Growth comes in the form of little moments
In Sable, you can sit and enjoy the view. No, not just stand there until an idle animation has your character pop a squat. You can press a button to make the red-cloaked main character sit down cross-legged. 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 Breath of the Wild-style, as well as humming around on your hoverbike. 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. I still remember pulling out from the driveway and the bittersweet anticipation of where I might go.
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 Wind. The first region I explored was filled with subtle pinks, oranges, and reds that reminded me of a sunset; each region has its own color palette and theme. The world is large and full of possibilities, with a map speckled with giant, decaying machinery, merchant camps, and peculiar land formations like towering crystalline pillars, brambling woods, and eroded rock formations that look straight out of the American southwest.
In Sable, exploration is its own motivator. You don’t fight. Instead, you mostly wander around from place to place, using your hoverbike to travel large distances. If you see something of interest, like a giant abandoned space ship partially buried in the sand or an ancient temple, you can get off your bike and explore it on foot. The majority of exploration happens by climbing cliff faces and other architectural oddities, as well jumping off from high points and gliding in your glowing bubble from place to place. All the while your journey is accompanied by a soundtrack of cerebral ambient music composed by Japanese Breakfast.
Adventuring on foot is a joy. You get to express a certain kind of creativity with the climbs, almost as if getting to the top is its own puzzle. The climbing is short and punctuated, with a lot of step-like sections. While you can upgrade Sable’s stamina bar, most climbs can be done with the standard amount of energy. Oftentimes, I would scout a specific monument or cliff with my hoverbike and then plan a tentative route to make my way up there and try my best to reach the top.
Sable’s limited stamina made the world even more compelling for me. In a similar game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, some of the magic is lost in the late game when you power up beyond belief and can climb nearly 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. You also meet various people whose stories motivate you on your journey, like a character named Elisabet, who says she rushed to join an illustrious guard force in a large town. 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. It also allows us to better understand what Sable sees in the world around her.
At the end of the day, Sable shows us that we grow not by conquering the world, but by taking a moment to bask in the beauty and knowledge of it. It’s OK to not rush to grow up and do the next thing, or chase the next accomplishment. Growth can come simply by taking in the beautiful moments of life. It can come in a moment where you sit and appreciate a view or spend time with another person. It can come with dinking around and catching bugs all day. It can come with gliding through a peaceful 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. Sable, bugs and all, is the perfect example of that.
Sable was released on Sept. 23 on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Xbox. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.