Monday 1 November 2010
Fable III: The In-Depth Review
As my information panel to the side of this blog says, I have been a massive fan of the Fable series since its Project Ego days. Following it from its ambitious beginnings, through Fable, Fable: The Lost Chapters and Fable II. Now, the next chapter in the Fable saga has begun, and Fable III delivers on all the levels that the previous games did, and more. However, every game has its faults but with the sheer thought, time and effort put into the world of Albion its hard to get bogged down in those failures.
The first issue that must be addressed is how does the story plan out? Is it worth the money you spent to buy the game? I would say a hearty yes. Lionhead have always been able to deliver a storyline that is both engaging and heartfelt, and you can tell that real passion has been put into the dialogue that leads you through this story of a rise to fame and the hard choices that you must deal with once your there. The main quest that runs through the game, if you decided to not play any of the optional side quests, is not that long, but this has always been the way with Fable games and so I took this into consideration. Its a exciting and well thought out story that really does pull on the heart strings a few times when it hits its high, and indeed its low moments.
However, if you want to utterly 'find' Fable III's story then the devil is in the detail with this game. Fable III's storyline is more than just the main quest to overthrow Logan (your tyrannical brother) and take over Albion. Its the people, the places, and the way that game draws you into its fantastical setting. Its something to commend Lionhead on that they have managed to edge away from the lure of High Fantasy in the progressive Fable series, and find something truly individual in which to base their adventure. Every villager you do a quest for, every gnome you blow up, every balverine you kill to protect a township IS the storyline of Fable III. When Peter Molyneux was talking about the game during development he mentioned that those who want to breeze through the game can, but to fully appreciate the story of Fable III, you have to go deep and unpick the riddles and mysteries left by your father (or mother) from Fable II in changed world of Albion.
Talking of a changed world, the graphics and atmosphere once again do not fail to deliver. Every region has been crafted and designed with love and care, and you can literally find yourself stood there for minutes at a time as you look out over the regions of Mistpeak or Brightwall and admire the scenery. As well as this Lionhead have managed to keep the look and feel of Fable in everything else you see and do in the world. Character models are characteristically 'British' and Oldy Worldy and have a polish to them that Fable II lacked. The new continent of Aurora is no different, original and utterly inspired in its breathtaking landscapes. The hero is no different, the young prince looking the part of the revolutionary hero, his garments prim and fitting, no clipping this time around. They have managed to keep the slight cartoonish edge to the Fable hero, but with a semi-realistic and HD makeover. No more odd facial expressions for him or her now.
There are minor glitches and oddities to be found at points however. Once or twice your breadcrumb trail, which is still intensely useful, vanishes for long periods of time, or turns off altogether meaning that some of the more complicated quest zones become a headache to walk around. It also snags on the scenery at points and can turn you around a few times if you don't keep your head. Occasionally as well the hand holding mechanic in the game suffers for the detailed landscape and can result in your hero struggling to get the follower over a bridge or down into a particularly tricky cavern. At one point I could not run with my hand holding companion, so a period of an hour passed as I walked, very slowly, with the follower towards his destination. Despite all this however, the vast majority of my time (I don't know about others) was spent glitch and bug free.
Another of Fable's talking points was the much heralded Sanctuary menu system. It does deliver and that's a massive plus for Lionhead that something they put so much time into worked when it was put out in the final build. The rooms can be accessed with a simple push on the directional pad, or walking into them, and the system for storing and using your clothing, beards, hairstyles, weapons, gauntlets and other bits and pieces is intuitive and easy to use. There are a few snags in the feel of the place however. Jasper, voiced by John Cleese is a constant source of banter, but he does seem to become incredibly irritating as he tells you, again and again that there are items in the Sanctuary Shop. It almost becomes the new 'Your Health is Low' from the Guildmaster in Fable.
On the subject of weapons it seems prudent now to talk about the combat, and the very meat of the Fable III experience. Combat is again mapped to three buttons. X swings your sword or hammer, Y fires your pistol or rifle, and B unleashes your will abilities. All of these can be powered up to deliver flourish moves. The melee one unleashes an unblockable attack that sends opponents flying. Flourishing with the pistol or rifle builds a powerful shot that can knock your opponents over or even kill them in one. The final magical flourish powers up either a direct attack, or a area of effect spell that blasts away enemies and frazzles them well and good. Its certainly the deepest of the three talents your hero possesses and with the ability later in the game to weave your spells together (combining two gauntlets to create new spells and effects)you can cause some real devastation with the powers within you.
