Sable (Xbox Series S) Review

With nothing but the gentle hum of a hoverbike between your legs and a vast desert in front of you, is it worth accompanying Sable on her coming-of-age pilgrimage?
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Sable – developed by Shedworks and published by Raw Fury – is a refreshing, indie, open-world adventure, with a strong focus on exploration, discovery, and a healthy dose of self-discovery. All without any combat or risk of death. It stands in stark contrast to most games, offering no real character progression, no impetus to systematically clear regions, and no immediate threat. Yet despite the low stakes, Sable made for a more compelling experience than 95% of open-world games released over the last 15 years. Unfortunately, for a game so dependent on immersing you in its world, technical issues do their best to mar the experience.

Story

Sable puts you in control of the titular character as she leaves her tribe to embark on a “gliding”. It’s a coming-of-age pilgrimage, which sees adolescents temporarily gifted with a hoverbike – both named and treated with reverence – and a literal gliding ability (the “power of the perpetual”), before heading into arid wastes.

Sable’s task is to discover and interact with the other tribes and assist adults in their respective professions. Doing so will earn her guild “badges”, allowing her to forge a mask representative of that profession (after she obtains three of them), before she must return to the tribe, give up her gifts, and commit to a future profession. She’s excited but uncertain of her abilities, and this is reflected in the excellent and often humorous writing, which covers both direct dialogue and her internal thoughts. Sable is young but helpful, internally confident but outwardly awkward.

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The literal ability to “glide” is an important part of traversal and allows you to explore some incredible locations.

If that sounds like a daunting proposition, it is. But it provides the narrative backbone for a low-risk journey of discovery to distant corners of a diverse map, packed with quirky characters, stunning natural features, the ruins of an ancient civilisation, and more recent spaceship wrecks. Sable is one of the few games that allows you to just pick a direction and go, a game in which soaking up incredible vistas before setting course for distant structures is all part of the appeal.

Sable’s task is not to fulfil some preordained destiny, take up some “chosen one” mantle, or defeat a great threat. She’s out to learn more about the world, its history, the people in it, while trying to decide on her place within it. There’s plenty of lore to discover, some enlightening, and some foreboding, but, ultimately, the more you explore, the more it feels like you’re gathering knowledge that Sable and the tribes could one day use to return to the stars. To say too much more about the story is to do a disservice to the exploration-driven gameplay.

That said, Sable is not an aimless game – you’re advised on where to visit first, there’s a quest log, and most missions have map markers. However, it is a game that gives back as much as you put in. If you want to learn more about the planet’s original inhabitants, assist the Machinists in exploring ancient ruins. If you want to learn more about your space-faring predecessors, assist the Scrappers in looting spaceship wrecks. Help the guards solve a crime in the large city Eccria to discover more about the societal structure (and score a badge for your efforts), tackle the daunting climb to Cartographer balloons to claim their badge, or simply earn enough “cuts” to purchase the Merchant badges. As soon as Sable forges her first mask, she can return to the tribe and end her gliding, but the world is begging to be explored and hidden knowledge is waiting to be discovered.

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Sable is at its best when you find yourself at the end of an arduous climb looking back down to where you started.

Gameplay

When it comes to the gameplay loop, Sable’s relative simplicity is both a strength and a weakness. You can run, jump, and glide; climb any natural surface or select man-made surfaces (stamina meter permitting); lug around small objects, like seed pods and power cores; engage in limited dialogue with NPCs; and cruise the dunes on your hoverbike. There’s a collectathon-type quest that boosts your maximum stamina and you can purchase new hoverbike components – which affect maximum speed, acceleration, and handling – but all the abilities you need to completely explore the world are there from the get-go.

It was initially odd not to have a progression-driven gameplay loop but, ultimately, it felt liberating. You’re never locked out of a quest or unable to reach a location due to arbitrary requirements. Hoverbike parts aren’t essential and faction clothing simply exists to let you role-play. Some upgrades might make the journey quicker, but there’s always a path. 

Traversal challenges revolve around lengthy platforming sections that require you to identify safe routes – there are visual cues, of course – and often require a degree of timing. This is especially true when exploring spaceship wrecks, which are often crashed in awkward orientations, full of moving parts, and offer a limited number of climbable surfaces. These cavernous ships and sprawling ancient ruins function as small puzzle dungeons, often combining platforming with basic puzzling – think activating switches, hauling around batteries, and dealing with several physics-based objects. There are some standout quests in spectacular locations, but you’ll be doing variations of the same puzzles repeatedly, and this becomes noticeable the longer you play. On the upside, Sable moves at a brisk pace and a playthrough – tackling all but one quest that required unmarked collectables – took me just under 15 hours.

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Most puzzles follow the same basic formula, which makes it easy to observe and work out the solution, but this can also make them feel repetitive if you tackle all the content on offer.

Presentation

With a world designed around vast spaces and distinctive landmarks, Sable is a much tighter experience than you’d expect given the premise and apparent size of the map. You can often see a place of interest from afar, and the map automatically updates with new locations you can fast-travel back to. If you reach a Cartographer, their detailed maps make it even easier to spot ruins and man-made structures to aim for. Getting there on your hoverbike takes time but exploring a new area is often a cathartic task when paired with the audio-visual experience – moments that allow you to truly soak up the scale of the environments and ruins.

