Sable review – Glide where the wind takes you

Sable review
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Shedworks‘ Sable is an impressive debut, a stylish open world exploration and puzzle game that evokes some of the best parts of Breath of the Wild, while rejecting combat and the maps of busy work of Ubisoft-style open worlds. What you’re given is a cozy and serene experience that avoids action RPG formulas for something more fitting to its open-ended tale of exploration and coming of age.

Players step into the shoes of Sable, a young nomad in the desert world of Midden, out on her coming of age Gliding ritual. With the aid of your trusty hoverbike Simoon, you’re out to see the world, and find your place and your face in it. 

And what a world it is! Midden positively oozes style, with cel-shaded desert landscapes, derelict starships and ancient monuments that could have stepped out of the graphic novels of Moebius, and a meditative soundtrack by Japanese Breakfast that evokes the beauty of the sand seas, craggy badlands, desert sunrises, and all the joy and potential of childhood turning into an adult. You’ll spend most of your time zooming about on Simoon, exploring the sands or clambering about on rock faces, discovering new vistas and settlements, solving puzzles, and doing the occasional odd job for those in need.

As you Glide through Midden’s nomad camps and oasis cities, you’ll explore the kind of person Sable wants to be. You’ll have the chance to collect quite a few masks, and the Gliding is all about Sable deciding what is right for her. 

As you Glide through Midden’s nomad camps and oasis cities, helping out people in distress or taking on an odd job or two, you’ll explore the kind of person Sable wants to be. Masks in Midden show vocation and place in society, whether engine-speaking machinist, stern guard, or gregarious inkeeper, and Sable will earn badges she can craft into one of these masks. You’ll have the chance to collect quite a few, and the Gliding is all about Sable deciding which mask and vocation is right for her. 

Sable

You can end the game quickly by choosing one mask and returning home to Sable’s clan, or you can take your time wandering, exploring the world, helping people out, and trying out new masks and identities for yourself.

The game isn’t particularly subtle about presenting its themes of self-discovery and finding your place or making your own way, and the choice not to have any combat or danger gives you a welcome, relaxing place to explore these themes and more without the terror of death always stalking you. You could decide to take on the mantle of a lizard-faced Climber, the lonely path of the Scrapper scrounging for parts in ship ruins, the mask of the machine-whispering Machinists, or perhaps choose one of the stranger masks that you might discover along your Gliding.

Sable tackles a surprising breadth of themes, from identity, freedom, society, work and play, so it helps that the writing leavens things with a healthy dose of joy, humor, and sass, a welcome counterpoint to the surprising moments of pathos and gravitas that you’ll encounter.

Full credit to writers Kim Belair, David Bédard and Meg Jayanth for rich conversations and worldbuilding that suggests so much history and emotion in a few terse lines, without drowning you in lore.

“Try to have fun,” your Ibexii mentor Hilal tells you early on. “There’s a lot to be said about ritual and independence and all of that out there, but…the world’s an easier place if you put joy first.” Full credit to writers Kim Belair, David Bédard and Meg Jayanth for rich conversations and worldbuilding that suggests so much history and emotion in a few terse lines, without drowning you in lore.

Sable

Sable refuses the bloated maximalism of the Ubisoft approach to open worlds and all its clutter. Shedworks intentionally discards decades of open world design wisdom for something that’s more minimalist and focused on player agency and curiosity.

Rather than swarm you with quest icons and location markers, a wealth of visual breadcrumbs amid the sand seas are your points of interest. Smoke billowing on the horizon points toward settlements, Cartographer balloons entice with knowledge, if you can make the climb, and the lights of derelict spacecraft promise puzzles to solve, while enigmatic ruins and statues suggest mysteries to unearth. 

While you’re given a quick tutorial at the beginning of Sable’s Gliding, you’re mostly left to your own designs, with a simple quest log to remind you of things, but otherwise letting players go where the winds (and Simoon) takes them. The game doesn’t hurry you along. Instead, it lays out the desert sands in front of you and asks: “where do you want to go next?” The game does have a fast travel system, but so much of the magic of the game is in the serene, almost meditative traversal of the sands, whether coasting along on Simoon, or clambering up a slope in search of a curio or point of interest.

If there’s one thing that can be said to be sorely lacking in the game, it’s a Photo Mode. You can try to catch some of Sable’s visual splendor via the game’s camera controls, but it’s no substitute for a dedicated photo mode and all the standard features that come with one.

If there’s one thing that can be said to be sorely lacking in the game, it’s a Photo Mode. The vibrant color shifts of the day and night cycle, sweeping desert vistas, mysterious ruins and homey nomad camps all combine for so many really lovely visual moments. You can try to catch some of Sable’s visual splendor via the game’s camera controls, but it’s no substitute for a dedicated photo mode and all the standard features that come with one.

Sable

That being said, Sable could use more technical polish. While a post-launch patch has fixed glitches like floating ibexes and intermittent menu bugs, other oddities, such as occasionally falling through the world while fast traveling, remain. The POV camera can make or break third person games, and while Sable’s chase camera does well for most environments, it does occasionally glitch. Steep descent angles while riding Simoon and cramped indoor environments in ruins can cause the camera to clip through objects. Shadow flickering on some items and outfits (the arm on the Machinist top seems to do this a lot) are a recurring annoyance.

Where Sable’s visual style gets in the way of gameplay and visual readability the most is in the hard outlines of its cel-shaded environments. While great at providing a painterly look to the desert sands and rock faces of Midden, the cel-shading also makes it hard to read ground contours while cruising along on Simoon, which can send you careening skyward when you run into an unexpected bump or divot in the sand or rock. That same lack of contour visual information can also make it hard to read the presence of ledges that you can climb in a few of the more low-texture cave environments. 

Sable is an easy recommendation for fans of art games and open world fans looking for a serene, meditative experience. The lack of more player verbs and the more minimalist approach to storytelling can be a turn-off to others looking for a more guided or broader experience, but if you’re the type to look for and find fun wherever it comes to you, then you’ll enjoy you time amidst the sand seas of Midden.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bridge I’ve been meaning to climb over there, and I’m glad I don’t have to indulge in any historical murder tourism to get there.

Sable
About the Score
A wonderful, memorable experience. Any flaws in this game are easily outshined by moments of excellence.
Pros
Stylish, evocative world that's a joy to glide through
Strong themes of identity, freedom, belonging and coming of age.
Deft writing paints a rich world without drowning in lore.
Cons
Cel-shading occasionally gets in the way of visual readability
Various technical and graphical glitches
Not much "game" for some players if the writing doesn't click
8
EXCELLENT