Fable 3. On PC. Podcast listeners will already know my opinion of this one.
For a start, the PC iteration of Fable 3 can be called an obvious port. Not a lot of effort has gone into disguising the game’s console roots. Like all too many third-person console to PC ports, Fable 3 forces you to disable V-sync to avoid crippling mouse lag, while still saddling you with soupy, slow mouse response.
This is an RPG though, and an RPG endowed with a good, well-told story can be forgiven many a gameplay-related sin. Dragon Age 2 is a perfect example.
Fable 3’s intro cinematic explains the setting: Albion is in the early stages of an industrial revolution. The rights of the common man are being thrown more and more into the spotlight, and the nobility is resisting the inevitable decline of their power. This is told while a hilarious chicken is subjected to all manner of hilarious misfortunes; a baffling juxtaposition that undermines the tragic human side of the conflict. It’s also the most compelling part of the story. Yes, for the whole game.
Much fuss has been made about the moral choices you must make in the course of the game. After the setup that had me feeling a bit sorry for the common man, I’m thrust into the shoes of a Prince of the realm. Brother to the King, and possibly his only heir (this somewhat important piece of information is inexplicably absent from the narrative).
It’s explained to me that some commoners have been arrested for inciting revolution at the front door to the palace. Serves them right, I thought. My brother the King still holds ultimate authority in Albion, and he ain’t one to take crap from peasants.
The first little moral choice I have to make is whether to tell off the palace kitchen staff for some minor transgression. Theyr’e upset that the King was mean to them about it. I explain (more petulantly than intended) that the king is the boss and bitching about him isn’t a good look.
Before long I confront the King about his treatment of the protesters. Why? I have no idea. Apparently my character has a thing for lowborn commoners. Seeing as how he owes everything he has to his position of priviledge as a result of his noble birth, this seems a little silly. In an awkward, heavy-handed scene, my brother the King (and now arch-villian) tells me, the frustratingly petulant Prince, that I must choose between my girlfriend (who’s barely been introduced and I have no emotional attachment to) and the arrested protesters. One or the other will be executed. The setup for this situation represents one of the most poorly executed pieces of storytelling I’ve ever had the gross misfortune to be subjected to.
I choose to have the protesters killed. They are rebels and traitors, and in this setting it makes much more sense for them to serve the sentence for their crimes than to off the attractive highborn girl who let me hold her hand. Also, monkeyspherism.
All I really took away from this, character-wise, was that the King is a dick and the people don’t like him. My own character was also completely unlikeable, but probably better suited to lead Albion into an era of improved social justice. Also the dude wanted to kill my girlfriend. What a dick.
As I’m pondering the best way to go about this, the palace’s master at arms bursts into my bed chamber and tells me it’s time for a revolution. I’m not really very keen on that, since successful revolutions historically tend to result in a high death toll for the erstwhile ruling family. My opinion is apprently not required, however, and I’m whisked out of the castle via a hidden tunnel to a meeting with my father’s ghost, or some shit, who gives me magic powers and some unconvincing character motivation. I think. This part was so out of place in the (already shaky) narrative that the details are difficult to recall.
The escape tunnel takes us through gigantic caverns mere metres below the city that have apparently gone unnoticed. I seem to recall a large harbour, or at least river, from the intro movie as well, but never mind that, this is fantasy. Of a sort.
Finally, into the combat! Kind of. As a combat tutorial, myself and my two companions are sort of flown at by bats (there was also an earlier melee tutorial that showed me what the mouse buttons do). They can be avoided by taking two steps away from them, but the master at arms insists on standing in their midst and firing his flintlock pistol around ineffectually. It falls to me to 1: realise this is actually an issue, and 2: kill the bats with magic.
The story and the dialogue are so painfully silly that I didn’t realise that the lineup of voice actors is actually very impressive. Actors I greatly respect dutifully rattle off the terrible lines to advance the bafflingly stupid story. Some people give fantasy games a pass, story-wise. I am (obviously) not so charitable. A bad story is a bad story, and Fable 3 is among the worst.
Once I’ve made my escape I arrive at a hub-type lair. It basically serves as a menu for my character and travel options, only with a terrible layout and illogical interface that makes the simplest of things a chore.
From this hub I can fast-travel to the first stop on my ill-advised mission to lead a revolution against my own family.
This turns out to be a poor, sparsely populated mountain region way out the back of beyond, populated by starving smallfolk led by a hilarious charicature of a chieftain who wants me to do quests before he’ll lend me his support. Such as it is. Yeah, just the sort of place that someone trying to start a popular revolution would not bother with.
One of my companions is constantly in contact with me via a magical 2-way radio, that unfortunately won’t allow me to strangle the annoying prick remotely. A pity, that.
This sets the scene for the rest of Fable 3. An annoying illogical plot with an unlikeable, ineffectual, petulant protagonist, interspersed with annoying cookie-cutter combat encounters.
So what would I have done, given the choice? Actually found out what the line of succession looks like, and if (as I supect) I’m my brother’s heir, assassinate the douche, frame the anti-monarchist protestors, and sieze control of Albion. Then I can cuddle peasants to my heart’s content. Introduce democracy, give away my family’s wealth, turn the palace into a homeless shelter, whatever.
The graphics aren’t too ugly, but are put to shame by most current competitors. The controls don’t work very well on the PC, betraying the game’s console origins all too regularly. Fable 3 just doesn’t really do anything well. The odd moments of humour (which are sometimes actually funny) are the only high points in an otherwise pretty terrible RPG experience.
After playing Fable 3, I actually decided that I might have been a bit harsh in my review of The Witcher. That game had its faults, but it’s a hundred times better than this.
If you want to play a fantasy RPG, get The Witcher 2 or Dragon Age 2. Neither is perfect, but theyr’e both reportedly enjoyable. Fable 3 just isn’t.
Oh, and don’t get me started on the Games For Windows Live client I had to use to install and run the game. It’s like Steam, if Steam were ugly, had a terrible interface, and made everything 6 times as difficult as necessary.