Fable III Review

Fable III

To put it simply, Fable III is a step backwards. Taken by itself, it may be an engrossing experience for completionists, but as a sequel and a game in the evolving space of game development, it doesn’t deliver. In part, it’s the promise that the game offers — lead a revolution, become king of a mystical land, make important moral decisions, customize your avatar — that builds the expectation impossibly high. Additionally, it’s the dumbed-down systems, like combat or NPC interaction, which provide accessibility at the cost of depth. Of course the game still plays like it should, and takes players across a variety of well-designed levels smattered with interesting characters and cheeky British humor. Hell, it’s even got John Cleese in it. But a triumph for Albion it is not.

To set the scene, Fable III sets players in the fully-voiced shoes of the prince of a post-colonial, industrialized state whose brother, the king, is generally making life miserable for everyone. And right off the bat, Lionhead Studios gives you a main squeeze, either a man or woman, whose relationship becomes clear and strangely important within the first few minutes of the game. Then they force you to choose: either kill your love interest or kill the people of Albion. A decision this tough so early in the game? It took me by surprise, and I thought, "I’m in for something great."

Unfortunately, that choice was the only interesting one in the game. For the first half of the adventure, the hopeful hero follows his knightly guide throughout the land on a quest to help the downtrodden and gain their support for the upcoming revolution. It sounds like a solid premise, but it leaves no room for the moral creativity offered in the beginning, and can be completely at odds with your decisions as a player. If, say, you want to be the scourge of Albion and go down the "evil" path, you want to make as many evil decisions as possible, but because of the trajectory of the first half of the story, you are compelled to perform good deeds. Is the contradiction apparent? The latter half allows for clear moral decisions that can affect the environment, but the game seems to be arguing against itself with the premise for those decisions.

Fable III

Without giving anything away, know that the game rewards evil and punishes good in the favor of the "greater good." Essentially, it asks you to make decisions that contradict the moral path you’ve already chosen, good or evil, in order to achieve your desired outcome. There is the exception of spending an inordinate amount of extra time with the game to gain enough funds to circumvent the entire paradox, but this only applies to completionist types who are willing to search for keys and gnomes for the necessary hours.

For the completionists, though, Fable III offers a surplus of cave-searching, house-buying, clothes-dying activities to keep busy. RPG elements like appearance customization and real-estate brokering return and provide a deep level of interactivity with the avatar and the world that likens the game to The Sims. You can, for instance, buy a house, change around the furniture inside, move a family in, repair the abode or leave it in shambles, etc. And once your affairs are settled around the home, there are the silver keys, gold keys, angry gnomes, desert flowers, dig spots, legendary weapons, and Demon Doors to discover. Get the picture? There’s a lot to do.

Here’s the problem: Almost none of these things, with one or two exceptions, have any bearing on combat, which lies at the heart of any action-adventure game, any RPG, and certainly any action-RPG. Even the legendary weapons are basically the same as the stock "Hero Weapons." So if the side quests don’t provide incentive to improve combat, then you might expect the combat itself to be its own incentive. It’s not. Like Fable II, combat is mapped very simply to the X, Y, and B button for melee, ranged, and magic attacks respectively, which is good. But the enemies are almost all the same with little variation, causing the player to recycle the same moves, flourishes, or combos again and again, ad nauseum. And the really inventive experience system from Fable II has been done away with and replaced by a standard "kill enemies, get the experience currency" system. To top it off, fighting doesn’t even add much to your experience, which is governed much more by the completion of the main quest missions.

Fable III

Don’t even get me started on the ending. Fable II didn’t have the best one, but at least it was better than this. Having played through the game twice, once evil and once good, I can tell you that your moral choices have little to no bearing on the outcome. The last boss, another disappointment, will be the same no matter what, and the final cinematics are effectively identical in either case with a few superficial details acknowledging that, in fact, you did make decisions. It’s just frustrating that given a game with such a clear emphasis on making choices, especially tough choices, it appears that those choices are secondary to the story Lionhead wanted to tell.

There are two things that Fable III does exceptionally well: menu innovation and humor. The first comes in the form of the Road to Rule and The Sanctuary, two actual levels that the player can walk around in to make menu decisions, like changing clothes and weapons, or upgrading weapons and expressions. I was definitely skeptical going into these new systems, but it turns out they work just as quickly as a regular menu and are significantly more fun to use. And in terms of laughs per minute, Fable III has got to be up there with games like Psychonauts. Between the pissed-off gnomes, the drunken vomiting in the street, the chicken outfit, and the ability to fart directly in a villager’s face, there’s humor a-plenty on the road to kingship. One of my favorite quests involved participating in a "game within a game" where three monks commented on the game design while I rushed to the end to save the cardboard princess from the cardboard baron. It’s refreshing to hear a game designer criticize their own work in their own work by saying something like, "No, you can’t power it up beyond +3, it’s much too early to give the hero that much power."

Yet, no matter the permeative British humor, Fable III has an identity crisis. To choose or not to choose or to choose superficially? That is the question.

3 out of 5


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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