Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
The time to return to the world of Albion has arrived once again with Lionhead’s latest effort. Picking up fifty years after the end of the previous instalment, Fable III puts you in control of the child of the previous Hero of Albion from Fable II, in a time where the Industrial Age has arrived filling the busy capital with the fog of industry. Sadly though, that fog is a fitting representation of the morale of the populous; things are not well for the Kingdom with poverty rife and oppression in full flow thanks to the tyrant King, your brother, making unpopular and controversial decisions. Of course, he goes too far and ends up pushing you towards your destiny of becoming a hero, leading a revolution and taking control yourself.
Yep, just another day in Albion then.
The important thing to note here is that Fable III feels more like a Fantasy Action Adventure game and less of an RPG, and I for one think it’s about bloody time it took that approach. The issue I had with the previous instalments was its insistence that it was a fully-fledged RPG and ended up feeling shallow in comparison to other games in the genre. That doesn’t mean that the heavy customization isn’t here in the latest outing (you’ll still be able to dress up your character in a ridiculous manner, don’t fret) but the step away from the label of RPG allowed more room for manoeuvre for the series. Even Peter Molyneux has been reserved (and some might say even humble) in comparison to previous releases in regards of crowing his ambitions for the game.
But here comes the big-money question; does Fable III take advantage of the opportunity?
The main goal of Lionhead for the game was to streamline the experience for the player, and the Sanctuary, which acts as the main menu, fully achieves this. Gone are the lists of (very slow and clunky) menus from previous games and instead everything is presented to you in-game, meaning even when the in-game action has been paused, it makes you feel like the game hasn’t stopped, and for this Lionhead should be commended. From the Sanctuary you can equip your weapons, edit your clothing and looks, check how much money you have, view your achievements or even fast travel with the new map system. With the new map you can even buy property without having to be in the same zone and allows you to manage your real estate from afar, meaning you can stay in the thick of the action and be able to raise the rent on your houses. However, there is one point of annoyance with the map and that is that the quest list, which is only activated a part of the way into the game and not even announced when it was. This left me a bit disorientated for a while until I caught the option in the corner of a screen, but it worked as intended once I knew of its existence.
The Sanctuary also gives access to The Road To Rule, which acts as the menu to upgrade your abilities and unlock different features of the game by spending Guild Seals you earn from combat and questing (which replaces the traditional XP gain we all know and love.) Additional sections unlock as you progress through the story allowing access to more powerful upgrades. While this is a nice touch and reflects your progress through the game it can be annoying when you decide to unlock something specific halfway down the path as you have to run all the way there, with teleporting only available to take you to the start or the end of The Road To Rule.
So, what of the combat? It remains mostly unchanged from Fable II, with its one-button combat remaining the order of the day. The biggest change comes with spells, being represented as gauntlets the player can equip. You can eventually wear two gauntlets are the same time, allowing you to combine powers to create entertaining combination spells. Flame-filled electricity? Icy Tornados? Mixing and matching between the four powers available is good fun and each give interesting results. Sword and gunplay remains the same as the last instalment, although for some reason the controls felt clunkier this time around. For instance, aiming seemed a bit temperamental with ranged attacks, forcibly switching between enemies when I didn’t want it to, and defending yourself during swordplay only seemed to work half the time or responded to my commands too late. That said, the new flourishes that have been added did have a touch of style behind them and made me feel quite bad-ass when they randomly happened, be it slowed down or at normal speed. A mixture of the spell system from Fable III with the gun/sword mechanics from Fable II would have been more ideal, but is sadly not the case. Additionally each weapon can be upgraded by fulfilling different criteria, giving you more bonuses as you go, and transforms your arsenal depending on how you play. For example, the fact my gun turned gold because I was making lots of money was a nice touch.
Lionhead had the goal to make the storyline more involving for the player, and while there are some positive steps from their changes it sadly comes with some negatives as well. For starters the main character is no longer mute, responding during key scenes of the main storyline, during some side quests, and when interacting with the population. There is a larger supporting cast this time around with star-power behind the voice-acting, the highlight of which to me was John Cleese’s butler Jasper who always gives insight into whatever you’re doing. So what are the negatives? With such focus on the building up the investment of the player, the main points of the plot that you work towards seem lacklustre when they actually happen. The eventual ruling of the Kingdom, while simply done and allows you to change the face of Albion with your choices, seems a little shallow at times. Ultimately you are judged as either a virtuous man or a tyrannical beast, an unfortunate existing issue with the Fable series being that everything is (excuse the Lionhead pun) black & white. Shades of grey need not apply.
