Developer: Lionhead Studios
Console: Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: 35
Progress: Finished the campaign
Each iteration of the Fable franchise has been preceded with great promises of innovation that would turn the genre on its head. This has mostly materialized in a pretty standard, real-time combat RPG with some SIMS-type gameplay features sprinkled in. For Fable III, Lionhead Studio’s figurehead, Peter Molyneux, was once again quick to proclaim a new dawn for this successful franchise with creative new updates that would revolutionize the genre. So are these yet more overstated promises or has the prodigal son of video games finally arrived? Read on the find out…
In Fable III the player takes control of the son or daughter of the Hero from Fable II. You’re not the only offspring however as your brother took control of the throne to “Albion”, the country where much of Fable III‘s adventures take place. This king Logan however, doesn’t do much to continue the proud legacy his father established before him and instead chooses to rule Albion with an iron fist, viciously oppressing its citizens. Together with your faithful mentor, Walter, and your personal butler (voiced by John Cleese), you set out on the daunting task to gather enough allies to overthrow Logan and his army.
The interesting thing about this story concept is that the end goal of Fable III‘s main quest is not to overthrow your brother, this is merely the halfway point, what follows is your new role as ruler of Albion in which you get to decide how to rule the kingdom. With it comes the added pressure of having to prepare the kingdom for a threat much darker and sinister than Logan ever posed. All of this is wrapped in the terrifically quirky British humour for which the franchise is famous. The dialog is funny, well written and brought to life with excellent voice acting. Fable III‘s main campaign stands out as having a well-paced plot that never seems to lose focus on the over-arching objective of overthrowing your brother and subsequently preparing for the new challenges as a regent. Even though the look and feel of the game is often light and storybook-esque, there are some excellent sequences that are very much scary and ominous. The atmosphere in these is totally contrary to the quaint British countryside aesthetic of Albion and gives the game a darker feel than in previous iterations. Side-quests are a bit more hit-and-miss, while they’re almost always funny, the writing can be a bit thin with little back story or connection to the main quest. Overall Fable III has an excellent mix of humor, drama and suspense, but does feel a bit more predictable as the world of Albion has revealed many of its secrets over the course of the previous two games.
The visuals in Fable III are excellent. One of my favorite aspects of the environments is how open and life-like they are, just begging for exploration. The colours Lionhead Studios used to paint the world of Albion are vivid and varied, accenting the distinctive fairy tale-/British countryside art style. The game is quite large with a lot of sizable areas to explore, each of these have a ton of detail making the visuals a joy to behold. The assets within the game can be a bit angular, but considering the size of the game world the polygon count of the different environmental models are more than respectable.
The game does have its problems rendering everything in a timely fashion, there can be pop-in, especially during cut scenes and although the game tries to minimize loading times, it can chug quite severely while making your way through certain environments. Combat often involves a lot of enemies and Fable III typically does an excellent job of processing so many different characters. There are the occasional frame rate hiccups however and they usually involve an abundance of magic attacks flying around, though this is most certainly not game crippling. At the end of the day, the visuals are a joy to behold and a noticeable step up from Fable II, the ambient and real-time lighting effects are the cherry on top and set the bar high for the inevitable sequel.
The music in Fable III is quite understated during most of the questing the player will go through. Things liven up a bit during combat and certain cut scenes however, when an orchestral soundtrack accompanies the beautiful visuals quite nicely. Much more present is the voiced dialog; it quickly becomes clear that this is a British-developed title as the game is saturated with folksy British accents. All of the main characters are brought to life with great voice acting and well written dialog. Interactions with the citizens of Albion are often quirky and many of the side-quests have an excellent sense of humour that lightens the mood of the game considerably. It is refreshing to see a main character who for once isn’t an inexplicable mute but actually speaks, although a real personality is still lacking, arguably because it is up to the player to develop the morals and direction of the game’s protagonist.
The beauty of an intuitive control scheme can never be overstated and the way the three different types of attacks (melee, ranged and magic) are mapped to the coloured buttons (X, Y and B) works extremely well. There is no lock-on system, which can make things tricky when you want to target a particular enemy like the ones that spawn minions. Instead the player attacks in the direction the thumbstick is pushed, which works well enough most of the time. While having your ranged weapon (pistol or rifle) out you can enter 1st person mode by pressing the left bumper, the cursor moment becomes extremely twitchy, however it is still an effective way of picking off enemies from a distance. The camera is generally very good, it never seems to get stuck on objects and always keeps an appropriate distance. It does have a nasty habit of panning so that it faces the player, obscuring what is ahead of you, when this happens there isn’t really a specific button that resets the camera (the left bumper, which enables 1st person view can do this but is not very fast), instead you will have to use the thumbstick to turn it around.
Fable III is a 3rd-person RPG with real-time combat. The game combines melee attacks, which are performed with either a hammer or sword, ranged attacks, performed with either a rifle or pistol and magic attacks of which there are six different varieties into a single combat experience. The player is free to mix these attacks up at will as there is no ammunition or mana to limit the ranged and magic attacks, although a brief cool-down period kicks in with repeated use. Easily the most exciting element of Fable III, the combat is very satisfying because it is so simple to chain together different types of attacks. The combination of sword swipes and gun-play is not unlike what characterizes the Devil May Cry franchise. The game does not shy away from throwing a lot of enemies simultaneously at the player early on and although this can make the combat challenging, it does not feel like there are any real consequences to dying. Actually, that is probably because there is no “dying” in Fable III, once you have sustained more damage damage than you can take, you are simply “knocked out”, the only consequence of which is losing the progress towards your next “guild seal”. You won’t even need to restart the quest, you simply stand back up and continue the combat. This can make it feel like you are coasting through the game a little too easily, reducing the tension and urgency of combat.
