Led by the infamously boastful Peter Molyneux, Fable and Fable II are notorious for being fun games marred by flaws, bugs, and grandiose but ultimately broken promises of revolutionary design and unparalleled innovation. Molyneux kept much quieter while developing Fable III and generally didn’t promise any features until they were already programmed and functioning well enough to show in public. Fortunately, his more muted attitude has not yielded a worse game, but perhaps the crowning achievement of his career. Fable III still won’t change the way RPGs are played, but it may change the way you view Fable as a franchise.
Albion is in peril. 50 years after the events of Fable II, the kingdom faces a grave threat from the descendant of the hero king. Your brother, Logan, is a vicious tyrant, and leading Albion into ruin. You, as the younger sibling, must raise an army and overthrow your brother, making promises and alliances along the way. After you become the King (or Queen), you’ll be faced with new challenges and a very different set of choices. The choices of a King, understandably, can have even more major effects on a kingdom than those of a hero, and the world of Fable III when all is said and done can be very different depending on the choices our hero makes. While the story isn’t incredibly unique, the approach and effect your actions have on it makes it memorable. What really makes Fable III’s narrative stand apart from previous entries is the enormous amount of great British humor, especially in the side-quests.
Fable III is loaded with both new and old characters. Allies met along the way have plenty of character, but they aren’t around enough for them to really develop a lot. Attachments to most of them will be slim at best. Luckily, Fable is more about interaction with the citizens of Albion than the main plot NPCs, and Fable III does not disappoint. There are a lot of crazy and unique personalities about the world of Albion, both within the quests and wandering the streets. John Cleese, unfortunately, does not have a very large role in the game, and despite the huge increase in Monty Python-style British humor, he is not particularly full of funny lines. Our hero is also voice-acted for the first time in the franchise, but there are only a few lines and they don’t add a whole lot to the character outside of how the player shapes them.
The first half of the game, or the “Road to Rule", follows the basic Fable formula of killing, completing quests, and gaining allies. Just as you’d expect, you can complete a variety of quests ranging from deliveries to assassinations, and good and evil decisions abound. Fable III offers a larger quantity of quests than previous games, and the side-quests are far more cinematic and varied. After the “Road to Rule” is complete, your rule will involve fewer quests, and more major decisions. There are still plenty of side-quests and world events to complete, as well as series staple fetch and hunt quests for silver keys, demon doors, books, and evil garden gnomes (which replace the gargoyles). Your loyal dog will continue to hunt for treasure and dig spots, but much more effectively than its predecessor.
Exploration is always a big part of Fable games, and Fable III continues the tradition. Albion has never been bigger, and the addition of the large desert zone of Aurora features plenty of space for ambitious explorers. Those familiar with the zones of the first two games will see plenty of nostalgic locations, and one of the more interesting parts of Fable III is seeing how Lionhead has changed the world for this entry. There are less large towns than Fable II, but the ones that are present are a bit more robust, and depending on how you choose to behave in the game you can add a few new towns during the course of play. Also among the major (and perhaps most important) changes is the lack of clutter in the world. Everything is a bit more spread out and less constricting, and the new overhead map system lets you fast travel even easier by simply pointing the reticule at the place you wish to travel to, and letting the game drop you off at the nearest possible location.
Combat is almost identical to Fable II, with a couple notable changes. Melee, ranged, and magic abilities are still assigned to the X, Y, and B buttons respectively. Flourishes, dodging, blocking, and aimed attacks are all present. There is no longer a health bar, or really much HUD at all. High-damage is indicated by the standard red on the edges of the screen, and health now regenerates when you manage to avoid damage for long enough. Health potions and food return, and appear only when in combat in the corner of the screen on a D-Pad menu. The other two options on this menu are two new magic potions: a slow-time potion, and a summoning potion, which were added to compensate for the removal of the time manipulation and raise dead spells.
Melee chain attacks have been removed, and a number of cinematic, automatically executed, finishing moves have been added. Your dog once again finishes off knocked down opponents, and the higher his combat ability the more effective he is. Oddly, there are now just two melee and firearm weapon types: hammers and swords for melee, and pistols and rifles for firearms. However, the game has an increased focus on Legendary weapons, with 50 total available (but not all in one game), and these can have effects similar to the old weapon types such as a shotgun spread on a gun.
Magic now charges up to higher damage levels faster based on your magic skill, and spells can now be woven together to create powerful combination attacks which combine their damage and effects. There are 6 spells making for 15 total combinations. For example, Fireball and Vortex can be combined for a deadly fire tornado. These changes make magic fun, but incredibly overpowered. The entire game can be beaten with nothing but magic, but that’s mostly true of melee and ranged abilities as well, just not as quickly. Just as with Fable II, most battles are easy, and players shouldn’t have much trouble getting the achievement for beating the game without dying.
