It’s not very often that you come across an open-world game that is yours to explore as you see fit and that has no predetermined story to follow. Rarer still is to see such a game that also includes absolutely no combat at all, nor death. Sable, from two-person development studio Shedworks, then, is quite the departure from pretty much all the modern gaming tropes and it is both its superpower and its weakness all at the same time.
Sable sees you take control of a young girl called Sable who lives in the land of Midden. As the children of Midden reach the threshold of adulthood they are sent on what is known as The Gliding. Those who embark upon their Gliding take with them a Gliding Stone which allows them to channel energy into a orb, granting the bearer the ability to float through the air. This orb also protects you if you fall from a great height and saved our bacon more than once on our journey. Its major use comes when trying to climb many of Midden’s hard to reach places or solve many of the puzzles that you’ll come across as you guide Sable through her Gliding.
Whilst Sable doesn’t have any overarching storyline to guide you, there is an endpoint to your journey. Everyone in Midden wears a mask and they form a part of everyday life in Midden. Many of the masks are linked to professions and the ultimate goal is to eventually decide which mask you wish Sable to wear and complete her rite of passage. It’s a big decision as, once made, your Gliding ends, the Gliding Stone returned and Sable will embark upon adulthood in the mask you chose and, therefore, her profession. Masks are earned by collecting three badges. These can be earned by completing quests or, in some instances, trading for them. You can collect as many masks as you like and even wear them whilst out on your Gliding before ultimately returning home and making the final decision.
Sable is very much about the journey but the land of Midden is more than just getting masks. If you take the time to explore the nooks and crannies you’ll no doubt find as we did that there’s more to the story of Midden than meets the eye. Passing your first downed spaceship gives rise to many, many questions most of which can be answered. If you take the time and explore you’ll uncover quite an interesting story which needs a little gap filling on the part of the player but we found ourselves mightily intrigued as to how things came to be. This side-story though, is a little light and these ships mostly act as one big puzzle to solve before you’re granted access to the greater mystery.
Most of the puzzles in Sable are pretty straightforward with not one being too obtuse as to cause frustration, but some are challenging enough that solving them is very rewarding. They mostly revolve around finding the right path through and finding the right places to climb or float from to get to your objective. This is where your floating orb comes into its element as if you can’t quite reach that ledge, if you can get higher ground nearby you can often float to them. As mentioned there is no combat in Sable but there are also other staples of open-world games absent as well. There are no levels to grind, no skills to unlock, and only Sable’s stamina being a stat to improve. Whilst there are some customisation options in terms of your clothing and your bike, Sable is very much focussed on Sable, her bike and the adventure that is her Gliding.
Playing through Sable is in some ways rather liberating. If you really, really wanted to, you could go out and get the three badges for a mask and complete Sable’s Gliding in a smidge over two hours. It would be a totally legitimate playthrough and the game will happily let you do this. To do so, though, misses the point of what Sable is trying to do. Adolescence is a confusing time for most people. Sure, some people know exactly what they want to do with their lives but many have no idea and you’ll meet people well into their thirties who still have no clue about who they are and what they want to be. The rite of passage that The Gliding represents in Sable is about taking the transition into adulthood and using the time wandering the open world to you in Midden to try and discover Sable’s place in the world.
To fully role-play Sable’s Gliding you are taking her through the confusion and trying to find, through your interactions with the NPCs and their quests, exactly what sort of person Sable will transition into. What adventure most speaks to you? What do you feel defines her character more? By taking on side quests and exploring Midden to its fullest you discover its secrets and get a feel for just who Sable is. From there you may find in your playthrough that one mask fits better than others but you can delay that choice for as long as you feel like it. Exploring Midden is interesting to say the least with its cel-shaded art style making Sable stand out visually.
It’s not without issue, however, as there are times when foliage is floating in mid-air or trees and plants grow to twice their size because of the camera’s perspective. They eventually shift back but it’s a little off putting. There are also moments when riding your bike down dunes that you view is completely obscured by dust trails. Whilst you can shift the camera with your right stick, its movement isn’t snappy and so you’re left with a completely blanked out view for a second or two. This may sound like nit-picking but despite fast-travel being available, to see all the secrets Midden’s wastelands have in store, riding your bike is the best way to get around.
In Midden, bikes are an extension of the people who ride them. Sable’s bike, Simoon, is made specifically for her Gliding and is a close companion throughout. Along with Sable’s outfit, Simoon’s outfitting is the only other thing that can be customised in-game. During your adventures you can collect shaders and different parts and you can mix them any way you like at machinists who are dotted throughout Midden. There aren’t many collectibles in Sable with scrap and chum eggs being the only others. However, what would be nice is if the game would stop telling us what we’ve picked up each and every time we find an egg or a large cache of scrap. We know we’ve found a big box of scrap and yes, we know we can sell them for cuts — the currency of Midden — but we don’t need to be told once we’re finding our twentieth box.
Ultimately Sable is about the journey. How engaging and interesting it might be is entirely down to you. For some, the lack of combat and a storyline to point them in the right direction might be a rather big turnoff. For others, the lure of a game that is truly open and rewards those who explore will make Sable a decent time sink. There isn’t a large amount of replayability here, however, as there’s no real consequence to the path you choose. The world of Midden doesn’t alter as you move through it as it’s really only Sable that is changed by your journey together. As such, we highly recommend that if you do grab Sable you take the time and the effort to experience everything that Midden has to offer.
You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!