The ambience of Fable III is as strong as the previous titles with varying landscapes all crafted in the stylised nature of the series and pulled off effectively, showing you don't have to be a graphically intensive to attain stunning visuals. Existing fans will recognise areas that have transformed with the Industrial Age, and even newcomers should appreciate the effort Lionhead have put into creating a Victorian-esque tone to the fantasy world even without being familiar to Albion. The posters dotted around Bowerstone and during the loading screens in particular exude the creative charm and humour Fable has established for itself (the “Peasant Prodder” and “Choc-o-Rat” being personal favourites.) Letters and books dotted around the game add to the lore of the world and are read out by the characters, adding a bit of backstory to proceedings. The game is again accompanied by a touching musical score that captures the areas appropriately, although the pretentious musician in me did recognise recycled music from Fable II and felt a little cheated by it even if it did fit (a complaint some will find silly, but hey.) Of course, not everything you hear is a gift for the ears; villager chatter is as annoying as ever, and when you’re trying to win over the townsfolk the same repeated lines may grate at you.
Dealing with the townsfolk shows off the new ‘Touch’ system, effectively replacing the emote system of previous games. Interactions are limited to a good or evil / funny choice, with giving out money / autographs sometimes an additional option. The inability to choose which emote to perform other than the one offered is annoying, especially at the start when all you have is the handshake. If you’re wishing to gain the friendship of the populous then prepare to endure not only the repetition on emotes, but the repetition of delivery / recovery quests. Speaking of repetition, making money is once again done through job mini-games which amount to an elaborate game of ‘Simon Says.’ The lute job (or ‘Lute Hero’, see what they did there?!) would have been more enjoyable had the music been varied each time you play, instead of forcing you to listen to the same bloody chorded scale time and time again. And again. And again.
In addition to jobs and quests, you can use your canine companion (yes, your four-legged friend is back) to find items to dig up, and a new version of the gargoyles are hidden around Albion to shoot (and they’re even more insulting than ever before.) There are a number of things to do and achievements to accomplish even after the credits roll, as well as hints of the inevitable future DLC, and those of you who wish to take the adventure online with other players can do so once again. With the ability to gain money and guild seals to carry back into your own game, as well as entering business partnerships and even marriage with your fellow players (where you share all the gold you both have) prepare for the fun and squabbles that will bring with it.
There are other annoyances to be concerned about however, and be warned, Fable III is a buggy adventure at the moment. There were several times I experienced slowdown whilst playing, and the amount of swearing I uttered when it happened during the job mini-games was quite sizeable. Additionally the golden breadcrumbs that guide you to your objective can be occasionally temperamental and disappear, meaning you had to stand still for a few seconds and wait for them to reappear. The biggest bug however was after the boss fight with Saker, the game froze and I was forced to play through the entire section again. With the addition of floating lampposts and the dog pointing to treasure chests that weren’t there, that’s a mighty handful of bugs that really shouldn’t be, although word is Lionhead are working on a patch to fix them.
On top of all this, the game is pretty short. I was able to beat it fairly quickly, with the best possible ending, in just a couple of days and it gave the impression the game was rushed. That said, even with all the bugs and shortness of the story, fans of the series will most likely enjoy another visit to Albion and if you enjoy Lionhead’s sense of humour you’ll be entertained by the quests available.
- The addition of the Sanctuary steamlines the menu process in a well presented way
- Fans of the series will enjoy yet another adventure in an evolving Albion
- The ability to mix spells is good fun
- Bugs plague the game at launch
- The repetition of certain aspects will test your patience
- The big parts in the somewhat short story may seem a little lacklustre in the end
The short version: While fans will enjoy the return to Albion to see the changes that have transpired, the fairly short story may end up disappointing some. However it’s an enjoyable game with wonderful visuals, but you’ll be forgiven for making it a rental or waiting for a price cut.