It’s Fable time once again, and what seems to be etched into the mind is how recent it feels to have lovingly placed Fable II on the back-burner after all its expanded extras increased the game’s longevity in the absence of a ‘Lost Chapters’ style re-release. With such a seemingly short time frame between the two games, has this meant that developer Lionhead, have made the ultimate fantasy action adventure game they have strived for over the years? At the helm, flying the flag with warming speeches overflowing with eloquent words, is Peter and the vision he has nurtured from those humbling Populous days. With two previous games developed and a third to get things right, does Fable III accomplish its lofty goals, or does it prefer to sit comfortably around the words of its grandest protege?
The game and its tale is distinctly divided into two halves, with the option to deviate away from the story pretty much at any time. The first half of the game provides the backdrop to your male or female, prince or princesses’ purpose, with the rest of the first act an exercise in building relations on a route to taking the throne. There’s a number of interesting quests on offer, with some being far more distinctive than the series has ever seen before. It’s a grand opening which draws you into the world of Albion as expected.
There’s a few changes which have been made, although they all dance around familiar themes. It’s like the core elements of the game remain in tact, although rather than being overhauled, are refined instead.
The one button combat is probably the first thing noticed that has been tweaked a little. It’s still the same three buttons which represent your ranged, melee and magic attacks, but the inclusion of a number of cinematic moves alongside charge attacks separate the combat from its forebears. Charging is a simple case of holding down a button and the cinematic moments are triggered by manual shooting (with a rifle or pistol), or performing flourishes when using a melee weapon. These look good, and sometimes will occur if your character is standing in the right place when shooting/swinging. This is where problems occur because the time slows and the camera often zooms close to the victim, this then leaves you totally blind to other off screen enemies attacking you. It’s intrusive and perhaps more apparent for those using ranged weaponry but something that ruins what should be cool looking finishing moments.
It appears the numbers of enemies you fight at once has also increased, which creates some tense battle moments, however the enemy types and the AI which governs them is a little lacking; to the point where later on in the game you may be tempted to run away from encounters rather than fervently tackle them.
Albion is a rich and diverse place which has benefited from industry and development over the 50 years since Fable II. The world feels more focused, but in some regards the element of wonder and awe is muted. Your interactions with the NPCs has changed, and although there’s a new cosmetic hold hands feature (which seems pretty redundant bar a few missions which require it), and a simple fetch quest for every NPC, you’ll be spending more one on one time with the world’s citizens as opposed to entertaining large groups. The emote system has been changed completely, meaning you can only interact with one person at a time, and follow a strict pattern of auto emotes to get the desired responses. It feels dumbed down completely from the previous games and somewhat takes you away from interacting with the diverse characters on offer. You’re no longer able to amass large followings and the only real use of NPCs is to be the cast of the story and sub-quests. You can still toy with the themes of the past games, such as marriage having kids etc, but it’s nothing new and borders on the contrived, especially as the game has not evolved so much in terms of its content.
The same content issues arise from the previous game, at some point you get to sit on the throne and make game changing decisions (much like those seen in Fable II except having a wider impact on the aesthetics of the game world – like areas being developed) and see the outcomes of those. Sadly, the options are still very black and white with a minuscule splattering of grey on occasion, where you’re mostly 100% either way with NPCs liking what you’ve done or not. It’s a shame, as the game could have offered a little more scope where the feelings of the populous was more varied. Either way, the decisions you make come swift and fast and before you know it, the game’s story ends allowing you to mess around with unfinished quests.
What is odd about the story is the fact that there are identity issues. On one hand, you’re an adventurer hero and potential saviour and the other, ruler of the country. It’s odd that said ruler can sit there and make pies or entertain groups with a bit of busking or even go on random killing sprees. Perhaps allowing the character to enter the world in disguise would have made more sense.
By the end of the story it’s possible to be sitting on millions of gold, however, much like its predecessor sadly, there’s nothing to do with any of it. The property game is still very simplified, with the added options of having to manually click on a property to repair it and adjusting rent levels if you’re renting out. A new map view makes the task easier, allowing you to manage your affairs more coherently. However, it’s still very old school and could have been a lot more user friendly such as allowing selections to be grouped and rent and repairs made to the group.
The menu system is another area which has been changed completely and takes some getting used to. Rather than have text lists and menus, the player is kept in the game as you move your character around various rooms to equip weapons and clothing etc. It’s novel and clever, but in many regards on a practical level seemingly slows simple actions down.
