Fable III Review
Game: Fable III
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox 360
Fable and Fable II are two games that had much hype behind them prior to their eventual release. Mr Peter Molyneux, the man behind their creation, promised us so much from these games, but in the end he didn’t deliver. These promises related to decisions you made in the game having a real, visible effect on the world around you. However, the most disappointing thing was that the failure to keep these promises overshadowed two quite decent games.
In the build up to the release of the Fable III, Mr Molyneux took a more humble approach. He realised the error of his ways, no promises were made and he was a whole lot more honest when talking about the game. Was this approach a sign of quiet confidence or was he genuinely afraid to talk about Lionhead’s third foray into Albion? Hit the jump and read our review to find out.
STORY: Fifty years have passed since the events of Fable II and Albion has been under the rule of a new King. His name is Logan and he is your brother. Under his rule, Albion has become a terrible place to live and as you can imagine the people residing in this once prosperous place have become very unhappy. Being his brother, you try to reason with Logan, but are unsuccessful. The event that follows this failed “discussion” is somewhat of a spoiler, but it’s the catalyst that sets up the main premise of the tale told within Fable III.
You leave the castle in the middle of a rain soaked night in a bid to fulfil your destiny as the next Hero of Albion, gain followers so you can lead a revolution and eventually overthrow your brother to become the next King of Albion. Sounds simple enough, but it most certainly isn’t. To say more would probably ruin the story for those who have yet to step into Albion for a third time, but just keep in mind that everything isn’t as straightforward as it initially seems.
Even though the content of Fable II is more action/adventure than role-playing, the story still plays quite a big part in the overall quality of the title and it’s all positive. You genuinely want to know what is going to happen next and how your actions are eventually going to shape the future of Albion. It also helps that you gain a genuine bond with certain characters and end up caring about what happens to them. The one character that stands out in particular is Sir Walter Beck. As you progress through the game, you really do become attached to your loyal advisor/companion. When a game manages to do that, you know it is doing something right. Oh and the little throwbacks to Fable II are also a great touch, something which fans of the series are sure to appreciate.
GRAPHICS: Fable III is by no means a technical marvel when it comes to the graphics, but it doesn’t need to be and isn’t trying to be. With Fable III, the folks over at Lionhead Studios have favoured artistic merit over a high polygon count or mind boggling particle effects. In all honesty, the game is all the better for it. Through the distinctive visual style, Peter Molyneux and his team have captured the era they have chosen to replicate quite brilliantly. There is a certain charm about everything you come across in Albion, from the individual look of each town to the hilarious posters pinned up on the walls.
It’s not all sunshine and roses though, as the game does suffer from slowdown and, during some random occasions, it is actually quite bad. Strangely enough, the slowdown doesn’t crop up all that often during hectic combat situations; it is quite the opposite in fact. You will notice the stuttering most when you are just walking or running around a town with your faithful canine companion. The slowdown isn’t game breaking by any means, but in game which is otherwise graphically quite solid, it is very much noticeable.
SOUND: For the most part, Fable III is a quite treat for the ears. The voice acting, in particular, is fantastic. This should come as no real surprise seeing as the game has a rather special all-star cast consisting of well-known actors/comedians such as Simon Pegg, Bernard Hill, Sir Ben Kingsley, John Cleese and Jonathan Ross. Every single performance is superb and really helps bring the characters to life.
The music accompanying the on-screen action is also of a high quality. The way the tone of the music changes as you visit different locations within Albion is fantastic, it helps create a wonderful, believable atmosphere throughout the duration of the game.
The only real audio related negative (more of a slight niggle really) comes in the form of repetitive villager chatter. As mentioned earlier, the voice acting in Fable III is fantastic, but this only seems to apply to the major characters in the game. The villager chatter isn’t terrible by any means (it’s always nice to hear them acknowledge your presence), but it does get repetitive after a while. A little more variation in the chatter would have improved matters greatly and, more importantly, made the villagers much more believable.
GAMEPLAY: Streamlined and simplified, those are the two words that best describe the gameplay in Fable III, especially when you compare it to Fable II. Some parts of the game are better for it and some are worse off, but (thankfully) the former most certainly outweighs the latter. The Sanctuary is the best example of this, as even though it might not be perfect, it is ultimately a positive addition to Fable III. The Sanctuary is basically a fully interactive pause menu, but the difference here (apart from the obvious) is that you actually don’t feel like the game is paused. Even when you press the start button and enter The Sanctuary with your character, you don’t feel like the game has been halted. That feeling is replaced by a sense of continuity, something which can be a bit confusing at first, but eventually makes you wonder why other games don’t use a similar system.
When taking your character into The Sanctuary you are able to choose which weapons to take into combat, edit your appearance, check your bank balance, fast travel to already visited locations and even buy/sell properties all over Albion. Fast travelling and the buying/selling of properties is all done via the world map located in The Sanctuary, and this particular ability is nothing short of a godsend. To a certain degree, it’s still fun to travel to locations via foot and go to a property to actually purchase it, but the fact that you don’t have to is something quite a few players will appreciate.
