How many games let you dress up as a giant chicken in order to rescue ‘crafty’ escaped chickens by lulling them into a false sense of security? Fable III is here and maintains the humorous writing that has characterized the entire series. After three games of refining and tweaking formulas Peter Molyneux’s franchise has come a long way in both good ways and bad. At its core Fable III is a solid advancement of what made Fable II good but it also carries some of the same problems and introduces a few new ones.
Fifty years after Fable II the land of Albion has entered an industrial era and the old Hero-King of Albion, the player character from Fable II, has died and left the crown to his tyrannical firstborn son Logan. Under Logan’s rule hardship, pollution, and poverty run rampant with the masses downtrodden and hopeless. You are Logan’s younger brother who, after an incident in the castle that showcases Logan’s cruelty, flees the castle with the aid of his or her mentor Sir Walter, faithful butler Jarvis, and loyal pet dog to discover his or her destiny as a Hero and lead a revolution against Logan to save Albion.
Fable III manages to integrate a sense of charm with the cruel hopelessness faced in industrial age Bowerstone. Starting from the opening cinematic, everything from sights of children working in factories to people begging for money on the streets effectively frames the setting that life in Albion isn’t fair and there’s nothing to hope for. The narrative still keeps this theme surprisingly lighthearted.
The humorous, witty writing and atmosphere contribute to the game really feeling like a fairy tale. The writing is delivered by excellent voice acting and features a lot of star power including Bernard Hill as the grizzled Walter, John Cleese as the uptight and professional Jarvis, Ben Kingsley as the crazed old leader of a group of mountain-dwellers, and many others. The visual and musical style owe a lot to Fable II in a good way, melding the same literal fable atmosphere.
It’s easy to become more attached to your Hero in Fable III because he or she can now speak. The hero’s new voice is mildly disappointing however because you only speak in very scripted story situations, but it still makes your Hero seem much more like a person than a placeholder. In a similar vein your Hero has a much more human face than in the previous two Fable games, where the Hero just looked like a passive-faced mannequin. Outfit customization is more rewarding because the outfits themselves are more diverse, eclectic, and humorous. If you seriously don’t see the appeal of leading a revolution in a giant chicken suit there’s something wrong with you.
The big problem with Fable III‘s story is that there’s a lot of build-up but very little payoff. There are two acts to the narrative: Gathering your allies to lead a revolution, and ruling as the subsequent king of Albion. There’s a lot of hype towards the climax of each of these story arcs but it’s very underwhelming. The reason for this is that there’s a lot of gameplay involved with the build-up, but not nearly as much involved with the finales. Upon being crowned king not much changes either; this is okay to a point, but the only noticeable part of your kingship is having to make royal decisions every so often.
Fundamentally, the gameplay is near-identical to that of Fable II. You’re in an open world and can explore, quest, and interact with locals. You have your helpful dog back who remains an integral part of the Fable experience partly because he’s still fantastic at digging up treasure but also because he continues to be an effective emotional link in Albion. You still need to take jobs to make money and, while this is still monotonous, the mini-games associated with the blacksmith, pie-making, and lute playing jobs are more entertaining than the timed mini games from Fable II. As is the standard with the series you’re free to get married and have children, purchase properties and raise a business empire, or just wander around farting in the faces of hapless citizens. In essence, there’s more of what worked in the first two Fables; there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a successful formula.
Fable III strips away more traditional RPG elements in favor of a streamlined system that cuts out micromanagement. You can still specialize in either melee, ranged weapons, or magic but the three experience types corresponding to each weapon have been streamlined into one simple general experience type that makes the system feel much less cluttered. You also get the occasional new sword or gun but you generally keep the same weapons and just upgrade them which cuts down on obsolete or unnecessary gear.
The experience system itself has been substantially reworked. Rather than simply upgrading weapons or skills through a menu you have an interactive “Road to Rule” which serves as a literal road detailing how close you are to becoming king of Albion. Experience points earn you Guild Seals, a form of currency that can be used to open treasure chests on the Road that upgrade your weapons, give you new spells, and even raise your proficiency at the in-game jobs. Similarly, in place of a simple pause menu is an extremely clever Sanctuary that sends you to a pseudo-hideout with the pause button where you can do everything from change your wardrobe and weaponry to save your game and adjust game settings. These were intuitive ways of swapping out something as commonplace as a standard menu for something much more intuitive and interactive.
