Back in 2004 ‘Project Ego’ was finally released, after nearly seven years of development, on Microsofts Xbox under the name of Fable. Back then it was a breath of fresh air onto the console RPG market and was another killer app for Microsoft to fling about. ‘Project Ego’ was a brilliant game with a brilliant story and contained unparalleled dark British humour, however it never lived up to the promises made by Peter Molyneux; something which led him to never openly talk about his games in the same way again. Four years later in 2008 Fable II came out, again a hugely popular game and full of fun, but for many it was lacking and felt hugely dumbed down in comparison to its prequel. Once again Mr Molyneux had failed to live up to the promises he made about the game.
This doesn’t begin to paint a wonderful picture for Fable III, Peter Molyneux once again promised a new way of playing. A method of gameplay that wouldn’t be hampered by fussy clumsy menus, a world of seamless beauty to run around in, and a game packed with huge moral choices which will blur the lines between what is right and what is wrong. The thing is this time Peter got it right. Lionhead have ticked every box that they set out to tick. This doesn’t necessarily mean this is all for the best but already this game is looking hot to be the best fable yet.
I shan’t delve too deep into the storyline, for fear of ruining it for those who wish to discover the highs and lows for themselves, but the overall premise of the game is that you are staging a revolution to overthrow your brother, the King. To begin this revolution you need to go around Albion, the fictional nation where the entire Fable series takes place, and win over factions and groups with kingly promises so they will aid you in your struggle to remove your brother Logan from the throne. This forms the first two thirds or so of the game, and is pretty much like any other Fable in its structure, there is little to note in the quest giving mechanics as it works so very similarly to Fable II and again like almost every other modern free roaming RPG. The last third of the game however is a totally new and different beast for you are King! As King you have to make many decisions that WILL shape the way the world of Albion acts and they all do have tangible impacts to the end of the game. This is what Peter Molyneux’s words meant when he said there would be grey moral choices, if you are a king with little money then this will be the most challenging part of the game, especially if you are playing as a good king.
Gameplay wise Fable III is not too dissimilar from Fable II, some aspects have had a major overhaul whereas others have just had a tweak here or there. Combat for instance is rather similar, each face button provides a different action, X is for melee combat, Y is for ranged combat, and B is for magic combat. To perform a ‘Flourish’ attack, which is a stronger ranged or melee attack, you simply hold the button and point in the direction of the enemy. To perform a stronger magic attack you just hold the button for an area attack or you can aim specifically at an enemy. You can change spells by wearing different spell gauntlets and mix and match spells together to create rather potent combinations, not only is this a slightly more realistic interpretation of how someone could acquire magic, it also makes magic a much less fussy affair than in Fable II and charging for different lengths of time for different spells. My main criticisms of the combat are that having X to be attack, flourish and block is just too much loaded onto one button, so many times when I would be needing to block it would begin to flourish, or when I needed to block mid combo I couldn’t as the time it took for a block command to register I had already been struck. Another downfall of the combat is that it feels just that little bit too dumbed down. I feel that instead of playing a deep and immersive RPG I am instead left with a Hack ‘n’ Slash game with RPG overtones.
Another love/hate aspect of Fable III is its introduction of ‘seamless gameplay’ where you don’t have to worry about the intrusions of menus. This means that instead of being presented with a pause screen ,or a menu selection, where you could change clothing, weapons or hooking up on Xbox Live you are instead thrust to a place called ‘the Sanctuary’ where John Cleese greets you as Jasper the servant. In this area you can run between rooms and see your clothes all laid out for you to try on, or your weapons ready for you to pick up and play with, or even all your achievements and trophies and hoards of gold you may have. The plus sides of such a system does mean that gameplay is uninterrupted, and that yes you can see what you have the moment you get into the sanctuary, no need to worry about navigating through menus to get what you want etc etc, however is it really needed? In essence all that Lionhead have done is replace one menu system with another, and a more arduous one at that. I personally would have much preferred a menu system that allowed me to do what I wanted quickly and then jump right back into the game, however I feel in this day and age of gaming I’m one of the few left who feel this way. The expericnce points system also feels the same way. No longer are you left with a myriad of different points to spend on different spells and combat moves, no instead you gain Guild Seals from everything you do. Guild Seals are gained from doing quests, killing enemies and befriending villagers. You then spend these seals on ‘The Road to Rule’ unlocking chests which contain new skills, new spells, new actions and power upgrades. Now this isn’t entirely re-inventing the wheel when it comes to experience points it does however freshen up what was becoming a stale procedure.
I haven’t had enough time to delve into the ins and outs of relationships and building a family, which does fill up a large part of extra gameplay, but what I can say about it is that it works, and it works well. My only gripe is you cant have hoards of followers at once, like in previous Fables, and you cant give gifts to people as and when you please, however thats only a minor gripe. What Lionhead have done with Fable III is astounding, visually its by far the prettiest looking Fable, and it has so much going on in its world my 360 regularly had a hard time trying to deal with it all, I know its sacrilege to suggest such a thing but maybe Sony’s machine could have been the better format, not that Microsoft would have ever allowed that. Overall Fable III is miles better than Fable II was, and regularly hits the highs of the original Fable. Its fun, funny and although a little on the short side, genuinely had me worrying about the outcome of my game.
For those who are fans of Fable and have held of buying the game because Fable II let you down, then all I can say is go out and play this, you wont be disappointed. For those who have never played a Fable game before, now is the perfect time to start, never has a Fable been so inviting and appealing to newcomers.
(At time of writing I haven’t had a chance to really utilise the online component of the game, however you can play online with a friend and explore albion or even start a family online)