Fable III Review
It’s a Revolution, but Not Revolutionary
Like all Fable games, Fable III is its own greatest enemy. Where it innovates, it falls short, and where it refines, it barely manages to meet the expectations of the previous title. Fable games are often criticized for not living up to expectations, but simultaneously hailed for being a blast to play, and Fable III is no exception in that regard. Even with a lack of hype surrounding the title, it’s only natural that the elements that were promoted are among the most disappointing, while those that went unmentioned provide the bulk of the game’s entertainment value. Fable III stands as a refinement of what started in Fable II, while providing a new facet to the endgame that simply falls on its face.
Taking place fifty years after the events of Fable II, the player takes control of the Prince or Princess of Albion, and child of the hero from Fable II. The hero’s brother, Logan, is the reigning king, but in recent years he has taken a turn towards tyranny, and the people are losing patience. A brief introductory sequence finds the hero in the company of Walter, Albion’s general, and Jasper, his faithful butler, fleeing the castle with aspirations of gathering allies and leading a revolution to topple Logan’s regime.
The story is probably one of the greatest and most notable improvements over Fable II. Not only is the writing sharper and infinitely more hilarious, but the plot itself has a stronger structure and leads to a much more satisfying conclusion than the last Fable game. The majority of the game’s charm comes from the humor permeating every aspect of the game’s world and dialogue. There are dozens of sidequests which range in complexity from simple fetch quests to complete dungeon crawls, each brimming with humor, while the main plotline deals with the more serious aspects of Fable III‘s storytelling. Some sections, particularly those in the Aurora area, manage to be downright creepy.
However, the revolution is only the first part of Fable III‘s story. Once it’s complete and the hero has become the king, a second chapter of the story begins, wherein you must make decisions that will shape the fate of the country. In this part of the story, the player has “365 days” to gather up enough funds to protect the kingdom from an upcoming invasion. This is the part of Fable III that was most hyped during its development, and is also Fable III‘s biggest let-down.
To be fair, this section of the story is actually well written and quite humorous. The player is faced with numerous policy decisions that must be made, and these decisions will either provide the kingdom with funds or detract them. In general, being kind to the people costs money, while being tyrannical will provide a nice surplus. These decisions are made more interesting as many of them require either keeping or breaking promises made to the allies created in the first part of the story. No matter the decision, it’s always accompanied by a humorous vignette detailing the effects of your decision, one of the highlights of this part of the game.
The problem with the second chapter of Fable III is that it’s simply too short. There are very few side quests that open up during this segment compared to the rest of the game, and the “365 days” you’re given are arbitrary and deceptive. The days pass by automatically in preset denominations each time you complete a set of rulings, completely ignoring the game’s internal clock. Worse, the number of days that the game claims you have remaining is entirely deceptive. In the first set of rulings only about a month passes by, but then at the end it jumps from “121 days” to the final day. This sudden jump is particularly irksome, because if you haven’t earned enough money to protect the kingdom at that time, you can’t go back and will unfortunately miss out on what would be an otherwise easy Xbox Achievement. In the end, it feels as though this part of the game was rushed through the door before being properly fleshed out, which is a shame because it held a huge amount of potential.
The meat and potatoes of the game remains mostly the same as Fable II, though most of it has been refined or tweaked, and in general simplified, providing a more streamlined, if relatively less complex, experience. One of the most notable changes is the near-complete elimination of the HUD. While Fable II still had trace remnants, Fable III‘s has been reduced to a D-Pad display for potion use and the occasional button prompt. The menu has been completely removed, replaced instead by an interactive space which performs all the roles the menu would otherwise accomplish. You access it in the same way, but once inside, you continue to control your character and interact with mannequins and weapon racks to change equipment and spells. There’s also a 3D map of Albion in the main chamber that provides fast travel options.
The new menu system is cleverly designed and surprisingly straightforward, but it does slow things down a tad. However, it also makes some things significantly easier. For example, the land-purchasing sub-game of Fable II is back again, but you can now purchase buildings and adjust rent directly from the map screen, which saves the tedious running around from house to house. Unfortunately, there’s also a new addition to the houses that causes more than a few problems: they now require maintenance. Over time, houses degrade (and rather quickly at that.) In order to keep the rent coming in, they need to be repaired at fairly regular intervals. In the early game this isn’t a big problem, but in the late game, when you’re likely to own dozens and dozens of different properties across several different areas, it can become quite time consuming. You can still repair buildings from the map, but there’s no way to quickly switch between buildings (you have to manually move the cursor), and of course no method to repair all buildings at the same time. This can easily eat up a solid ten minutes just for a single repair session.