The Sanctuary also houses The Road to Rule, a place where you “purchase” new abilities and upgrade current ones by spending Guild Seals (more commonly known as XP). Pretty much everything you do throughout the course of the game earns you Guild Seals, whether it be defeating enemies or playing pat-a-cake with a villager. The Road to Rule is another great example of the streamlined and simplified approach to gameplay Fable III takes. Your character is actually teleported to a road where he or she opens various chests to unlock or upgrade abilities. Let’s face it; you can’t really get more simplified than that! At the end of the day though, it is quite a good addition and the fact that you have a proper visual representation of your progress is ever so slightly cool.
As mentioned earlier, pretty much everything you do in throughout the course of Fable III earns you Guild Seals. Completing quests is probably the easiest way of earning Guild Seals and thankfully the main story quests are quite varied, you never feel like you are doing the same thing twice. However, the side quests are a bit repetitive and you will come across duplicates from time to time. A minor complaint when you look at the bigger picture, but it’s something that will definitely be noticed by players who go down the 100% completion route or just want to collect as many Guild Seals as they can.
Combat and interactions complete the set when it comes to actions that reward you with Guild Seals. The combat, even though it has been greatly simplified and scaled down compared to Fable II, works well enough to get you through to the end of the game. It is broken down into three key aspects; melee (swords and axes), shooting (pistols and rifles) and magic (via gauntlets). Each aspect of the combat is assigned to one of the face buttons on the Xbox 360 control pad, keeping things (yes, you guessed it) very simple. You press the button once for a normal attack and hold it down for a more powerful, charged attack. The combat is certainly is very accessible, but more often than not, it feels like it was designed with the enemy A.I. in mind. You see, the enemies you come across in Fable III will pose you little or no threat at all. The majority of gamers out there will probably complete the game without even being knocked down (you can’t die). There is actually an achievement related to this and, to be honest, it’s one of the easiest ones to obtain. However, despite the unchallenging and simplified nature of the combat, it still manages to be quite enjoyable. The slow motion attacks are always fun to pull off and there is something about taking out a barrage of Hobbes on your own that is immensely satisfying.
Right, now to delve into a gameplay aspect that has always gained much attention when it comes to the Fable series. A gameplay aspect that Fable’s mouthpiece, Peter Molyneux, has consistently boasted about, but never really delivered as per his words; decisions/interactions and how they shape the world around you. To be fair to Mr Molyneux, he has kept relatively quiet this time around and that has worked to Fable III’s benefit. Initially (apart from one early scenario), the decisions you make boil down to simplistic interactions with the characters in your world. It must be said, the interaction system compared to Fable II, is very restrictive. Even if you have several interactions at your disposal, you are limited to choosing just the one from a certain type (good, funny or bad). Unfortunately, this means you could be stuck using the “pat-a-cake” or “dance” interaction with a villager for a while until the game decides to cycle to the next one.
However, things do get a whole lot better as the game progresses. Without ruining anything, once you become King of Albion, you no longer rely on simple interactions like “hug” to become popular. The focus of the game shifts dramatically and every decision you make as King ends up effecting Albion in some way. Sure, these decisions usually come down to good or bad and there isn’t really any middle ground, but it’s good to see Fable III come good on promises made by Mr Molyneux years ago. Better late than never!
MULTIPLAYER: Those of you who experienced the two player co-op in Fable II will know that it was just downright awful. Thankfully, that is not the case with Fable III. Lionhead Studios have actually paid some attention to the two player co-op this time and the results are very good.
The most important change (or addition) is that now your camera is not dependant on the distance between you and your co-op buddy. This helps the co-op gameplay immensely and gives both players a sense of freedom, something which should have been present in Fable II. To add to that, players can now get into business partnerships with each other, get married and even have a little baby. The last two “features” mentioned there are a bit creepy, but are guaranteed to get some laughs when playing with a friend over Xbox LIVE.
The co-op mode does contain some bugs (invisible walls and button prompts not appearing), but the fact is that they don’t manage to hamper the overall enjoyment. Joining a friend’s game then travelling around Albion whilst you complete missions and cause havoc or makes friends with villagers is a huge amount of fun. You can literally lose hours playing Fable III with a friend, that’s the measure of how enjoyable it is.
LONGEVITY: If you decide to plough through the main story quests then Fable III will last you anything between 10-12 hours. However, there is so much more to do in the world of Albion that just storming through the main story quests would be doing the game a slight injustice. There are a myriad of side quests to complete (even if some of them are slightly repetitive), many collectibles to find and, if you are so inclined, there are quite a few achievements to unlock. To add that, thanks to the way it is designed, Fable III is one of those games that you will want to play through again.
VERDICT: The trademark series humour combined with an interesting story, easy on the eye visuals and simplistic yet fun gameplay make Fable III an easy recommendation for any Xbox 360 owner.
Some gamers might be disappointed by the lack of any real challenge the game serves up, but that isn’t really what it is about. It’s about the overall experience and in that respect, Fable III truly delivers. Despite certain issues, it is a highly enjoyable game and the best in the series so far.