October 25, 2010
I was 8 hours into Fable III before I was abruptly reminded via a load screen that I hadn’t kicked a chicken yet. Surely that’s not right... I had dressed up as a chicken and was asked to dance around like one to lure a batch of escaped poultry back to their coop though. I’d also fetched a gargoyle head from an ambushed stage coach and returned it to a fully grown man dressed as a gnome... to give to his best gnome friend as a present. But still, I hadn’t kicked a chicken and there’s something not Fable-esque about my demeanour there. So off I went, and within 3 minutes I had successfully kicked my first chicken in Fable III. In case you’re wondering, yes, Fable III is just as abusive to chickens as any other title in the franchise... Phew!
Taking place about half a century after the events of Fable II, Fable III casts you into royalty from the off this time, rather than having to work your way up to hero from a meagre travelling straggler. With the tyrannical King Logan taking things one step too far, it’s your role as sibling – either brother or sister, as usual, it’s your choice – to win the love and respect of the people, in a bid to get enough support to overthrow your brother and instil order back into the world of Albion.
Fable III’s uniqueness comes from your quest to become ruler of Albion, helping the locals and making many promises along the way, which can prove to be an arduous affair in the long run. While Fable II was criticised for its relatively subdued ending, Fable III suffers from no such follies and your road to rule may make up the crux of the game, but it’ll be your time as ruler – which acts as an extended epilogue of sorts – that will ground and add emphasis to the experience as a whole.
I won’t talk too much about your time as the ruler of Albion, because it’s best experienced for yourself, but the basic premise is that you need to decide which promises you honour and which ones you dismiss as not worthy of your funds. However, rather than just saying yes and no, and that being the end of it, it’s not as simple as that because every action has a consequence. You have to have one eye on the economy while keeping the citizens of the land safe from harm. Unfortunately for Lionhead though, the way I played Fable – hording property early on and sitting on my returns – made this last section a bit of a doddle, but it was still an enjoyable romp nevertheless.
Throughout your time amongst the inhabitants of Albion, your loyalty and dedication to the cause will be called into play – mostly thanks to your ties to the current King. In order to win over the different regions of Albion, you’ll be asked to perform a number of tasks for the different townsfolk to gain what Lionhead like to call ‘followers’ – essentially Fable III’s experience system. With these followers, you’ll be able to spend the resulting Guild Seals on upgrading your character in the other-dimensional “Road to Rule.”
The Road to Rule not only maps your revolution’s progress, but it also allows you to spend your followers on various chests situated on its cobbled path. The 48 chests on the road range from cheap chests that allow you to buy property, buy shops, use various expressions, etc, to more expensive ones that relate to your character’s ability to perform in battle. While it may be a little simplistic for those looking for a true RPG experience, it does work and in keeping things simple, it allows you spend less time here and more time in-game.
Taking the one button combat system from Fable II, Fable III does little to advance the formula. The flourish attacks – which are yours from the off this time – are a little more elaborate and visually stunning this time around, but other than that, there’s nothing new really to report here, well aside from the weapon morphing that is.
Rather than have your character morph into a grotesque mess this time around, it’ll be your weapons that do a majority of the morphing – although, yes, you can still be a fatty if you eat too many crunchy chicks – and the effects can be quite unique. Your standard Hero weapons will change their appearance based on your character’s alignment and various actions; that can include, but are not limited to, how many times you make whoopee, how many chests you find, how many Balverines you kill, and so on. The weapon transformation will depend entirely on the act the morphing is based on and can include giving the weapon a certain hue, making it drip with blood or making it look more regal, and so on. The Legendary weapons on the other hand have set criteria to meet if you want to see them transforming, like killing 500 enemies at day time, completing 30 quests, killing innocents, etc.
The newest and arguably biggest addition to the combat side of things is the new spell weaving mechanics; that allows your hero to don two different spell gauntlets and combine their powers to devastating effect. Which you combine however is entirely up to you, but the fact there are only 6 spells and 15 combinations unfortunately means that options are fairly limited.
While the combat side of things hasn’t seen much of an overhaul, Fable II’s expression wheel has, and we see it completely replaced by some sort of hovering button expression system. However, in changing it, all Lionhead seems to have done is to take control away from the player and leave them with extremely limited interactive options with the villagers instead, rather than leaving them with the freedom of choice. A definite step back there if you ask us.
Prior to launch I feared that Lionhead’s answer to jazzing up their menu system – The Sanctuary – would over complicate things and exacerbate the experience. Luckily, it does not and it actually goes some way to enhancing the experience, as it really feels in tune with the game. In layman’s terms, the Sanctuary is effectively the new interactive menu system which plays home to your butler, a Mr John Cleese, and also anything related to your character: including your clothes/tattoos/make-up laid out on mannequins, your weapons, your stash of gold, your world map and more. From your world map you can manage your quests and more importantly, buy and maintain the upkeep of your properties and even keep an eye on the many wives. This time though, property decays over time and will have to be repaired at various intervals if you still want that rent – a ‘repair all’ option would have been nice. However, if you want to decorate the interior of your property, you’ll have to zoom to ground level to do that.
Fable III does seem much larger in terms of scale than Fable II and for the most part, it seems like “more, more, more” is the mantra. There are a handful of new enemies throughout Albion, especially when you head over into the game world’s new continent, Aurora, and even something as simple as giving the main character a voice improves the experience ten-fold. That being said, Fable III isn’t without its problems, and if the issues with the golden quest trail not giving you accurate info or the dog’s inability to path find when searching for dig-spots doesn’t annoy you, it’ll be the audio issues that causes the NPC’s audio voice levels to drop that will. Plus, on more than the odd occasion the NPC characters talked over the main talking characters mid cutscene which hampered the experience even further. You want to talk about pop-up? The less said about that, the better. Clue: there’s a lot of it!
