I have always considered that skeletons would be better off spending their money on special rivets for their joints, rather than suits of armour. It would be way harder to smash them apart, right? And if you eliminate the ability to smash them apart, you’d spend way longer hacking at bone while their mates hacked at you. Simply put, they’d win. But, game to game, they don’t seem to learn.
Think about it.
Now that I have your attention...
It’s been fifty years since the happenings of the second Fable game and these days Albion is all about industry. You play as the younger brother of Logan, and the youngest son of the great (deceased) Hero. Logan holds the crown and is a pitiless and power hungry ruler. As fables go, that’s not how things are meant to turn out, so you’ll enter the game at a time when the tinder of revolution needs a spark. Guess who?
I wonder if the legacy of the Fable series is sort of its own worst enemy. When the first game came out, Lionhead and Midus-touch-Molyneux built the franchise’s ideal from the ground up. The tagline? For every choice, a consequence. This was a wildly exciting mechanic, and in both the original and its second outing, it worked very well. Morality systems have since become an action-adventure and RPG staple. But by the time you get to the third iteration of such a game you run the risk of alienating noobs with every single choice. For every choice, a moment of heart-arching indecision. And what happens if they discover that some of the choices don’t even mean all that much?
This aside, Fable III is a great game (that’s what an 8/10 means). The day of writing is 26 October, and although the review copy came through the NZGamer.com office a week or so ago, I have found myself dragging my feet until today so I could at least dip my toes into some of the online features (not available until release). Well, there was that. There was also the fact that I couldn’t actually wrench myself away from the controls long enough to get to work. Arresting? Absolutely. Involving? Unquestionably. It’s Albion, and there is a metric buttload to do.
The magic here is that the game doesn’t end once you rise up against Logan and knock him off his perch. The guts of Fable III is playing the average, every day Hero. Hero-six-pack. You might have slayed Hollow Men and Hobbs unnumbered, but when you’re back home, the wife needs a seeing to and your growing hoard of kids has a growing list of demands. Not to mention the fact that your other wife may roll onto the scene at some point, and who knows how many headaches that might cause?
To list out all of the little intricacies and complexities of life as King of Albion does Fable III a disservice. It really is, layer upon layer, a rich and rewarding experience, with so many options for playing just how you want that it simply doesn’t seem likely to ever end. But, yes; get hitched if you want. Or remain a bachelor. Be a landlord; shred the lute; bed down with ladies of ill repute and they’ll leave you their itchy and inflamed business card (unless you wrap it up good). In terms of detail, Fable III is rivalled by only a handful.
An action-adventure/RPG hybrid, Fable III is strangely packed with the obvious tropes that these kind of games demand, but, just as strangely, devoid of many traditional elements. The lack of health bar can be vexing - you’ll get a visual and aural clue to your impending demise, but nothing to show you how much you’ve managed to replenish with a potion or a rest. With respect to a traditional levelling system, your weapons carry a lot of the load for you. You need to fulfil certain conditions to get them evolving, and like your character and your dog (I named mine Malcolm because pets with people names are hilarious) they will change visually as they are used. This also depends on your moral bent, as in previous Fable games.
With the smoke and clamour of industry, Albion embraces gunpowder, extending to a range of pistols, rifles and even mortars. Add to this the obvious inclusion of magic, swords, hammers, etc and you wind up with some varied combat options. Thing is, the combat mechanic, apart from some pretty swish slow-mo finishing moves, lacks polish. Broadly, you can get by with a bit of button mashing and tapping out spell/gun/sword/spell/gun/gun/spell/sword/sword... you get the idea. There is no proper aiming system for your firearm, and you never run out of ammo, but the range of weapons and upgrades keeps things nice and spicy. This is one of Fable’s bizarre extremes; a mix of the uninspiring and suddenly exciting.
As you progress on your adventure you’ll occasionally be summoned to the Road to Rule, where you can use Guild Seals (earned on quests, vanquishing enemies and by favourably interacting with the locals - anything from handshaking, to dancing a very short Tango to burping in their face) to open chests for upgrades and the ability to do a bunch of cool stuff. This is where you can gain the ability to dye clothes, make a faster pie to earn more cash and learn how to haggle at markets. As well, there’s more beefy rewards on offer as you level up through your weapon systems.
Nuts and bolts of Fable III can be controlled from the Sanctuary - an old war room set up by your dad. Here, your butler (voiced by the prim John Cleese) will keep watch over your armoury, wardrobe, treasure room and dog basket. This one stop shop for all your customisations works very well and is far more interactive than list upon list. That said, it’s perhaps not quite as intuitive. A map in the middle of the room allows you to fast travel, set waypoints and choose quests. This is particularly handy when you require a certain number of Guild Seals, as you can see how many you’ll earn for each foray. Some (by no means all) are exercises in tedium. And so by picking the richest quests you can forge ahead nice and quick if you’re that kind of player.
On the flipside, some of the quests are brilliant (more of that weird pendulum swing) with nice little stories, good voice acting, worthy rewards and plenty of humour. The script and flow of story in Fable III errs always to the irreverent, just as in previous games. This is often delightful, always zany, and very infrequently annoying - although it does happen. One quest has you joining three wizards who need a miniature hero for a game they’re playing, and at 40 Guild Seals it’s a no-brainer. You follow the story along, voiced by these guys who I assume are actual devs from the game (they’re styled that way, anyhow). They commentate through the happenings and give you a little insight into how the broader Fable III experience was put together. They make fun of themselves, they make fun of traditional fairytales, they make fun of games of this ilk. It’s all a lot of fun.
John Cleese isn’t the only big name who has loaned his voice and name to the cast, either. Stephen Fry is there, Simon Pegg, Bernard Hill, Sir Ben Kingsley. Intimidating stuff. Their work is mostly good, although Bernard Hill’s chatter (as weapons master Walter) early in the game leaves a lot to be desired. Later, sound mash up in villages and on some quests is plain old infuriating, regardless of how good or poor the voice acting is. The script itself is very well written, just not always delivered at the level you might expect for a game of this pedigree. Nice work with the music, though.
Fable III is a massive game targeted directly at those who like their open worlds anchored by a plot which they can get into without getting swallowed. Like I said, the path from revolutionary to King is only half (or not even half) of the experience in Fable III. Once you’re there, you’ll have tough decisions to make as you run your kingdom either as a benevolent and logical leader or even more tyrannical prick than your brother.
Lionhead once again throw their arms open as wide as the incredible expanse of Albion and say, “I dunno, what do you reckon?”