Microsoft Game Studios
Fable III is not a bad game but it suffers once again from the unrealistic expectations created by Molyneux
Six years on from the release of the first title in the series on the original Xbox, Fable III is set to arrive exclusively on an Xbox 360 near you this coming Friday. Few console RPG’s have equalled the success and global recognition of the Fable brand, with each new iteration trumpeted by Lionhead Studio’s hyperbole-spouting head honcho Peter Molyneux. He’s previously suggested that it will be the best game ever made, forever changing the way we think about and play RPG’s. Is he right? No, he’s not but we’ve long since realised that Molyneux’s pronouncements are to be taken with a Himalaya-sized mountain of salt.
Fable III takes players back to Albion, a vaguely Britain like fantasy realm, about 50 years after the events of the second game. The noble King or Queen (that was you last time) has since died and their son Logan has taken over the throne, while the industrial revolution has finally arrived, sending buildings ever higher beneath a pall of smoke and mass unemployment. When Logan goes tyrannical the people have nowhere to turn. That’s where you come in. As a prince or princess of Albion, you’re forced out of your comfortable life in the castle in order to rouse the people, to call them to arms and organise a revolution to bring peace and prosperity back to the realm.
Much of Fable III’s gameplay involves travelling from one group to another, vying for their help in the uprising through various quests and a series of promises which you vow to keep once Logan is toppled. From relatively humble beginnings, players will wield swords, guns and magical gauntlets as they traverse the country side and later the continent to find new allies in their fight. Missions are generally violent in nature and the game uses the same relatively fluid combination of melee and ranged weapons with constantly available magical powers as you dive around the battlefield and spam that wide damage fire spell before headshotting some more Hobbes.
It’s enjoyable enough, with accessible action and fights that are rarely challenging, interspersed with well acted voicework (including some word from our previously mute hero as well) and the slow accretion of more and more revolutionaries for your cause. Along the way, you’ll pick up guild seals which basically amount to experience points that can then be spent on the Road to Rule – a linear symbolic pathway that lets you unlock more magic gauntlets and increase the power of your weapons, while also giving you the option to explore more whimsical skills like theft and seduction. Weapons are far more limited this time, mainly comprised of a hammer, sword, pistol and rifle but each can be upgraded and also adapts cosmetically over time to compliment your style of play. Magic has had the greatest overhaul – you can now equip two gauntlets at once to unleash devastating attacks; we’re fond of Ice Storm + Swords.
Naturally as it’s a Fable game there are plenty of tertiary activities to keep you occupied, like owning and renting property and shops as well as pursuing a partner (and offspring, should you wish it) and engaging in QTE-laced money-making schemes. There’s always plenty to do, and that’s before we mention the latter portion of the game where you take on the role of a Monarch and spend a virtual year attending court business. It’s a unique departure for the genre, and your decisions have serious implications for each and every member of the population of Albion. As you decide whether or not to rebuild schools or raise taxes (or bail out banks) from your impervious position on the throne, the balance of the treasury directly reflects how many of your subjects will live or die. Err on the side of generosity and there’ll be no one left to hail your magnanimity but too many harsh decisions will lead the kingdom once more towards tyranny.
There’s certainly depth to be found in Fable III and it makes some brave departures from the genre norm but the experience itself is massively flawed. In an effort to streamline what they consider to the tired tenets of a dozen RPG’s which have come before, Lionhead has decided to remove all menus from the game. Instead, every costume or weapon tweak and every single upgrade requires you to warp to The Sanctuary (nestled behind the start button) and then walk to your dressing room or armoury or teleport further out to the Road to Rule. And once you get there, you’ll have to find the right rack and manually select each item, before exiting and loading back into the level. Previous games allowed you to check stats and ready different load outs in a bland but effective inventory screen in a matter of seconds. But not Fable III.
This same clunkiness extends to almost every aspect of the game – chest opening anmiations are absurdly long and picking up items require you to select it and confirm each and every time, while interactions with the populace can take minutes and are nothing less than laborious. And don’t get us started on the fact that in order to move to a new area you have to press and hold the A button for at least three seconds. It sound like nit-picking but there’s no need for such dated and time consuming inputs – just what were they thinking when they decided to make it so you have to hold a person’s hand to make them come with you? The interface isn’t the only problem, Fable III is also frightfully ugly. Player models are stiff and lacking in detail while NPC srepeat with startling regularity and the lip sync looks like something from 2005. The presentation is generally decent, aided hugely by the impressive cast including Stephen Fry, Simon Pegg and a memorable Michael Fassbender as King Logan and some quirky humour, but the in game cutscenes are terribly dated. Oh, and the glowing trail that’s supposed to guide you to your next objective still has the sense of direction of a drunken, blind snake with attention deficit disorder.
Fable III is not a bad game but it suffers once again from the unrealistic expectations created by Molyneux. There’s a decent adventure to be found here, with a sweeping story and some fun quests but it’s hardly ground-breaking, and the streamlining of items, interactions and options means it’s also a smaller, shallower world than ever before – taking only 15 hours for a comprehensive playthrough.