With all these moves you would think that Fable III's combat would be just as easy as it was in Fable II. The answer is a no, and a yes at the same time. On the one hand you have more than enough abilities to dispatch your enemies and for beginning portion of the game you can easily kill off most opponents. But, there is a definitive spike in the difficulty of the game towards its mid-point and you will find yourself having to employ all of your talents to get rid of your enemies that can drop you in a flurry of blows if your not careful. You will rarely fall down and lose followers if you have enough potions and additional options to draw on (the slow time potions and summoning vials) but its by no means easy to stay on your feet. If you stand there pummelling the magic button or hang around for too long, they will surround you and put an end to your adventuring.
Combat, and everything else for that matter, gives you Fable III's new experience system, followers. The only way to really lose followers is to get knocked out in combat, but other than that your more than let loose to gather the people and power of Albion in whatever way you see fit. Possibly the easiest way to gain followers other than combat and the main quests is to engage in some campaigning with the local people. Every handshake, dance, tickle and chicken dance will effect the peoples opinion of you and gain you followers to spend on the Road to Rule. It can be a little annoying to dance with every single person you meet...man or woman...but its a small price to pay for those precious followers.
These followers you gain can then be spent on the Road to Rule as mentioned above. Here you pass through progressively more expensive gates and spend your hard earned guild seals on content for the main game world. This can be expressions, the ability to buy and sell housing and businesses, more combat moves, or even dyes for your clothing. All of it has a purpose and you will find yourself wanting to squeeze every last drop of 'power' from your followers in order to get every chest on that path towards leading the kingdom. Followers are mixed into your morality system within the game. Its a shame to see the more complex morality from Fable II gone with corruption and purity being 'mis-understood' by some players. But, you still will feel a clear sense of Good and Evil in this game...but sometimes you will find yourself looking at that Evil option a lot more than you did in previous games, maybe you can be cruel to be kind?
This brings me to the big point in Fable III's story. You get to be King of Albion, and man that weight is a heavy one to have on your shoulders. After you have overthrown the King Logan you are charged with not only delivering on the promises you made to the main characters but also in the upkeep and survival of the Kingdom. Its not easy to decide on what to do, and you might find yourself breaking some of those promises you made to the people. Being a King or Queen has never been a popular vocation. I won't spoil why and how these changes impact on your world but rest assured you will find yourself considering Stephen Fry's Reavers option a whole lot more than you thought you would. Its just a shame that your time as monarch is a little bit too short.
With the mention of Stephen Fry there it seems good to move onto the incredibly voice talent in the game. As well as the above mentioned British luminary there is the likes of Simon Pegg, Zoe Wannamaker, John Cleese, and even Jonathan Ross makes an appearance in the game, if brief. It all goes to creating a fantastic feel for the game and you will smile every time you hear a familiar voice from your TV watching and comedy enjoying on the BBC. The musical score again is fabulous and evokes all the right feelings as you make your way through the world of Albion. Moody, funny, charming and epic are all words that really do fit the kind of music that Lionhead have put into the game world.
There's far too many things for me to talk about in the Fable III world but it would be remiss for me to talk about the Xbox Live options in this iteration of the game. Co-Op, a major sore point in Fable II has been refined and changed to a degree that its hard to believe that it was so bad before. Your friends can now bring their fully customised hero into your world and as well as fight along side you can now marry you, have children together and even enter into business partnerships with you for some extra money. No longer is the heroes best friend just a mere henchman! There are leader boards as well to track your progress against your buddies and with the promise of lots more Downloadable content on the way it will be good to see what comes next, just remember to get yourself a new copy of the game if you want a head start on it all.
Overall despite a few minor niggles the game is all that it said it would be. There are major improvements across the board from the Lionhead team, and they have truly listened to their community when it comes to what was wanted and needed from them this time around. Fable III is a brilliant and utterly engaging experience, its just a shame that its all too brief. Once the credits roll you will be exploring the world of Albion for months and years to come if your like me, but you will wish that there had been just that little bit more to the main story. But, as I said, the real story of the world of Albion, 50 years on from your previous heroes rule, is in the people and places of this beautifully crafted world. Get stuck in and lose yourself...your Fable awaits.