While our favorite hyperbolic developer, Peter Molyneux, has been uncharacteristically quiet leading up to E3’10, there has still been a steady flow of information from Lionhead studios regarding the upcoming Fable 3. The game promises to take the narrative of Fable to an even larger scope by placing the player in the role of the ruler of a kingdom, with the players alignment having far-reaching consequences for the land and its people. This type of mechanic doesn’t lend itself well to a show floor demo, so I wasn’t surprised to see that Fable 3′s E3’10 offering consisted mainly of combat sequences.
With a scant 3 months before the game goes gold in anticpation of its Oct. 26th release, the game looks well on its way to being a solid holiday release. If you’re interested in some quick thoughts on how the game played, let me drop a pile of E3 hands-on impressions in your lap. After that, I promise — Albion my way.
Two demo sequences were available on the show floor: a character customization demo, and a combat demo. The character customization demo was a simple affair, giving the player the opportunity to dress up the main character and play around with some of the expressions in the new game.
These elements were fairly boiler-plate Fable 3, which is not to say they were bad; there just didn’t seem to be any major improvements in this areas. Other than a widened selection of character clothing and some tinkering with the expression options, the system applied in Fable 2 is continued mostly unchanged here. The noise on the show floor made it difficult to hear the reactions to expressions, so I may be missing out on some of the new elements, but it seems like players who were fans of farting, dancing, and picking out outfits to wear home to visit your family will be just as pleased this time around.
The combat demo placed me in a cave environment with a NPC named Walter, an older bearded man who was nervous about the lack of light in the cave and was furiously striking flint to get a torch lit. The reason for his distress became quickly apparent when a shadowy creature began to close on him; once he got the torch lit, the creature backed off and we began to traverse the cave.
Eventually, Walter was forced to throw the torch at a bolder enemy not scared of the light, and while the immediate threat was dealt with, now the darkness closed in, allowing for the other enemies who were previously held at bay to enter the player’s radius and attack. Anytime I encountered a thick, viscous, black ooze in the environment, the shadow creatures were sure to follow.
The three button combat system from Fable 2 returns here, with melee, ranged, and magical options all on the menu. Basic attacks can be spammed with each button, and holding any attack button charges up a more powerful attack in that category. Switching between the three happened pretty seamlessly, and the way that enemies attacked forced me to use all three options.
I thinned the ranks with ranged attacks, charged up an area of effect lightning blast to slow the mob down, and then switched to melee to fight off the ones who survived and broke through close enough to attack. As a compulsive min/max-er, it was nice to see that the enemy design encourages you to utilize all three attack types. This was really the only clear improvement I experienced over the Fable 2 combat system. I was one who enjoyed the simplicity of the Fable 2 system, so it felt really good to me. Gamers looking for Lionhead to bring more complexity or depth to the fighting here can stop wondering now, for the most part, it ain’t happening.
The demo ended with saving Walter from being taken over by the black ooze, and leading him by the hand Yorda-style out of the cave and into the desert outside. The environment in the cave was good-looking, but the desert looked absolutely fantastic. The noise on the show floor made it difficult for me to properly evaluate the sound design, but the voice acting I could clearly make out was well-done, as per usual for the series.
Ultimately, the meta-narrative elements of kingdom building and the storytelling will be the true distinguishers for this entry in the series, and until we can get our hands on the full version of the game, it will be impossible to tell if Fable 3 is a rehash of its predecessor or a new evolution for Lionhead’s RPG darling. In the meantime, if you really liked Fable 2, I can safely give you a green light to stay excited about this one!