If there’s a good reason that this review is so drastically overdue, it’s because my feelings were so mixed on the affair that I didn’t really know where I stood. It has all the things that you’d love about a Fable game, even more refined in places, and all the things that you hate, and those are even more detrimental in places. Ultimately there’s a lot of Fable-y fun to be had, but there’s significant pacing issues and the conclusion to the story personally left a bad taste in my mouth.
Fable makes a strong start at the intro, with a cinematic telling you about how the age of industry has arrived in Albion, and, more importantly, of the oppression the people of the kingdom are experiencing. It’s a nod and a wink to fans of the Fable games that the cinematic camera chases a chicken in a kind of series of unfortunate events whilst Theresa’s voice over builds you up to the epic journey that will be set out before you. A little bit of the excitement built up during the cinematic is burned away quite quickly as the beginning part of the actual game is a bit of a slow moving tutorial which is unfortunately unskippable and un-speed-up-able. There’s something to be said for using the beginning as a place for laying down the mechanics of the game whilst simultaneously introducing the world, but this may grate a little with people already well familiar with the Fable series, and any subsequent play through you may have will be marred with the cumbersome initial start-up sequences.
Presentation seems to have seen a major push for Fable 3, with several big names heading up the voice acting cast, among them being John Cleese, Sir Ben Kingsley, Stephen Fry, and Simon Pegg. They all turn in good performances, though some of them perhaps not good enough to make you forget that you’re listening to a famous actors voice. Other presentation oriented ideas haven’t paid off as well as they promise to on paper. In particular, the menu system has, for the most part, been supplanted by in game systems. Pressing start will instantly teleport the player to the “hero’s sanctuary” which contains a model/map of the world for fast travel, an armoury, and a dressing room. What this boils down to is that instead of scrolling through menu items, you’ll have to run your character to the appropriate place, before you can select an appropriate item (weapon, clothing, etc) from a list (or “menu”; proving nothing has been solved) of options.
More semi-significant changes have been made in areas of character progression. You still earn experience, but gone are the three fields of strength, skill and will. Well, they’re still there in essence. Now, any action you perform, be it completing a quest, performing some act of violence, or winning over a villager will earn you followers, which is represented by a number next to a guild seal with the progress meter around it. Basically this means you can avoid the combat and focus a lot on the interaction with NPCs. As if that’s the fun part. It’s not, just to be clear. Interacting with the randomised populous is still as banal and stupid as it ever was, idiotic gestures and goofy repetitive dances seem to be the way you win over a populous in Albion. It’s not that I expect unprecedented realism from Fable at this point, mind you. Something merely needs to happen to make them less of a chore. By making them more integral to the game, Lionhead has effectively done the opposite of this.
The progression system, like the Hero’s sanctuary, is also a menu-made-real in the form of what the game calls “The Road To Rule” which tracks your progress on a segmented astral highway type thing with chests for you to open (using your accrued ‘follower’ experience currency) with new skills, stat boosts and spells. Speaking of the spells, Fable III has about six of them, off the top of my head, but you can mix and match them, under the guise of assigning one to each gauntlet on your hands. It’s a nifty thing, to be able to combine two of the six to create a fire-and-ice-ball, or a tempest-of-blades.
The one-button philosophy for combat is still in effect, with not a hell of a lot changing mechanically from the previous Fable. Holding X still blocks, holding it and a direction releases a flourish, B will unleash magic – area of effect around you by itself, and a projectile if given directional input. Y is the ranged attacks and still not fun to use in first person mode, sadly.
Narrative, as important as it usually is in RPGs, is sadly a pretty rugged affair this time around. The whole game is rife with pacing issues; the experience is front loaded with a ‘the needs of the many’ style moral choice, moral choices being the most unsubtle things in Fable, a series in which you can fart so hard that you make a mess in your pants. You then flee the castle, a fugitive on a series of linear quests; though they’re not really that linear since you can fast travel anywhere and monkey around as much as you like. Then at some point you have to take care of actually running the kingdom, at which point the game generally peters out and ends on an anti-climax.
Fable III is a weird thing. As much as I think I just spent my time just ripping on it, I’m not exactly wishing to have my time spent back. For those entrenched in the series that haven’t already played it, it’s worth checking out. Those that don’t, probably know why they’re avoiding it. For those interested but unsure, I’d recommend Fable 2; it’s as much fun, presents a more cohesive package, and is probably at a nice price point now. Fable III left me feeling unsatisfied, but there’s a strong defence to found in the fact that I will probably play more of it some time down the track in order to find the satisfaction.