The Fable franchise, including Fable 3, has had more than its share of failed promises and under-delivery, even as the action/adventure RPGs have provided some entertaining romps. Part of the “disappointment,” as it were, has simply been due to Peter Molyneux hyping his games beyond belief, then not having the time, resources and/or technology to actually deliver. Can’t fault the guy for trying. But with Fable 3, which is now available for Xbox 360, the folks at Lionhead Studios have delivered the keystone Fable experience even in spite of a few early goals not making it. But beyond just delivering the best Fable game to date, Fable 3 also delivers one of the most enjoyable action/adventure RPGs of the year.
Fable 3 breaks the mold of previous outings by having the player begin not as an infant or toddler, but as a 20-something prince (or princess) who, although he/she is the child of Fable 2’s Hero, is living in the tyrannical shadows of the older brother, King Logan. Set 50 years after the previous game, Fable 3 introduces a host of physical and technological changes in Albion, but overpowering the existing leadership remains the same. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that the evil king is a blood relative — and definitely no hero. Logan is driven by ego, quick to kill citizens for non-compliance and by his own admission says his actions will either destroy the world of Albion or bring it under his unyielding control. All of this is to say that it’s time for you, as the new Hero/Heroine, to step in and do something. That sort of overthrow requires a revolution, a feat you can only accomplish if you earn the trust of the outlying people and their citizens and build a silent army powerful enough to overthrow the king.
At the core of Fable 3, as with the previous games in the series, is the struggle to define good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, and at what point the “gray area” ventures into one distinct category. Generally speaking the good/evil decisions are obvious throughout the game, even to the point of presenting the icons differently, but once you inherit the throne you’re faced with some tough choices that will seal not only your fate as a Hero, but the fate of Albion. Will you be a benevolent ruler at the potential expense of public safety, or will you be a strong-arming tyrant like Logan and reap potential long-term gains at a short-term expense? Or, perhaps you’ll get creative a find a way to help the citizens while also keeping the safe.
And along the way, how many people will you get to join in your group-sex escapades?
Yep, Fable 3 is, like its predecessors, built around the odd mixture of a relatively linear story and world with a relatively free and open task structure that exists within those confines. It certainly isn’t Oblivion or Fallout in terms of scope, but it’s definitely more than we’ve come to expect from the Fable franchise. In other words, Molyneux has finally delivered on his promises.
Talking with the citizens of Albion, completing tasks and finishing key plot points all lead to the hero accumulating Guild Seals (similar to gold coins in the Super Mario Bros. games). After completing each plot-point mission, players are transported into a section of the Road to Rule, a path on which they can spend their Guild Seals to upgrade melee, magic or ranged powers; to gain the ability to own stores and houses; to learn new Expressions; to unlock the ability for people to love you; and to learn new magic skills altogether, among other things.
Each completed mission opens up a new section of the Road to Rule, and each section has new treasure chests that can be opened by spending Seals. This upgrade strategy lets players spend as they see wish, or decide to save all their Seals until the next section of Road to Rule opens up. This is a nice strategy as the game progresses, because you can always revisit previous sections of the Road to Rule if you decide you want to buy one of the upgrades you previously skipped. The only unfortunate component with this mechanic is that it can leave you with only two or three expressions to use, and you often have to decide between skill upgrades and social upgrades. Just like life, I suppose, but sometimes those decisions are hard to make. It also renders moot the need to spice up battle tactics, because outside of earning some kill-based Achievements, you end up earning the same number and type of Guild Seals regardless of your enemies’ death. That’s a long cry from the first Fable, where how you played the game literally determined your skill progression. In Fable 3, just kill ’em first and decide how you want to progress later. I personally like the change, as it never “nerfs” your arsenal in battle or forces you to play one way just for an upgrade.
The Demon Doors are once again another nice touch, and you can read our in-depth article about how to open every Fable 3 Demon Door by clicking the link you just passed over.
I recall with fondness the blacksmithing minigame from Fable 2. Made some serious cash in that one. Well, I’m pleased to report that wealth-earning minigames are back in Fable 3 — including blacksmithing. One of the new quick-action minigames, Making Pies, actually became my favorite, although the Lute Hero minigame (a Guitar Hero-type minigame) is pretty funny (at least in name). The gold multipliers really rack up in these minigames, particularly after you buy level upgrades to them from the Road to Rule (again, your skills aren’t upgraded based on performance alone). Although these might seem like a waste of time at first, until you have a ton of stores and rental properties, these minigames are the fastest way to rack up cash. And without ruining the end of the game, I can definitely tell you that you want a boatload of cash. Like, $6.5 million in cash.