Fable III though has really pushed the boat out with some fantastic mission scenarios – both main quests and side missions – but underneath it all, they all seem to fall into the same pattern: amusing intro, innovative mission scenario and then either fetch something or fight something. If it’s not combat, it’s a multiple choice ending where in truth, it really doesn’t matter which one you choose – until the ruler segment that is. If it wasn’t for the fantastic setup though and truly unique scenarios, the lack of depth would possibly not be something you’d be able to overlook, but when you get sucked into a book to re-enact the scenes of a play or zapped into a tabletop RPG, you tend to forget about it.
Part of taking that in your stride will be how quickly you engage with the cast and the world Lionhead have created. The humour of Fable III is typically British; Albion is a charming world and its inhabitants even more so; the score is of traditional Fable ilk, with a few curve balls thrown in when you land on Aurora; the cast do a stand-up job, especially Bernard Hill and Stephen Fry who put in truly stellar performances; and the attention to detail is nothing short of stunning. What more could you ask for? I mean, where else can you wander round a game world reading humorous insult letters to various citizens from Arthur, one of Albion’s amusing characters, and also stopping to read books that are so completely random and odd, that it’s clear they’re drawing inspiration from the classic British comedy, Monty Python.
If you ask me though, as someone who’s played all the other Fable games to death, the best addition to the franchise this time around are the new ‘gold keys.’ Big whoop, right? Well, yeah, they are. There are only 4 rumoured to be situated around Albion, but they require thought and effort if you want to unravel their mysteries. Of course, the traditional silver keys and always-amazing Demon Doors make a return, but the gold keys require more careful thought if you want to unlock the secrets that hide behind the elusive gold doors.
Unlike Fable II, Fable III actually has online and local co-op – badumtish! Or should I say, fully functioning online and local co-op. Unfortunately though, while you’re now able to take your own hero into someone else’s world, have your own camera and save your character progress – only the host’s quest progress is however saved – it’s still hard to call it fully functioning. As of the time of writing this, the online co-op is a bit of a mess, marred by terrible animations and stodgy frame rates, graphical glitches, crippling loading screens and a hell of a lot of lag ruining the whole experience – it was practically unplayable at times. Here’s hoping that it’s just growing pains for Lionhead’s title, but based on this current state, you won’t want to play it in co-op for any lengthy period of time.
If there’s anything that Fable II taught us in the school of life, it’s that Lionhead understands the achievement system and for the most part, that much is apparent in the third instalment’s list. There is a tad too much collecting this time though, but tying achievements to some of the best side missions and including achievements like “Dye Hippy, Die” and “Coronation Chicken” is certainly the way forward. The “You Can't Bring Me Down” achievement for not dying throughout the story may seem tricky, but really, it’s not... just keep an eye on that health. With all that said though, it’s not an easy list or a quick list for that matter, and after 38 hours, I’m still only at 700 points, so beware, it’s a bit of a time sink this one. The 50 Legendary weapons achievement though? Let’s call that 10 times as much of a pain in the ass as the hero doll achievement. For me, it’s the worst achievement for quite some time.
While the vast majority of Fable III is a definite improvement over its predecessor, there are a few hang-ups that ultimately hold the title back. Lionhead have succeeded in delivering a much more powerful and meaningful story, with some fantastic mission scenarios to boot, but they all follow a similar pattern. With the expression wheel gone and having been replaced by an inane socialisation mechanic, Lionhead have ripped one of the hearts out of their game, but by introducing the Sanctuary, they’ve gone some way to being let off with that, as they replaced Fable II’s clunky menu system with something more fitting. You won’t want to play Fable III for any of that though and all that is quite trivial. Ultimately, it’s the lore, the charm, the all-star British cast, the sense of humour and the fantastically unique world of Albion that makes the game what it is today: one of the Xbox’s most rewarding action-adventure games.
If it wasn’t for the few minor hiccups in the audio department, Fable III would almost certainly be a 100 in the audio section. A fantastic performance from the voice cast and suitably impressive accompanying score to go with it. Marvellous.
Fable III’s visuals look somewhat dated by today’s standards, but Lionhead can certainly create some compelling environments and epic vistas. The lip syncing is a little off though.
It’s the same simplistic one button combat from Fable II that’s awfully easy to pick up and play. Unfortunately though, “the easy to pick up and play, years to master” rule doesn’t apply. It’s fairly shallow, but it does its job.
Those disappointed by Fable II’s ending will surely not come away disappointed this time. Not only do you get a fully fledged story, but the ruling aspect of the game – which acts as the epilogue of sorts – is just as engrossing as the rest of the game. The mission scenarios were utterly fantastic at times, but aside from the puzzles and the combat aspects of them though, they got a little predictable and samey.
The typical Lionhead originality on offer is let down somewhat by way too much collecting and an insane Legendary weapon achievement that makes the hero doll achievement look like a walk in the park.
Fable III is pretty much everything you’d want from a Fable sequel: more of the same and then some. There are certainly a few gambles from Lionhead this year, with some paying off and others not so much, but at the crux of it, it’s pretty sublime. No other game on the market contains the unique British humour that is on offer here and with a stunning cast of characters and an engaging story, with the enviable task of ruler to look forward to; Fable III pretty much delivers on most of Lionhead’s promises. I did say most.