The environment and everything in it feels hand-crafted, with striking visuals that rely on and simple flat textures, but with contrasting pastel colours and sharp lines for detail. When exploring spaceship wrecks, the cold and sterile environments use metallic whites and grey, along with harsh blue and red lighting, all of which stand in sharp contrast to the vibrant desert. Most animations look good – aside from dismounting the hoverbike – but Sable and other characters move at a lower framerate than the rest of the world, like Japanese limited animation techniques.

The soundtrack, composed by indie-rock group Japanese Breakfast, is mostly instrumental – aside from the title and credits – but excels at generating an atmosphere befitting of the lonely but vibrant desert environments and bustling, tribal settlements. Although there is no actual danger, several moody and unsettling tracks, coupled with loud and intimidating ambient audio, perfectly complement more ominous locations like deep caves and cavernous spaceship holds.

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A handful of ancient ruins and larger spaceships provide the most visually impressive and complex locations to traverse and puzzle through.

Technical issues

Unfortunately, Sable is plagued by technical issues that frequently break immersion. Despite taking up just over 2GB – enough to fit entirely in the available RAM on an OG Xbox One – the game stuttered constantly on Xbox Series S and PC. It doesn’t even seem to be an issue with rendering load, as the issue is most prominent when cruising on the border between two distinct regions. The game stutters, objects pop in and out, textures and the skybox invert colours or turn black, while the controls can become unresponsive (particularly annoying when climbing). The experience was moderately better on PC – even using an older gaming notebook that should be surpassed by the Xbox Series S – but these issues remain.

On top of this, the hoverbike can be an unruly beast – irrespective of the upgrades you acquire – spinning and clipping into the terrain or flipping around 180° after gently brushing a rock. This becomes a major issue when exploring any region with rocky outcrops, dense vegetation, or petrified trees. Many a spectacular cruise into regions unknown was ruined by both these issues, breaking my sense of immersion. A patch is needed asap.

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Cruising the dunes on Simoon is always a cathartic experience – so long as technical issues don’t crop up to destroy any sense of immersion.

Conclusions

To Sable’s credit, even these technical issues couldn’t dampen my love of the experience. Over several nights, I lost myself exploring the vast and diverse deserts, clambered through the wrecks of spaceships, delved into the ruins of an ancient civilisation, and returned to outposts to turn in quests and purchase upgrades for my hoverbike. Despite the limited mechanics and brief length, Sable’s reactions to the people she met and her internal dialogue provided more characterisation than hours of lavish cutscenes.

Everything you experience feels larger than life, ensuring your ending choice feels important. It made returning to the Ewer camp more poignant than I expected and, when the end of her gliding drew near, I changed her back into traditional tribal gear and took a final ride through the desert back to her camp as the sun rose. Few games affect me enough to make a ceremony out of finishing them, so Sable comes highly recommended despite its current technical flaws.

Sable was reviewed using an active Xbox Game Pass subscription

Sable (Xbox Series S) Review

Sable (Xbox Series S) Review
8 10 0 1
Sable is a refreshing, open-world adventure, with a strong focus on exploration, discovery, and self-discovery. You’ll guide Sable as she climbs, glides, puzzles, and cruises through an arid yet vibrant world, meeting weird locals and uncovering ancient knowledge, before finally returning home. It’s not the most mechanically complex game but the brisk pacing, great writing, and impressive audio-visual experience ensured even pervasive technical issues couldn’t dampen my love for it.
Sable is a refreshing, open-world adventure, with a strong focus on exploration, discovery, and self-discovery. You’ll guide Sable as she climbs, glides, puzzles, and cruises through an arid yet vibrant world, meeting weird locals and uncovering ancient knowledge, before finally returning home. It’s not the most mechanically complex game but the brisk pacing, great writing, and impressive audio-visual experience ensured even pervasive technical issues couldn’t dampen my love for it.
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    8/10 Very Good
    There're no lavish cutscenes or voice acting, but Sable's internal thoughts and dialogue slowly reveal who she is. The background lore is also surprisingly deep, and you're always rewarded with more knowledge the more you explore.
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
    Sable’s relative simplicity is both a strength and a weakness. You're free to explore without restrictions but the puzzles can become repetitive if you tackle everything on offer.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    Simple at first glance yet unique, striking, and perfect for the setting. Simply cruising the dunes at sunrise or sunset is captivating but technical issues frequently break the sense of immersion. With a patch or two, this would score a 9.
  • Audio
    9/10 Amazing
    There's no voice acting, but the dense ambient audio brings the world to life, while the perfect complementary soundtrack enhances every other element of the game.

The Good

  • The freedom to simply explore and discover without risk
  • Great writing and a story that gives back as much as you put in
  • Brisk pacing with minimal busywork
  • The gorgeous visual style and perfect complementary soundtrack

The Bad

  • Puzzles can get repetitive if you tackle everything
  • Multiple technical issues that can break immersion
Total
9
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