Release Date: Oct. 26
Platform: Xbox 360 and PC
Bottom line: If you liked Fable II, you’ll really like Fable III
Four and a Half Torches (Out of Five)
Execute your best friend, or an innocent group of peasants? Upgrade your magic powers, or your conversational abilities? Earn money as a lute player, or a pie maker? These are the range of choices I was faced with while playing the first four hours of Fable III last week.
First, some background on the latest installment in the popular fantasy series. Fable III takes place 50 years after the end of Fable II. You are the son or daughter of your Hero from Fable II, who became the King or Queen of the kingdom of Albion (in a neat trick, Fable III automatically matches the gender of the former ruler with the character you played in Fable II, or chooses randomly if you’re new to Fable.).
Your brother is now the King, and the citizens of Albion are suffering greatly under his tyrannical rule. Your main mission — although there are endless side-quests — is to convince each village to support your efforts to take the throne. To do that, you have to complete a variety of tasks, ranging from defeating a band of mercenaries, to performing in a play, to helping a paranoid farmer round up his chickens while wearing a chicken costume.
While Lionhead has endeavored to deepen your emotional connection with your character in Fable III, the “action” in this fantasy-themed action RPG has been amped up and improved, with combat that is both more challenging and more fun.
The result is a game that feels both familiar and different at the same time.
Fable III still includes the franchise’s trademark gorgeous graphics; food and potions that affect your health; and golden breadcrumbs that lead you to your designated quest. But your character is voiced for the first time, and the villagers, costumes and clothing are much better-looking (which will be a relief to my 15-year-old niece, who lamented the lack of an attractive man to marry in Fable II).
The most significant changes, however, are to the navigation and gameplay. Here are the highlights:
Navigation. The former text-based menu of weapons, clothing, and other acquired items has been replaced by The Sanctuary, a large room you can transport to at any time that displays all acquired weapons, spells, armor, and items, and a John Cleese-voiced butler who alternately provides advice and humorous commentary. This makes browsing through your inventory a much more enjoyable process.
The Sanctuary also contains a map of Albion, which has been completely overhauled from a simple text listing of discovered locations to an interactive 3-D map that allows you to zoom in on towns, buildings, and even people. It’s an easier, more informative, and more entertaining method of travel than scrolling through a list of village names.
Controls. The controls in Fable III have been greatly simplified. Gone are the hours spent scrolling through the expressions wheel trying to find a particular expression, or repeatedly switching between the action buttons, the left and right triggers, and the D-pad. Now almost everything is done with the action buttons.You don’t have to waste time switching between spells in battle, and you no longer even have to manually collect experience orbs after a battle — you automatically gain experience after a fight based on how you fought. I did find somewhat disruptive at times to have to go back to The Sanctuary every time I wanted to switch spells, but overall, the changes seem to make the game much more fun to play.
It reminds me of the “Gameflow” option introduced in Madden 11, which was also intended to minimize gameplay disruption and allow the player to spend less time scrolling through menus and more time playing. There is still depth and complexity to combat in Fable III, but you can choose how much of it to explore.
Unlocks and Upgrades. Fable III introduces The Road to Rule, a metaphorical path to power divided into sections by gates that are unlocked as you progress through the game. Each section is populated by chests containing spells, upgrades, items, and abilities purchased with Guild Seals (see below). Oddly, some of these abilities — such as the Landlord Pack, which you must purchase before you can buy real estate in the game — were things you could automatically do in Fable II.
Currency. Gone are renown points and experience orbs. Now skills, powers, and other abilities are purchased/unlocked using Guild Seals, which you earn by completing quests, selling acquired items, working at a job, or interacting with other characters. Financially rewarding players for interacting with other characters is one of the best new features in Fable III, in my opinion, because it elevates villagers from the non-essential nuisances they too often were in Fable II, to potential partners helping you progress along the Road to Rule.
Character Interaction.The designers have increased and improved the number and quality of your interactions with villagers (or other players, in co-op mode) in order to enhance your emotional involvement with the story. They mostly succeed — chatting, dancing, going on a date, and even kissing other characters is presented much more realistically — but it’s not without a few hitches. The ability to hold hands with NPCs or other players, for example, is a good idea in theory, but a little annoying in practice because it’s so easy to accidentally hold hands with someone.
I have no complaint about the new streamlined method for choosing these interactions, however. Unlike in Fable II, you are no longer presented with all possible interactions, but only the most relevant one, as determined by your relationship with the villager, their personality/sexual orientation, and how “new” the expressions are (i.e. how recently they were “purchased” on the Road to Rule, with newer/more complex interactions prioritized).
You can still marry and have children, as you could in the previous game.
Shops. Purchasing items from stores in the game is also a visual process now, which is both more fun and more confusing. I wandered in and out of shops a few times trying to figure out how to purchase something, until I discovered that you needed to interact with the items on display, rather than the shopkeeper.
Weapons. The weapons in Fable III change depending on how you use them — if you play as an evil character, for example, your sword drips with blood. You can still purchase weapons, but you are provided with a few in the beginning, and unlock others as you progress.
Health. In another effort to make the game more immersive, the health meter is gone. Instead, the screen turns black-and-white when you are near death.
Humor. There is noticeably less humor in this game than its predecessors. There are no funny descriptions of food items, for example, and my character’s stroll through town in her underwear elicited only a few mild “aren’t you under-dressed?” type comments. Villagers still make amusing comments — as I was strolling through Brightwall, one shopkeeper called out, “If you don’t buy my goods, balverines will eat your children!” — just not as frequently. There are quests designed to be humorous in nature (like the chicken suit one mentioned above), and Jasper the Butler has some good bon mots. But overall, the goofiness of the previous Fable games has been toned down.
If these changes don’t convince you to try Fable III, the improved co-op might. While you could only visit someone else’s game in Fable II, in Fable III you can team up with another prince or princess for the entire mission. You can even marry each other in the game. Just don’t try to use your marriage license in the real world — it’s still not legal in some states.
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