For over two years now Lionhead studios, the team responsible for the preceding two Fable games have been hard at work with Fable III. The third in the Fable franchise and the most accomplished of the series to date. However Fable III is such a personal and individualistic entity that there’s no guarantee what sort of experience you will have whilst playing but if you like fascinating stories, intelligent game design and fun by the bucket load then this may be the game for you.
“And so our story begins,” chimes a familiar voice as you press the start button. The scene before you is a wildly different one to that of Fable II, Albion has undergone a major makeover in the fifty years since the events of its predecessor. The age of industry has arrived, and with it machines and factories cover the larger cities and towns, making the world an altogether different place.
You begin your game by choosing your gender but this time it’s a prince and princess to choose from, the reason for this will soon become apparent. Upon choosing, players will find themselves in a lavish castle, complete with admiring servants, your butler ‘Jeeves’ and, of course, most faithful of all companions – your dog (Or Mr. Frisky as I affectionately named him). This change in setting is nothing compared to the change in the story. A distinct shift in tone from any of the previous games is apparent from the beginning cut scene. This game is not simply about you and your actions, it’s about the wider world and how those actions affect it.
In Fable III you are charged with gathering up followers for the purposes of a rebellion. Your brother Logan, the current King, has gone too far and it’s up to you to lead a rebellion for the crown. So for large portions of the game players will be charged with gathering followers so they can take on the might of King Lucian. Followers are won over by completing quests for them or by merely conversing with them and gaining their trust through emotive actions. As you inevitably move through the game and gather more followers, they will ask you to promise a better future. Some will want learning academies set up, others will want fairer treatment for the people of Albion. As the potential King you must promise to stand by these oaths. If you do become King then it’ll be up to you to keep them or break them.
Indeed the issue of moral choices has always been at the heart of the Fable series and this game is no different, you’ll be faced with your share of moral quandaries as you progress through the game. Issues are bound to be made of the juxtaposition of choices you are presented with and they are brutally black and white in their extremities but, as tough as the choices are, it is refreshing to see that Fable has not diminished its ability to make the players think about their journey as well as experience it.
For those unfamiliar with the Fable series, the simplicity of the controls have always stood out a little; the simple nature is something that is both easy to use and hard to master. When locked in combat use: X for melee weapons, Y for long range and B for your chosen magic type. Players can mix and match attack types for increased damage and to be just a bit fancy in the process. Eventually you will also unlock the ability to attack with combined magical types. This is not only spectacularly impressive to look at and highly powerful but also rewards the player with increased experience for their efforts.
One of the most celebrated aspects of the game is the fact that the weapons of Fable III are alive. Not in the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ singing and dancing way, these weapons will change as you use them. If you perform good actions like killing escaped criminals or bandits then upon upgrading your weapon it will take on an ethereal glow, changing its shape to match your heavenly deeds. Whereas, be a bit of a naughty Nigel and your weapon will change to match your devious actions.
Additionally, you can find the usual array of weapons within the game, which you can upgrade by performing certain tasks for each weapon. These are outlined in the weapon description screen allowing you to choose how to upgrade. For example, if you want your new pistol to spread bullets like a shotgun then all you have to do is ‘Kill 50 hollow-men at nightfall’. It’s a nice little touch and gives the game an increasingly original feeling; by the end of the game no armory should look the same.
Obviously there are some major changes in the game and one of the main changes you’ll notice is the lack of health bar. Fable III adopts the ‘Gears of War’ style recovery system in its battles. The screen will get redder and more out of focus as you take increasing damage until you finally die. Hide from damage for long enough and your health will increase back to normal.
One of the most interesting additions to the game is the changes to the pause screen. Pressing pause brings players not to a myriad of baffling textual choices but to the ‘Sanctuary’, which as the name suggests is a safe haven, complete with all the same options you would normally be appropriated in a Fable game. Players can move throughout the sanctuary and accomplish whatever they entered the pause menu to do, checking the amazingly useful 3D world map to fast travel to different locations, changing attire or weaponry, changing quests or even managing property.
Even with Fable II’s clunky, slow and bafflingly longwinded menu system, there was some skepticism about Fable III’s menuless system when it was first revealed. The seamless integration from gameplay to the sanctuary feels distinctly foreign at first but once you know where everything is you’ll be popping in and out in a much faster manner than in any previous Fable game or indeed many other adventure titles. When you have accomplished your goal, pressing the start button brings you straight back into the gameplay once more. Thankfully the game is lightning fast with loading times, something that could have crippled such an innovative system.
As you near the end of the opening section of the game you will be introduced to the ‘Road to Rule’. Much like the Sanctuary this is a personal area to explore. It gives players a visual representation of their progress in the game and is, quite literally, a long road. A number of sealed gates block your path and as you progress through the game, gain more followers and unlock more secrets the path will open for you. It’s also the place where you will upgrade your character and unlock (literally, as it turns out) the various actions and emotions that you can use on fellow characters as well as the ability to marry, buy houses and have children. You unlock these by spending Guild Points, which are exactly the same as experience points except they have the word ‘Guild’ which makes it instantly more old timey.
Guild Points, just like experience points, are amassed by killing enemies and completing tasks. Unlike Fable II however, players no longer need to hold in the right trigger in order to summon orbs of varying experience types towards them. Instead, guild points will flow towards your character automatically so you can be sure that you’ll never miss out on much needed experience whilst locked in combat.
Significant upgrades to the multiplayer system have also been set in place. This time players can join in on their friend’s games at any time and the individualistic nature of the Fable III world means that no two adventures should be the same. Similarly, players can simply visit other games to swap items or help out a friend but one of the newer aspects of the online experience is the ability to marry a fellow player and even raise a family with them. This added social aspect of the Fable world is yet another reason why it’s one of the most comprehensive adventure games available today.
Visually, the game is astounding. However, fans of the series will have come to expect this. The varied settings, be it snowy mountain top or murky forests, all look sublime and this coupled with the equally charming audio presentation makes for a compelling playing experience. Clearly Lionhead have spared no expense and this is particularly evident in the the vocal department, employing the likes of Stephen Fry, Sir Ben Kingsley and Simon Pegg to provide their significant vocal talent to the game. The calibre of voice actors is thankfully matched up with an excellent script featuring some of the funniest pieces of dialogue you’ll come across in any videogame. The world of Fable III is as charming and intriguing as any other in the world of adventure games and well worth the price on its own.
- An incredible upgrade from the previous game; in visual presentation, gameplay and variety of quests
- The narrative is easily the best of the series and is the first to drive a Fable game so seamlessly. The dialogue is also laugh-out-loud funny which only adds to the enjoyment
- Innovations in the pause screen and upgrade system coupled with the already excellent aspects of the game make it the most complete adventure game of the year
- If you didn’t like the Fable series before now this won’t do enough to change your mind
- Gears of war style health system may not be to some tastes
Fable III is the most complete third person adventure game of the year. That’s not to say that you’ll enjoy it the most or that it is objectively the ‘best’ but the gameplay is fun, addictive and tweaked to allow players to actually play the thing rather than sit and plan routes or read instructions. The visuals are some of the best on the Xbox 360, the story is a familiar one but timeless nonetheless and drives the game to a much greater degree than any previous game in the series. You could drone on and on about the intricate details of this game, how you’ll visit familiar places, see familiar faces and be a part of some ridiculously inventive quests along the way but it’s easier sign off by stating what should by now be obvious; Lionhead studios have created a masterpiece and, whilst it does have some minor imperfections, it’s as close to a perfect adventure game as you’re likely to find nowadays.