When Fable 3 appeared in the post, I was full of mixed emotions. Firstly, I was afraid of what I would play because to me; Fable 2 was one of the most enjoyable RPGs of the last few years. Secondly, after all of the hype Peter Molyneux placed on the game I simply couldn’t see how on earth the game would fulfill these expectations. Thankfully I was wrong.
“It’s a Revolution” was the caption Lionead’s latest title ran with and one thing is clear from the get-go: it is indeed a revolution, an assault on your senses of what you know as a gamer and something that is packed full of emotions and love. Starting the game, you meet your character prince/princess (depending on what sex you pick), running around the Bowerstone castle - you meet the servants that attend to your home, the people that live within its walls and most importantly – you meet the people that you will care for: dare I say, risk your life for. Without spoiling the heart-wrenching “introduction” to the game, you are presented with a very difficult choice in which your older (and more sinister) brother revels in. This leads to your evacuation of the building you once called home and into the murky, rotting, starving underworld situated in the shadow of the dominating Castle. This is the start of the revolution.
What is critical here is the obvious establishment of sorrow and misery through both the excellent narration and general emotions you’ll witness within the hearts of the people surrounding you, all of which is thanks to your brother. People walk half-slumped, heads held low, minds and bodies broken: no energy. In previous Fable titles, I found myself sometimes being randomly cruel and rather unforgiving to some people but in a matter of minutes, this thrust from power and wealth – down into the roots of the monarch created something I haven’t felt in years: real compassion in gaming. The last title to really really make me care about characters to this extent and their well-being was Half-Life 2 so it is an absolute joy to mention Fable 3 in the same breath. Giving into this natural feeling finds you donating your hard-earned gold to those that are worse for wear, and generally trying to help those in need. People matter in this game and again without going into the story much – they matter even more once you become king. Consider the game split into two parts: leading the revolution is part one, and your run as king in the second part.
The story telling in the game is sublime. The narration, voice-acting and comedy completely embellish the heart and soul of what Lionhead are trying to achieve here. The script of the game reads very well and Lionhead’s humour shines through (especially during the mission “The Game”). Your rise to power both sounds and reads logically and without warning: there’s a sudden curveball in the story which is fuelled by the incredible voice acting of Zoë Wanamaker and is brought to boiling point by the other and equally excellent characters. The charm within the voice acting is something Lionhead have achieved per Fable title and there’s no rest here: words like “bollox”, “arsehole” and “shite” are woven into the script and don’t impede the narrative – only nourish it.
The “Road to Rule” is another addition to the franchise that stands out for me. Throughout your time in Albion you’ll aquire guild seals. These seals can be obtained by means of humour (tickling someone for example) or even by force (threatening someone). When these seals build up you can use them to purchase upgrades to your character via The Road to Rule. A long and winding road, it represents your attempt to lead the revolution and is littered with treasure chests – all of which require a certain amount of seals to open. For example, to upgrade your ability to bake pies (a job in the game), it will cost you say 10 guild seals, then of course you have the more extreme and sapping upgrades like the ability to wield two magic spells at once which could set you back 50 guild seals. From the get-go, your guide Theresa (who makes a return from Fable 2) tells you that “it’s no easy quest” to unlock all upgrades so prepare yourself for the hard work ahead.
Graphically the Fable series has always looked great, but this is a true milestone, not only in the Fable franchise but in modern day gaming. The characters have seen a slight overhaul and now they kinda’ resemble characters from the popular franchise ‘The Sims’. They look more proportional and their emotions (even yours) are expressed via gorgeous animations both as part of the body and the faces alike – that said, the lip-sync and actual facial pronunciations of words isn’t great. Snowy mountains, lush fields, swaying trees – it’s all there and it makes the world feel so much more real than the past games. The textures though in the game offer a real sense of feeling to items like cloths, fabrics and even elements like sand for example. Fable 3 offers a glorious, shimmering world of beauty and darkness – all of which can be explored to your heart’s content. It’s really hard to try and describe all of the neat little parts that help personalise the Fable world, burning torches, belching lava, mishapen and warped wooden walk-boards – all of these small yet crucial parts created by Lionhead have helped to shape one of the most comforting, memorable and welcoming worlds in RPG history.