Combat is simple enough, with one face button (B) for Magic, one face button (Y) for Ranged attacks, and one (X) for Melee attack. The A button sprints, ducks/rolls, opens doors and treasure chests and jumps off/over anything that allows it. That’s not to say there’s no depth to the combat, though, as players can combine magic to create new effects (the Shock/Fireball is my personal favorite), or hold down the face button to charge-up their attack, or even flip quickly between attack types to spice up their style. Again, the spicing-up isn’t necessarily an upgrade thing anymore, but the AI in Fable 3 is (yes!) smart enough to adapt to repetitive attacks, and certain enemies are impervious to certain attacks. Another thing that keeps the combat fresh is the ability to upgrade certain legendary weapons wit new abilities/powers based on whether you meet certain criteria while using it. For instance, killing a set number of enemies at night will give you a 40-point modifier to nighttime combat with that weapon, or killing a certain number of specific enemies or doing a certain number of flourish kills with that weapon will unlock additional modifiers. These weapon upgrades are sort of a game within the game, and I certainly found myself taking advantage of them.
If you’ve gathered at this point that I really enjoy Fable 3, your intuition is serving you well. However, some of the things we’ve grown accustomed to in Fable, and not always because we like them, are still in full effect in Fable 3. For instance, the forced and lengthy animations for NPC conversations and digging for treasure are alive and kicking, and I wish they would’ve been axed. In addition, some of the graphical pop-in and clipping from previous outings actually seems inexplicably worse in Fable 3, which is a total head-scratcher. On the flip side, Lionhead made some serious upgrades to other elements, such as the world-navigation system and fast-travel mechanic, both of which are easily and immediately accessible by pressing the Start button to access the Sanctuary at any time in the game. Once you navigate on the world map to one of the towns, you can even zoom in on it to view stores, houses and the status of each, set prices or buy them, and even see what quests any individual citizens might need completed. It’s all presented simplistically, but under the simple presentation lies a heftier world-management mechanic than we’re seen in previous Fable games. In fact, the simple presentation is part of what makes Fable 3 such a breeze to play: it’s easy to navigate, easy to manage and easy to take action. Hat’s off to Lionhead for really revamping navigation in Fable 3. They absolutely drilled it.
As mentioned above, though, the graphics are a mixed bag and probably could’ve used some more refinement. The architecture and vibe are diverse and fun — particularly when you see some of the later towns and levels — and the normal-mapping gives everything in the world great texture. However, the detail comes at the sacrifice of draw distances, which are limited and ridiculously cloudy, and the aforementioned pop-in a la the cutscenes in Halo 2. Oh, and the collision detection and clipping? There pretty much isn’t any detection, especially in the escort missions, which are the worst I’ve seen in this hardware generation. With all that said, Molyneux and crew make up for some of those shortcomings by adding some awesome new flourish animations that frankly give Fable 3 a much more adult feeling than Fable 1 or Fable 2.
The multiplayer components are improved from Fable 2 as well, with players actually able to enter one another’s worlds to do battle, become business partners, exchange gifts, get married and even have kids. For the sake of full disclosure, the Xbox Live functionality was limited during the pre-release review period, but the interactions I did have were entertaining, glitch-free and fun. In fact, even when I wasn’t in-world with one of my Friends, the loading screens and even parts of the main HUD kept me apprised of how my milestones, kills, relationships etc. ranked compared to my Friends. Talk about motivation to be try new things and beat my buds!
I realize Peter Molyneux has gotten grief over the years, and some of it’s been warranted. But you can’t fault the guy for his enthusiasm, and you certainly can’t fault him for driving the Fable 3 development team to deliver on so much of the potential that this franchise has had. Much like Halo 3 felt like Bungie had “finally done what they set out to do,” Fable 3 feels like Lionhead finally delivered on the gameplay aspirations and creativity they first envisioned. The difference, though, is that Halo 3 felt a lot like I’d been there and done that, whereas Fable 3 has changed so much, and so much for the better, that I really can’t wait to get back into Albion. In fact, I got visibly giddy after beating the last enemy and realizing that I could still wander through my land to complete quests, buy buildings and do everything I’d enjoyed doing for the previous 15 hours. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a land to get back to and govern.
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- Score: 9.1
- The graphical snafus don’t stand in the way of an incredibly fun game with diverse combat and a mostly open world. Fable 3 is one of the most enjoyable action/adventure RPGs I’ve played this year.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
— Jonas Allen