Of course, Fable has always been about more than just combat, and Fable III does not disappoint in this regard. Marriage returns, with the new addition of adoption, and it functions mostly the same as in Fable II. Owning and managing property, however, has been buffed significantly. Players can now manage property in each region from an overhead Sim City-style map, and do their selling, buying, renting, and price adjustments from there. Houses now degrade overtime, and part of renting out homes is paying for them to be repaired. If the condition of the house reaches 0, you will no longer receive rent from it until it’s fixed. As always, how you choose to set prices will affect your moral alignment. Other activities include working jobs, betting on chicken races, bartering for discounts, hunting for flowers, selling citizens to factories, stealing, and general interaction with the citizens of Albion.
Appearance is important in Fable, and Fable III offers quite a bit of customization. The changes in your character’s appearance for good and evil actions is far less dramatic in Fable III, but the wider variety of clothing, hairstyles, and tattoos allows for much more diverse designs. A new feature is the automatic modification of weapons based on in-game actions. It is an interesting feature which allows for a lot of weapon diversity, and it will be rare for two heroes' weapons look alike. If you fight heavily with large melee weapons you’ll grow more muscular, and if you shoot a lot you’ll grow taller. Using a lot of magic adds an arcane glow to your character, and eating fatty foods makes them grow overweight. All of these features, however, are less pronounced than in Fable II, which allows the customization of your hero to be more focused and controlled.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes in Fable III is the removal of menus from the game. Pressing start takes you to the Sanctuary, which is a sort of interactive pause menu in which you’ll be assisted by your butler Jasper (played by John Cleese). Players can quickly select the world map here, as well as view and change their outfits, spells, and equipment. In addition you will have the option to dye your clothes and hair, and manage both your personal finances and those of the kingdom, as well as quickly check achievement progress and view your in-game trophies. The lack of menus doesn’t actually slow down progression through the game at all. In fact, it’s a good deal quicker than it used to be to change wardrobe and far less messy to sort your possessions.
Even leveling no longer involves menus, as players are transported to the “Road to Rule” and open labeled chests to decide how they wish to advance their hero by spending renown. In a change for the franchise, all character development now must be bought, including the expressions and the ability to do things such as buy property, manage businesses, and steal. Renown is earned through everything done in the game, be it completing quests, marriage, or even just speaking and interacting with citizens. It’s an excellent system that rewards players for not just grinding in combat but immersing themselves within the world, and it ensures that no time is wasted time.
Fable III is not going to shatter the boundaries of Xbox 360 graphics by any means, but it is a relatively pretty game. The almost cartoony style of the characters is appropriate for the humor that permeates the game, and the scenery can be absolutely gorgeous. Graphically, it is a huge improvement over Fable II, particularly in regards to the textures and environments. Another important change is the major increase in the variety of NPC character models. It’s also worth noting that they are not all, for once, hideously ugly. The music is good, but a lot of it is recycled or slightly altered versions of Fable II music. Voice acting is also well-done, and there are far less repetitions of annoying phrases from the citizens of Albion.
Fable III is a big game. Even completing only a few side-quests (something I highly advise against), and mostly ignoring the alternate activities of the world, it will last most people 12-15 hours. For the average first play through something closer to 20 should be expected, and for completionists who wish to complete all quests and buy all property the game can easily last 40 hours on a single play-through. Not only that, but Fable III offers the most dramatically different Albion yet for those who play good versus those who play evil, and there are few games with as much replayability.
Co-op now allows you to marry, have children, and enter business partnerships both locally and online. Local co-op still requires players to stay on the same screen, but because of a much improved camera and movement system it’s not nearly as tedious an exercise as it was in the past. I managed to even enjoy it for hours at a time. The completely revamped online co-op has garnered Fable III a lot of attention, and the hype is mostly deserved. With unlimited ability to roam the same zone as whomever you are playing with, you can shop in their world (and generally find different weapons), start business partnerships, and interact with NPCs as you would in your own world. There is some noticeable lag in combat if you are playing someone with a slower connection, but this does not render the game unplayable. The other drawback is that you are forced to stay in the same zone as your co-op partner, and when they move on to a quest you will move with them. This means you that you have to co-ordinate with your host, and so it's a huge help if both of you have mics. You can connect randomly with players online or directly with friends, and it's fortunately not difficult to leave or boot other players when sharing a world.
Fable III is the peak of a franchise that has made both many advancements and missteps, but ultimately a lot of fans. It is a game that is built on evolution rather than revolution, but is expertly, and clearly lovingly, crafted. A great amount of humor, customization, and variety makes for a game that may not be difficult, but is undeniably a lot of fun. If you dislike the Fable formula, this will not change your mind, but if you have yet to give the franchise a try, this is the time to jump in. This may finally be the Fable you’ve been waiting for, but please, let’s have more John Cleese next time.