strange land formations such towering crystal pillars and brambling trees.
SableExploration can be its own motivator. You don’t fight. Instead you just walk around, using your hoverbike as a means of traveling long distances. You can also get on your hoverbike to explore interesting places, such as an abandoned spaceship partially submerged in the sand, or an old temple. Most exploration involves climbing up cliff faces or other oddities. You also have the option of jumping from high places and then gliding around in your glowing bubble. The Japanese Breakfast soundtrack plays throughout your exploration.
Walking on the trails is an adventure. The climbs allow you to show a lot of creativity, almost like a puzzle. With many step-like sections, the climbing is quick and fairly punctuated. While you can upgrade Sable’s stamina bar, most climbs can be done with the standard amount of energy. I used my hoverbike to find a monument or cliff, then planned a route for me to climb it.
Sable’s limited stamina made the world even more compelling for me. Similar games were played. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildSome of the magic disappears in the final game, when Link is so strong that you can almost climb anywhere. You reach a point where Link is so strong you don’t need to strategize, whereas in Sable strategizing remains a core part of the gameplay. And while there are a few bugs, they weren’t a huge impediment to my enjoyment. (The game’s beautiful linework style can make cliff corners hard to see, which led me to fall needlessly, at times. There were also times where the game glitched and didn’t let me go from gliding to climbing, so I would hit a cliff face and just fall.)
Sable’s exploration elements are all beautifully tied into Sable’s coming-of-age journey. At each town, you can visit a mystical mask crafter — there are cartographer’s masks or a merchant’s, for example, each representative of different jobs or identities in the larger world. There are many people you meet along your journey. One example is Elisabet who claims she joined an elite guard unit in large towns because of her hurry. This decision feels laced with regret — expediting her journey meant forgoing things like swimming in underground lakes, or going to see the region of Hakoa.
These character encounters shine, thanks to the game’s great writing and unique dialogue system. Throughout the game, players don’t just read the other character’s dialogue, but also get to read a separate side narration from Sable (denoted by a different font). For example, when Sable meets the head merchant of a big city, for the first time, the player can read Sable’s thoughts: “I can feel her eyes narrow on me, and imagine the drag of her tongue along her upper teeth. She dislikes me very much.” This does more than lend a poetic flair to the game. We can also better comprehend what Sable sees in her world.
The end of each day. SableThis shows us how we can grow by not conquering the entire world but simply by taking time to appreciate its beauty and learn from it. It’s OK to not rush to grow up and do the next thing, or chase the next accomplishment. You can grow by simply taking in all the wonderful moments that life has to offer. You can find it in the simple act of sitting and savoring a beautiful view, or spending time with a friend. This can be as simple as catching and eating bugs throughout the day. This can also be achieved by gliding across a serene landscape.
The game reminded me that perfection isn’t a prerequisite for a work of art to be meaningful, or for a young person to be valued and supported. SableThe perfect example is bugs, all.
Sable It was available on Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X on September 23, 2009. Xbox.com reviewed the game. Vox Media also has affiliate relationships. They do not affect editorial content. However, Vox Media might earn commissions for products bought via affiliate links. Find out more. additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here