Every once in a while a magical game comes along that will whisk you off on untold adventure, wrapping you up with an exotic mix of an engaging story, breathtaking environments and exquisite orchestral score. It will make you feel at one with the characters, and maybe even empathise with them. Fable III does all of this, but there’s a cost to the extravagance.
Fable III is a game of two parts. The first, the Road to Rule, is about gaining the support of the people in order to over throw your brother, the King. The love of the people isn’t hard to win over, given the King is about as much liked as bagpipe practice at 3am in the morning, yet to gain the loyalty you must obtain the reputation as a hero by completing a series of quests. Many of these have some hilarious content to them, such as finding yourself as a game piece in a fantasy RPG (work that one out), as an actor in a series of plays or simply as a player of the lute to earn money for haircuts and tattoos. Others feel like they are lifted straight out of previous games; there is a definite “Arena” slant to part of the main story arc, but thankfully it doesn’t go on quite as long. Some of the locations you encounter on these quests are expansive and lush, others feel quite eerie and downtrodden; the industrialised area of Bowerstone in particular could have been lifted from a Dickens’s novel given it’s so effective in its presentation. It’s fair to say that Fable III is a good looking game, dripping with atmosphere, even if there is the occasional pop-in and frame rate drop.
Further quests can be gained from the various NPCs that inhabit the land by talking to them and getting them on your sweet side. Thankfully speaking to anyone in Albion is an absolute joy, with some fantastic voice work coming from the likes of John Cleese, Stephen Fry, Zoe Wanamaker, Simon Pegg and Sir Ben Kingsley, all waxing lyrical in the game. It’s a powerhouse of talent and shows just how this type of work should be done. Fable III hasn’t lost its cheeky, sometimes adult humour either; now it’s possible not only to get married, have kids and play away from home, but you will also run the risk of contracting STDs. There is even an achievement for sleeping with a friend in the game across Xbox Live, it’s a little creepy, but remember that there’s no shame in safe sex.
Interacting with the AI triggers a very slight pause as it transitions to a one-to-one meet and greet, it’s not massive, but it does annoy when the desire is to talk to a series of different people. Sadly the game now controls what actions you can use to impress or annoy your guest. Gone is the big radial menu of choices and instead the player can select a random good or bad action. It’s been streamlined to such a degree that it limits choices a bit too much. In fact nearly everything in Fable III has been simplified. A one button press is all that’s required in almost every situation when wondering around the game world and even the mixture of different experience orbs has been replaced with a single guild seal collection. There’s no traditional levelling here, instead various skills, spells and properties are unlocked on the “Road to Rule” in the form of chests, with higher power items requiring a bigger share of the guild seals.
Combat too follows the simplicity rule, with one button each for melee, ranged and magic attacks, working very similarly to that experienced in Fable II. However, ranged and magic attacks this time are actually useful and can keep enemies out of your hit zone if used properly. Not that dying is much of a problem; you never really die, just get knocked out – the only negative here is that you will lose any guild seals gained in the current quest, though some might feel that this makes the game a little bit too easy.
There are some very neat touches in the way the game interacts with people on your friends list. There are little pop-ups that appear every now and then, declaring that your heroic efforts have just topped everyone else you know who’s playing the game. For example, towards the beginning of the story you have to take your sister by the hand and lead her to where the King is having a meeting. One of the stats that pops-up is about who has led someone the furthest by the hand. The temptation is to carry on walking that little bit further, just to make sure your name is at the top. And so it is for any other event or task that is measured in Albion.
One thing that sounded very dubious when Peter Molyneux talked about it was the removal of as many menus as possible, replacing them with a 3D walk-around environment in which to select weapons, hairstyles and clothing. It turns out that any doubts were unfounded as it actually works very well – pressing the start button takes you with minimal transition time to the sanctuary, where you are also able to view a map of Albion. In Fable II the locations seemed detached from one another, you never got a good feel for where one city was in relation to the other. Now with a 3D view of the world, you are quickly able to get an idea not only about locations, but for the properties you own, any quests that are available and a visible representation of your wealth in the form of piles of gold coins.
[Potential story spoiler] Once enough followers have been gained, it’s possible to kick the King from his thrown and take the crown for yourself; it’s here that the second part of the game comes in to play. As ruler of Albion you’re forced to make some stark choices that will affect all citizens of the realm. Much of it is to do with money in order to amass an army big enough to fend off an impending dark threat, but you’ll also need to consider some of the promises made to characters in the first half of the game. These things do not always sit happily hand-in-hand with each other. You are still free to tour Albion and complete the side missions as desired, but you need to take care of the kingly duties first. [End of spoiler]
Fable III, as with the games before it, reaches for the stars with its ambitions, and for the most part manages to achieve them, even though the finale is somewhat weak. The down side is Fable III has been very much dumbed down, even more so than Fable II. It’s still a fun and enjoyable ride with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but the game is definitely more adventure than RPG, and you can’t help but feel that Lionhead Studios have gone a little too far with the simplification. This doesn’t stop the game from being enchanting though, so whatever your taste in RPGs, you’re likely to come away with a smile on your face after stepping in to the world of Albion.