As creative a system as this is, it raises a perplexing question: Why do I need to pay experience to unlock the ability to make a scary face or purchase a shop in the Road to Rule? We had all of this at the beginning of Fable II and it smacks of needlessly padding out the gameplay. Granted, unlocking the ability to purchase businesses or make facial expressions costs very few Guild Seals but it’s arbitrarily limiting content.
Quests in Fable III are a joy to partake in because of their creativity and variation. The main missions are combat-centric but take you through a colorful variety of settings and enemies including the familiar bandits, hollow men, hobbes, and balvarines as well as new enemies. Your journey to the Albion throne and beyond will take you through haunted woodlands, snowy mountains and the faraway desert land of Aurora, a hithero unseen realm in the Fable universe.
The side quests are where Fable III really shines. Ordinary quests, like saving a trapped child from a save or escorting a traveling merchant to the town of Brightwall are actually a minority. Instead you’ll partake in hilarious and witty endeavors such as living out a Dungeons and Dragons-style roleplay or seducing a prudishly mean wife so her kinder husband has an excuse to divorce her without giving up half of his estate. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s what makes Fable III so much fun. It balances the seriousness of some of the main story missions with the whimsical world of Albion and its eccentric inhabitants very nicely.
On the other hand, even compared to its predecessor, Fable III is just too easy. I appreciate that Peter Molyneux wants to make the Fable series accessible but there’s no challenge at all. As they did in Fable II, area of effect magic spells completely break the game and you can now combine spells to give the enemies even less of a chance. I got through virtually every fight in the game just by spamming the fire and lightning combo magic. Regenerating health replaces the standard health meter so I wound up having a stack of health potions that I almost never needed.
Morality in Fable III has also been reworked with mixed results. Choices can be more complicated than the black-or-white system the first Fable espoused but it falls into the same trap of having scripted “good” and “evil” options. The game still doesn’t bank on them as much so it’s not a moral choice system anymore, which is a huge step in the right direction. The kingship of Albion story arc nonetheless has even more choices where you either rule as a benevolent savior or as an iron fisted madman. The situation in the story lends itself to a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” feeling but the ultimate actions of your consequences are spelled out right in front of you. It dispels any sense thoughtfulness because you know what’s going to happen.
Fable III seems rushed at times when the numerous bugs become apparent. The bread-crumb trail that leads you to your targeted objective frequently disappears and you need to run around for it to reappear. Companions you’re escorting often have difficulty walking up or down stairs and your dog sometimes gets lost on a way to a dig spot he’s discovered. The graphics are colorful and unique like those of Fable II, but even with the game installed on my hard drive slowdown was periodic.
Multiplayer has also been expanded from the second game. Both online and offline cooperative play now allow a guest in another player’s game to use their character rather than a generic henchman. Players’ characters can interact in unique ways including getting married, and online cooperative play lets players freely explore an entire area rather than being forced to share a screen. These are incremental improvements but welcome ones and Fable III is still entertaining with friends.
Fable III isn’t quite the leap forward that Fable II was but it does a lot to refine the formula and keeps what worked from its predecessors. It also has its share of baggage including the bugs, shallow moral choices, and disappointing king of Albion story arc. Fable III nonetheless stands up as a good title owing to the solid writing, stellar voice acting, streamlined system, and excellent quests.
The colorful, vibrant world of Fable is beautiful to look at when you aren't laughing at snarky comments by locals, but bugginess tarnishes it somewhat
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The gameplay is the same fluid hack and slash action from Fable II but the game is far too easy
On one hand the voice acting is excellent and sounds are solid but the music is forgettable
The main story takes up a fair amount of time and there is a slew of optional side quests to partake in
Fable III is a good game; its new ideas can't really elevate it to greatness but it's fun, well-written, and creative