Tonight I met Peter Molyneux, a man who often draws fire for a certain over-enthusiasm for the games he creates. He talked us through some of the new aspects in Fable III and, at one point, seemed to be offering me a hug. Perhaps I was misreading signals. I have to admit though, he has a very impressive air about him. It is refreshing and immensely pleasing to see a man who has risen so high in the ranks of his profession and yet still retains a child-like and infectious enthusiasm for his newest projects.
So, to the meat of this article. Fable III is set in Albion, sixty years after the events of Fable II. The backdrop is a Dickensian dystopia filled with workhouses, child labour and brothels. The first half of the game is based around your hero gathering support from the populace to eventually overthrow the current, and presumably nefarious monarch. In the second half you have to make the tough decisions that come with power and make good on the promises that attracted all those followers to you in the first place. All of this while keeping a wife and kids at home and a dog at your heel (Peter stressed heavily that the dog hates rabbits – whatever that may mean).
Speaking of your spouse, in Fable III the partner you choose will have an effect on the game. Rather than just a passive character you interact with there will be real and recognisable differences in the game world depending on if you marry the homely woman who gives you cakes or the flamboyant man with a penchant for interior design (actual characters will probably not be those ones I just made up). You can even marry your co-op partner, local or online and their character will retain all the customisation (and bring their own dog) and progression of their own journey through the game.
The leveling has been scrapped. Cleared away in preference for a new mechanic measured by “followers” rather than spendable XP. The customisation and character morphing have also been given a huge overhaul. You will now morph depending not only on how good or evil you are but on what type of weapons you use. Heavy weapons will build muscle whereas light weapons will leave you looking spry and lithe. This morphing mechanic is also carried on for weapons with players taking one weapon which then morphs depending on what you kill, how often and whether you have committed virtuous or dishonourable acts with it. You can build a weapon and sell it to other players (the weapon will forever retain your Gamertag) who can then continue to change, upgrade and morph it before selling it on. You may eventually buy one of your weapons back in a completely different state.
The spells, too have been reworked so that magic is now imbibed in objects like rings which can be combined (Peter vaguely said he thinks the maximum number is five) to mix up your own magic via “spell-weaving”.
The biggest emphasis of the demo was put on the new “touch” mechanic whereby you can physically interact with other characters and lead them by the hand, either to comfort them (they demonstrated by holding your daughter’s hand – she refused to enter the pub) or to drag them to the workhouse and sell them for profit (or later, to your dungeons to lock them up). It was pitched, in the usual Molyneux manner, with much enthusiasm and it does look like an interesting new touch but it is difficult to call it revolutionary.
The game is looking great, with obvious similarities to Fable II but overall a little smoother and more polished. The new backdrop looks fittingly grimy, as an industrial revolution does, and the level of background chatter looks like it will once again provide much of the amusing moments in the game with characters shouting at you as you walk past.
Finally, one more observation: the man who was controlling the demo while Peter spoke about it was extremely animated in his movements. Natal wasn’t mentioned but when the man with the controller was swinging his axe in-game he was taking one hand off his controller and mimicking the movement in the real world. Whether this is just a way he’s found to amuse himself through the repetitious demonstrations or whether it’s a learned response from actually playing the game like that remains to be seen.