The “hold/touch” feature that Peter Molyneux had me excited about is in fact the biggest let-down of the game. You can now grab, drag and move people with you around the world. Touted as a an “ICO-esque” ability, the game allows you to hold hands with people, bring them places and even manipulate their fates. Although it’s introduced in an interesting way by the means of (during a mission) helping someone by leading them, it almost immediately fails as when you are holding hands, hills become your worst enemy and reveal just how hollow this feature is. Walking or even running up a hill almost creates this rope-like effect: both characters aren’t actually holding hands anymore but still have the animation in place as if they are holding a rope. The holding animation breaks to the point where you can be metres apart but hands are still held outwards and this sadly means that the personal feeling is completely non-existant in most occassions.
Controls are really important and thankfully Lionhead have addressed a lot of the issues Fable 2 suffered from. Instead of the slow, bogged down menu system found in Fable 2, Fable 3 has an incredibly simple yet ingenious solution. By pressing the start button, players are automatically sent to the “Sanctuary”. This room acts like a teleportation device from where you can go to the room specifically catered towards weapons, clothing, online and more. From here you can also enter the world map: this is your best asset and the most used part of the hub. This world map offers from a glance, the typical fast transport ability but you can really do so much more than that. You can repair the buildings you’ve rented, rent more, find new quests and even check your statistics per area: for example, you can see how many silver keys found in a certain region. There’s hundreds of collectibles in the game from plants to silver keys and even quests to track down the insulting yet charming gnomes (similar to the goyles in Fable 2). This ability to check your progress per area is a fantastic addition and will help all of those achievement hunters. A couple of things I would still change though about the franchise is the “slipping on ice” feeling you get as you run around Albion with your character – felt both in Fable 1 and Fable 2, it returns again. Also, sometimes when navigating down the steep snowy hills of Mistpeak for example, there are some occassions where you’ll grow extremely impatient with the lack of automatic assistance you’ll get from the AI, sometimes even the smallest sharp turn in the terrain stops you dead: in fact sometimes you have to backtrack steps just to find a slope to walk down instead of performing a small jump to your desired location. There’s also issues like the glowing trail that is meant to help you vanishing, characters talking but no sound in place and even on some occassions the frame rate randomnly drops – these are the things that hold Fable back from its true potiential and these are on-going issues throughout the franchise.
With videos appearing online over the last few months, Fable fans and even Lionhead attested to the new more “fluid” combat system and I can confirm now that it works a treat. Like the previous games, combat is button sensitive so swapping between both swords or hammers to say handgun or even rifle is quick and precise and combat can be altered by a simple press of a button. Lionhead have also added some nifty slow-mo executions to the combat which are brutal and really never get old. My only complaint about them is that there isn’t enough of them. Sadly though, the camera is your biggest enemy as during combat, say after an execution-style move, the camera can sometimes be facing you and you may find yourself shooting at what you cannot see. While this proves to be a nuisance, you’ll find your own way to remedy it quickly.
Russell Shaw, the composer, strikes gold again this time as the soundtrack can sway from angelic tones to haunting ones. The soundtrack really enhances the emotions felt in the game and helps you experience a level of nostalgia, love and childish wonderment rarely felt in games but very reminicist of Fable 2. Some familiar tracks appear again and further strengthen the fact that you are the son of the hero from Fable 2 – and your father walked these very streets that you now find yourself on.
The multiplayer element of Fable works, in fact, it was very surprising when I first loaded it and there was no lag. Combat flowed nicely and all seemed in real-time. The Xbox Live side of things allows for co-op story mode, free exploration of areas, individual characters on screen and interactions. Both players can play away, use different weapons, trade, fight and even dig either together or apart – this is a stand out addition to the game considering the appauling “multiplayer” that Fable 2 offered. Want to give your friend a hug to say thank you – no problem! Multiplayer also offers marriage, adoption and even same-sex couples through Xbox live. You can even start a business relationship where you both receive a certain amount of profit per rent paid: in fact, nothing cements a relationship like giving your friend all your worthless junk so feel free to trade all you want. Players over Xbox Live can also still use the Sanctuary to customise their weapons, clothing and so on, so, if you play co-op with someone new to the game you can upgrade their weapons and more quickly: allowing them a easier path through the story than the one you countered.
Fable 3 is a flawed experience, but it offers you more than any previous Fable game could have ever even dreamed of, in fact, dare I say it offers you an experience that very few RPGs can and ever will. A moving and passionate return to form, Fable 3 is the pinnacle of what heart and soul can create. An effigy to creation, Fable 3 is extraordinary.
TGL Score 9/10
Formats: Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: October 29th 2010