Review – Fable III
More broken promises?
Fable II was my game of 2008, so I was looking forward to Fable III more than any game this year (okay, maybe not quite as much as Mass Effect 2). I knew not to expect a massive leap as far as gameplay was concerned due to it using the same engine and it only being two years in the making, but does it even deliver on these terms?
Fable III is set fifty years after Fable II and you play as the son or daughter of the previous hero. The hero from Fable II went on to become the ruler of Albion and now that (s)he has passed on your older brother, Logan, is the King. Turns out he’s not doing a very good job of it with poverty, crime and corruption enveloping Albion and its people. At the beginning of the game Logan pushes you over the edge and you run off to build an army capable of dethroning your evil brother.
If you’ve played Fable II you’ll know that that’ll involve completing quests for quirky characters and opening chests and very little has changed in that respect. Combat is still played out in the same way, with melee attacks mapped to the X button, your gun mapped to Y and magic to B, and you can dodge with A. You also have your trusty dog with you at your side and he performs the same functions as before (sniffing out treasure, helping in battle), though he is very much a bit part player compared to Fable 2.
In general you will talk to a character and they will give you a quest. Your glowing breadcrumb trail will show you where to go and once you reach your destination you’ll either fight something or collect something and then you return to the quest giver to accept your reward. Nothing special there. The characters are special though. I don’t know whether it’s because it’s very British which is incredibly rare in video games (even British made games) or if it really is that well written compared to other games, but the characters and voice acting in Fable III are superb. It’s consistently amusing, from the major characters voiced by big names to the bit characters, and even the gnomes that replace the gargoyles from the previous game.
Visually it’s not quite as impressive. It still looks good, no doubt, but it’s not leaps and bounds ahead of Fable II and the character animations don’t quite match the voice work, which is a shame as I find it often sells the voice acting a little short. There are also moments of major slowdown and little hiccups here and there, which can really mess up the time based mini-games. Not a major gripe but a smoother framerate would have improved the experience at points.
Back is the drop in, drop out co-op from Fable II but this has been improved quite a bit, at least over Xbox Live. Now you can bring in your own character and dog, not just have a generic evil or nice guy, and you aren’t restricted to sharing the same screen either. You can now freely roam the same area as much as you like, but when you try to leave through a load screen you will take your co-op partner with you. You can also interact with your co-op buddy, hugging, kissing, even marrying and impregnating. You can buy properties together and share the profits as long as you’re in the same game and all experience your character gains can be taken back into your own world, though any story progress stays with the host.
Other improvements are difficult to come by, though I do like the new menu interface. Fable II‘s menus were pretty slow and overly complicated so for Fable III Lionhead have removed it completely. Pressing the Start button now takes you to a fully 3D room which you can run around in to select different options. There is a room where you can equip weapons, one where you can change clothing and others such as a room where all your money piles up. I was a little worried at first about load times and how clumsy it will be, but it loads up very quickly and is certainly better than the previous menu. The only downside is that you have no inventory. You still collect items and potions but they exist somewhere behind the scenes. Potions pop up in a context sensitive menu whilst fighting and gifts only come into play when people ask for them.
You’ve got to love Peter Molyneux, say what you will about him but he’s passionate about what he does. He has this uncanny ability to make the most minor changes seem groundbreaking but unfortunately I can’t see too much praise with his recent plan to simplify RPGs.
Positive changes come in the form of the graphical quality being upped a notch, areas in which you travel seem a bit larger, enemies seemed a bit more competent and your magical attacks certainly felt meatier. The sanctuary is a good idea, having an area to wander around seeing all your spoils, letting you easily dress up and connect with others online. The Fable/Lionhead/Molyneux brand of humour is as present as ever and its been quite some time since I’ve chuckled while playing a game, be it from random insults from gnomes you pass by, the reference to past Fable (and other) games or just the myriad of British voice talent.
Its not all improvements though, there’s no inventory now and as such its difficult to know what you have and how you can use it. The lack of health bar in combat is just plain weird seeing that it never took up too much space. Using the map and knowing what quests you have could have been easily mapped to another button on the pad (all this one button combat left plenty going spare) and all the magic spells are direct-offensive â€“ I loved the summon creatures and slow down spells from Fable III but now they’re only usable as potions. Managing the real estate you purchase is frankly a pain in the arse, having to repair dozens of buildings could have been made so much easier i.e. a ‘repair all’ button, so annoying was the process that I eventually gave up repairing them and just left my shops to earn me moolah.
I was very much looking forward to Fable III and it was/is an enjoyable experience. I eagerly await DLC that’s reasonably priced and that will add more to my game experience (less dog suits and dye packs though lads) but on the whole Fable III is the weakest in the series. Its still a good game, even the prettiest in the series – technical flaws withstanding, unfortunately too much control has been taken away from the gamer, perhaps in order to make it easier for ‘them folk’. Damn you Pete with your Doe-eyed face and silky silky voice, I can’t help but loving you.
Secondary Score: 8/10
It takes some getting used to, but it’s all part of Lionhead’s quest to simplify everything. There is no HUD generally speaking now, only during certain actions will button prompts appear and you have no life bar, just a screen reddening effect and recharging health like a first person shooter. I don’t mind it, per se, but it does make what was an easy series already incredibly easy. There is an achievement for completing the game without getting knocked out once, and I managed to do it without any worry whatsoever. Apart from some scarring I’m not sure if there is any consequence for dying because I’ve not experienced it, which in any game is an insane thought (especially off the back of Super Meat Boy).
Just over half the game is spent assembling your army before the battle to overthrow your brother, the second half actually places you on the throne and gives you all the responsibilities that that implies. Unfortunately this too has been oversimplified. Subjects will come to you and ask you to rebuild something or drain Bower Lake or something to that effect and then it’s as simple as saying, â€œI’m evil, drain the lake!â€ or â€œI’m nice, I’ll rebuild the orphanageâ€. Doing nice things costs more money and that’s supposed to be the major thing to make these decisions difficult but as in Fable II money is stupidly easy to come by. By the end of the game I’d earned about ten million, and I’ve probably earned more than that again in the post game. If you just buy up every property in the game (also trivially easy) you’ll be raking in about one hundred thousand gold every five minutes, which is more money than you’ll ever need.
Still, Fable III‘s game world is still one of the most believable and charming out there and this was enough for me to still enjoy myself. They really have to change up the formula for Fable IV though, probably with a new engine and take the whole concept to the next level because Fable III isn’t a big enough step. If Lionhead can actually start to follow through with their ideas, without over simplifying everything, then the Fable franchise could grow into a very special one indeed. Unfortunately it seems they’re currently content with having great ideas but then merely scratching the surface of those possibilities.