The menu system isn’t the only form of game interaction that has been changed. The expression wheel seen in Fable and Fable II has been replaced with a more direct form of interaction with the townspeople. Instead of affecting many at the same time, you’re now limited to interacting on a one-on-one basis. This is a bit of a downgrade, as you can’t even choose which expressions to perform anymore. Instead, three are selected automatically based on context, and they’re not always the ones you’d want to use. With that in mind, interacting with characters and performing expressions for them also provides you with additional guild seals to spend, Fable III‘s form of experience which represents the number of followers you’ve obtained. Leading villagers around has also been changed slightly; rather than simply asking them to follow you, the hero physically takes their hand and leads them. All in all, this is a negative change, and makes interacting with townspeople pretty much irrelevant.
Fable III‘s combat system is a streamlined version of the one seen in Fable II. A handful of extraneous features from the previous game have been eliminated, and the magic system has been adjusted to make the whole thing flow more naturally in combat. The X, Y, and B buttons are bound to melee, ranged, and magical attacks respectively, and how you press the button determines how the attack is launched. Basic attacks are made simply by pressing the button, but more complex ones can be accomplished by holding the button down briefly. The melee button also allows the player to block or charge a flourish attack, the ranged button also charges a flourish attack, and the magic button charges a spell to increase its power and radius of effect. Ranged attacks can also be manually aimed by holding the left trigger.
The magic system deserves special attention, as it’s received a very nice upgrade in Fable III. Although it functions basically the same, the player is no longer responsible for setting different spells to different charge levels, which got confusing and was generally unnecessary. Instead, the game introduces “spell weaving,” which allows the hero to cast two spells simultaneously, weaving their effects together into one deadly attack. This allows for a fair bit of customization, since different spells have different effects and even different animations. It also greatly simplifies things and makes charge attacks infinitely more useful.
One of the more enjoyable and amusing aspects of the combat system is the incredible number of automatic finishers the hero performs when defeating enemies. They occur mostly randomly, but when they do, they’re quite brutal, and vary depending on if you’re using a melee, ranged, or magical attack. The melee ones are the most spectacular, and often involve ridiculous acrobatics. The hero might handspring onto an opponent’s head and snap their neck with his knees, or impale a balverine as it charges. The ranged ones tend to be more non-chalant but equally impressive. The hero might launch a series of bullets at a foes’ limbs one at a time before finishing up with a shot to the head, or he might shoot a sand fury in the face as it flies overhead. Even magical attacks have a handful of special animations; finishing off a certain enemy with a fire spell might cause them to disintegrate into a charred pile of bones.
Albion has also received a bit of a facelift in Fable III. It’s certainly not the best looking game on the Xbox 360, but the art direction is excellent, particularly in the environments. The characters are a bit on the ugly side, but this seems to be more that they were designed that way than a fault of the models themselves. It’s not an uncanny valley issue as the character designs all have a slightly cartoonish feel; it’s simply that the people of Albion are just really, really ugly. And who’s to blame them, really? Most are living in squalor. That said, they’re ugly in a stylish sort of way. The animations in particular are quite amazing. The finishing attacks mentioned previously stand out, but even simple things like the walking animations, the way characters stumble if you bump into them, and in particular the way that hand-holding is managed, all help bring the world to life.
The audio, however, is absolutely phenomenal. The music is terrific, featuring pieces that lend themselves perfectly to Albion’s charming, folk-fantasy style. The sound effects also stand out, as different weapons have their own unique sound when they’re swung or fired, though it’s mostly noticeable among the swords. The voice acting, however, really stands out as above and beyond anything that’s expected of a video game. Featuring the voice talents of A-List British actors such as John Cleese, Sir Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry, and more, every line uttered is absolutely golden.
Like its predecessors, Fable III manages to improve upon the last title while simultaneously falling short on the new elements it brings to the table. This seems to be becoming the Fable legacy, but regardless of any incidental quirks or minor irritations the game has, the terrific writing, excellent humor, and simple, enjoyable gameplay all make Fable III a terrific experience. Like the previous games, Fable III is quite easy, and will likely take most players between twenty and thirty hours to complete, though there’s a lot of content and equipment hidden away for players to discover, along with over a hundred collectibles to track down. Fable III is yet another step forward for the series, but it still has plenty of room to expand.
Fantastic voice acting
Terrific, humorous writing
Streamlined combat system is fast and fun
Many changes from Fable II don't go over so well
Second "half" of the game feels rushed and incomplete