Four Torches (Out of Five)
The long-awaited third game in the Fable series has been released today for the Xbox 360, and except for one major design flaw, it’s a winner.
Fable 3 picks up a generation after the events of Fable 2. You are the Fable 2 hero’s son or daughter, trying to stop your tyrannical brother King Logan from working and taxing the citizens of Albion to death. To take on the King, you must gather followers across the land, and to do that, you must undertake missions that range from fighting Hobbes and Hollow Men, to searching for rare books, to helping a woman divorce her husband.
Overthrowing your brother, however, is only half of the main quest — the other and arguably more interesting half takes place after you become Albion’s new King or Queen and set out to undo the damage your brother has caused.
The Fable games are known for their open-world setting and the intermingling of combat missions with treasure-seeking and social ones, and this game only improves on this.
Lionhead has clearly invested time and money into building out all three, but especially the combat and social elements of the game. Not only do the weapons change based on how you use them, but your attack style morphs over time, as well, culminating in some truly entertaining slow-mo flourishes. Additional customization options include re-naming your weapons and your dog, dying your clothes and hair, and redecorating your home. Here’s a screencap of my character wearing a customized outfit and harlequin makeup:
As I wrote about previously, the characters are much better looking in Fable 3, and the user interface and gameplay has been improved — simplified in many ways, but expanded in others. The humor has been toned down, but it’s still there (the banter in the side-quest The Game is particularly entertaining).
The multiplayer feature of the game — which allows you to visit the kingdoms of friends (or strangers) and complete quests together, enter into business partnerships, trade weapons, and even get married and have children — has been signficantly improved from Fable 2. Perhaps the biggest change is that you’re no longer tethered together on the screen — when you play together over Xbox Live, each player moves and sees the world independently. This makes for a much better experience.
They’ve also enhanced relationship options with other characters — NPC villagers, or real people via multiplayer. Now your character can actually touch other characters (although all the hand-holding gets old after awhile, because it forces you to walk so slow), go on dates, and get married to other players via co-op. And the introduction of an orphanage (although not until late in the game) means same-sex couples or players who prefer to stay single can now have children.
In a nutshell, Fable 3 includes all that you loved about Fable 2, excludes many of the things you didn’t, and offers a better gameplay experience. The end result is a really fun way to spend many, many hours.
So why am I only giving it four torches (out of five)? There are several minor but annoying bugs that crop up occasionally (golden bread crumbs disappear, characters get stuck, etc.) but primarily because of one major design flaw. It’s difficult to explain without being too spoilery, so I’ll try to keep it high-level.
Your experience of the game very much depends on how much money you earn early on, but you’re not made aware of this until late in the quest — by which time, it’s too late to do much about it.
The game designers appear to have done this on purpose, in order to force players to make the difficult trade-offs often required of rulers. But the choice isn’t between being hated and rich, or loved and poor; it’s between being hated and continuing to play the game, or loved and not being able to continue playing the game (OK, technically, you can, but many side-quests are no longer available, and it’s not much fun, anyway, because your kingdom is a ghost town). Which means you have no real choice at all if you want to continue playing after completing the main quest, unless you happened to have amassed a huge amount of money early on — which many players are unlikely to have done.
To be fair, your character is warned in the last half of the quest that there would be dire consequences if more money wasn’t earned, but again, the warning comes (mostly) too late.
This might not seem like such a big deal, but if you zip through the main quest (as the narrators constantly urge you to do), stopping for only a few sidequests along the way because you assume you can do more later, you’re in for a big disappointment. And there’s no way to undo your mistake without starting the entire game over.
Which is why I’m now on playthrough number two. I’m still having a lot of fun, I just wish I’d known to play it this way the first time.
Should this discourage you from playing Fable 3? Absolutely not. In almost every other respect, it’s a terrific game.
But if you want to play the game and actually have a real choice at the end, here’s my advice:
1. Make a lot of money early in the game, and invest it in real estate (homes and shops) as soon as possible
2. Do a lot of sidequests, and collect as many silver keys as you can
early in the game (some of the chests contain a lot of money)
3. See #1
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