The actual game structure with its slew of explorable elements is well rehearsed and offers a more channelled progression, making progress direct, and to the point. The same can be said for the levelling system which has been simplified further as you collect points for your actions and spend them on various chests in a progression tree. This new and somewhat shackled approach is easy to digest, but loses some elements and charm of previous offerings.
Fable III offers the dark and moody, fused with the vibrant and bold to convey the grittiniess of the period it mimics. The game world with all its expanse and diversity does feel less developed in terms of its population. There are a lot of solitary moments as you move from point to point down mostly linear pathways with nothing on offer bar the odd encounter with those repeated foes you get so familiar with. However, you can fast travel to break this element up somewhat, thus speeding up the pacing which will probably be a godsend for many.
Albion’s bleak and twisted world makes for a perfect adventuring backdrop with its colourful NPCs, lush, deserted locales, and its automated cycles. There are less confined areas to explore ranging from desert sands, woodland, to snowy peaks which are welcome additions although a little devoid of NPCs and enemies. Exploring can feel a little restricted at times as your action character refuses to climb onto low ledges and rather frequently bumps into invisible barriers rather than jumping over which only works at certain times.
There are a few graphical glitches most noticeably, the hand holding animation which seems to let go far too often making the feature seem pointless. The camera angle can sometimes obstruct the view when interacting with NPCs making your choice options unreadable. Your partner dog will often animate a little chaotic and get stuck in the scenery, although like any loyal friend always comes back to you. There’s more, but no need to highlight them all.
Aside from a few niggles, Albion feels larger and offers more nooks and crannies to explore than before, although many off the beaten track locations are tied to side quests which detracts from the exploration elements as the ever-present guide trail glistens at you. Sadly, switching it off turns the game into sheer luck as you are given no other pointers of reference should you aim to go it alone. It seems the questing is geared towards having the guide trail on which is a shame.
With a well publicized voice cast it should come as no surprise that the voice work is exceptionally performed despite the script being somewhat limited. There’s a lot of cliché in the story, but with the delivery so good it’s possible you’ll ignore the shortcomings.
Albion is accompanied by a rich and well orchestrated score, guiding you through your endeavours. There are a lot of spot sound effects dashing around the aural field, giving the lands a vibrant and living flavour that’s in tune with the visual activity. One thing that has changed are the custom names which were fun to play with in the past. Now you’re royalty, there’s less need for audio as you are merely referred to as ‘Princess’ or ‘Your Majesty’. This is one element which does retract the customisation aspects of the previous games, and in many ways drains a lot of the interactive personality and humour.
For an action game there’s enough hours to keep you entertained and well hooked. In many ways it’s well above average, although for those of you used to RPGs might feel less excited. That aside, in terms of completion, then there’s a lot on offer, and with the good or evil, male/female choices beckoning you, the game does require at least two play throughs.
Once the story portion of the game has been beaten you’re then able to undertake more quests and a number of item collecting tasks which unaided adds considerable exploring time and plentiful discoveries.
The co-op element has been developed more this time, and allows for some extra personality for both players as they can now interact in more ways and feel a greater part of Albion together.
Fable III comes as a bit of a disappointment simply because it repackages parts of its predecessors, and then strips away a bit of the series’ charm in the process. The Fable series is fast becoming like a yearly sports game which sees the same release each year but with some nips and tucks here and there in the name of progression. That’s not to say Fable III isn’t enjoyable or different, because it is, however after many hours playing, the feeling of deja vu become more apparent and begin to dog what should be a fresh experience. The game appears to offer a clouded take on role playing, action adventuring and sim like management, and in this regard it’s not entirely clear what the game is trying to be. As a Jack of all trades, it never really excels in any one area and makes for a more muted experiences as a result. This potentially can leave the player craving for more depth, yet the game and its offerings is unable to accommodate.
Fable III is a worthy entry into the series as a defiantly polished and well organized familiar experience which is almost verbatim of its predecessor . However, a lack of identity and a dipping of fingers in many pies offers a disjointed experience that should have been developed and evolved more in game number 3. In some ways, we’re taking a step back, with stripped features and some of the old issues still being prevalent. The fact that there’s day one additional content to purchase from the Live Marketplace, goes to show that the sports game comparisons are well justified.
For those of you looking to rekindle the Fable flame and get online and have digital babies, then there’s plenty to sink your teeth into. You’ll feel right at home with what’s on offer, and be glad to make decisions for the greater good. It’s an entertaining ride, and one that has the legs to keep you hooked from humble beginnings to royal conclusion.