The aforementioned “guild seals” are awarded for completing quests, defeating enemies and interacting with the citizens of Albion (and beyond). They can be used to open up special treasure chests that contain upgrades to your weapons, new spells and social interaction options. This means that there are no stats (like strength, agility, endurance etc.) to upgrade or new “perks” to unlock, instead the customization mainly pertains to the clothes, hairstyles and tattoos you can adorn your character with. The outfitting, weapon selection, collected treasures and trophies can all be viewed at an innovative new place called the “Sanctuary”. By pressing the Start button at any time you arrive at this sanctuary where in addition to character customization options you can view the world map, peruse your quest list and and quick travel to any discovered locations on the map. This feature is by far the most innovative and pleasing addition to Fable III and while it is by no means as revolutionary as Mister Molyneux would have us believe, it certainly streamlines the gameplay experience a lot.
It is interesting how the focus of the gameplay changes from the first half of the game where the loyalty of prospective allies is gained by undertaking various combat-focused quests, much like what we have seen in past Fable games, -to a budget management sim. You see, it is a well publicized fact that the second half of the game sees the player taking control of the kingdom as the new ruler. In addition to the standard quests you will now have to manage the needs and wishes of your subjects, while maintaining the kingdom’s budget. Needless to say, the two rarely mix and you will be forced to take some tough decisions. Why is staying on budget so important? Well the main story will reveal that but let’s just say that the lives of many are tied to each of those gold coins you may be short by. So if you do not feel like closing down orphanages just to save a buck you have the option of kicking in your personal funds to make ends meet. The player can fill his personal coffers by taking on odd jobs around town, however true business moguls will buy and rent out real estate through the many homes and businesses throughout Albion that are available for acquisition. It adds an interesting game dynamic that goes beyond establishing thin relationships just so you can wed a fictional character and expands it to making or breaking promises to people that genuinely count on you, the results of which instantly become apparent in the game world.
Drop in and out multiplayer again returns, allowing you and your friends to visit each other’s kingdoms. The interaction possibilities between players have been expanded, allowing you to marry your friends, build a family and other social silliness. There are even some challenges in the game based on this multiplayer interaction. To me, games of this type are more suited to the single player experience and do not offer the same multiplayer appeal as a FPS game for instance, however it is nice to have it included as an option.
The main quest in Fable III is not all that long for an RPG, approximately 15 to 20 hours, during the second half of the game it seems to steamroll towards the end a little too quickly however, which caused me to scratch my head and wish I would’ve had a little bit more time before reaching the point of no return. Having said that, a brief yet focused story with a satisfying conclusion is usually better than a long, drawn out tale that does not go anywhere. Of course you know there are a good deal of side-quests to take on as well that once completed lead to follow-up quests are often the most interesting and can net you the best rewards.
I have almost become used to the inflated promises of Lionhead Studios every time a new Fable game is released. Combining a standard RPG formula with SIMS-style NPC interaction is not exactly the epitome of innovation, however I was pleased with how smoothly the developers allow the gamer to jump to the sanctuary, all it takes is a press of the start button, no loading, tweak your load-out, fast travel halfway across the kingdom, all with a minimum of load times or waiting. Another fun gameplay addition is the kingdom management side, although it is not as deep as it sounds, it does force the player to think about their actions and decisions much more than usual and it goes a long way toward increasing the replay value. Although you are pigeonholed as a “good guy” and savior during the first half of the game, the choices to be good or evil become much more open when you take control of the kingdom. Experimenting with choices to see how your decisions impact the world around you is a lot of fun, often because these decisions can be very far-reaching. Overall the level of innovation found in Fable III is not striking, but it is enough to keep this latest addition to the franchise from feeling stale.
By now I am sure that despite all the hype most gamers do not expect Lionhead Studios to turn the game world on its head anymore. Having said that Fable III, throws in enough gameplay enhancements to keep the franchise feeling fresh. The seamless character management interface by way of the “Sanctuary” and the new kingdom management gameplay are the best additions. Visually the game received a pleasing upgrade as well, making it one of better looking RPGs out there. As such Fable III is a safe purchase for any fan of adventure or RPG games, it will feel familiar to those who played previous Fable titles but brings enough to the table to warrant the price of admission.
+ Well written, humorous dialog, with some scary bits to boot
- Choosing between “good” or “evil” is pretty much a non-factor during the first half of the game
+ Lush, open environments
+ Nice lighting effects, great use of colour
- Frame rate is not always consistent
+ Excellent voice acting
- Minimalistic use of background music
+ Sanctuary Start-menu system streamlines gameplay nicely
+ Kingdom management is a fun, if two-dimensional, experience
- It all feels pretty familiar
+ Fun main campaign and side quests
- Second half of the game ends a bit suddenly (if you’re not paying attention)