It should come as very little surprise to anyone that Lionhead Studios’ Fable 3 is the sequel to the hit game, Fable 2. It should also come as very little to no surprise that, like its predecessor, the game is an action RPG set in the land of Albion, a place filled with high adventure that’s beyond compare, magic and mystery that’s part of its history, and copious quantities of gummiberry juice potions. Find out whether this game bounces here and there and everywhere after the…jump.
It helps if you’ve managed to play Fable 2 before playing Fable 3 to fully appreciate all the changes that happened in the 50 in-game years between the two games (2 actual years, if you’re interested, or an exchange of roughly 2 game years per real month). In the interests of keeping this review shorter than the novella I’d have to write were I to assume your unfamiliarity with the land of Albion and the mythos of the Fable universe, I’m going to assume you have at the very least a minor passing knowledge of what’s going on. Onward, intrepid soldier!
All this for the low, low price of only 5 decades!
In the 50 years since the end of the last game, the land of Albion has encountered its own version of the industrial revolution and suddenly everything is factories, steam power, indentured labor, smog, and unhappy orphans. In the game (where you can choose to play either a male or female character) you are the sibling to the king, your evil brother Logan, and the son or daughter of the protagonist of Fable 2.
Logan’s decided that he’d prefer to earn the hatred of his people, and has done all sorts of evil things like raise taxes. Taxes are, evidently, the domain of the truly evil. There’s also all sorts of oppression going on, and a general unhappiness all around, and of course, it’s up to You™ to fix it all. How? Lead a revolution against your evil brother, take the crown, and take Albion into a new Age of Industry™. Or not. It’s actually all your choice at the end of the day. Be good. Be evil. Whatever drives your steam-ship, really. You™ have no say in the fact that a revolution will take place, but it IS up to You™ how it’s handled.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, taking the crown isn’t the end of the game, as you actually get around to ruling as well. There’s an even bigger bad than King Logan in store as well, but I’m not going to say much more than that for fear of **spoilers**. Suffice to say you’ll require a LOT of cash if You™ want the good ending.
I have to concede that the citizens of Albion are a brilliant lot, having managed to achieve full industrialization in a mere 50 years, as opposed to the several hundred years it took us. Still, the industrialized world is what you are introduced to at the beginning of the game (through the eyes of a rather brave chicken, I might add. It works out better than it sounds here). There are signs everywhere that Lionhead took inspiration from 1800s Europe, especially in the capital city, Bowerstone. If you’ve played Fable 2, it’s fun to try figuring out what the old scenery was, and what’s new.
A nice touch is that if you played 2, Fable 3 checks your old save game to determine whether your last hero was male or female. This gets taken into account during dialogs that discuss your Hero parent, and talk about “your father, the King” or “your mother, the Queen” as appropriate.
Take that! And that! And especially THAT!
The fighting control are about as simplified as you’re ever going to find; X to perform a sword attack, Y to use your gun or rifle, and B to blast magic. Holding each button in charges up the attack, and if you’re firing away with the gun, you can hold the LT button to zoom in. There have been some complaints about the lack of strategy or finesse, but it works fine for what it is: a simple hack-n-slash bit of action. The emphasis of Fable is more on the mythos than the battles, and you never feel as though you’re getting too entrenched in endless, pointless battles. My gripe with the battle system lies in a completely different direction: the lack of any indication of health. The only way you know you’re getting ready to die is the appearance of the potion or food icon on the screen. On the other hand, if you avoid taking damage long enough, you’ll heal automatically, but most gamers still like to see how many more hits they can take before going to the Great Pixel in the Sky.
The weapons in the game are pretty bland to start with, but each weapon has a bunch of level-up prerequisites such as killing 500 zombies (or Hollow Men for the Fable pedants), or making 5 villagers fall in love with you. It’s like level grinding for weapons! The two Hero weapons you get at the start of the game have a different set of requisites than the others, and they actually change depending on your actions in the game. For example, more evil actions will see your weapons drip with blood.
What did get me slightly annoyed is Fable’s version of level grinding. This turns out to be first playing nice with every Tom, Dickens, and Harrietina in the game world (talking, shaking hands, hugging, dancing, patty cake, for heaven’s sakes!), and then performing fetch quests for them. Each action has its own little animation which, while cute at first, get thoroughly annoying around the 10th or 10,000th time around. Given that each animation sequence lasts about five or eight seconds, it should be suffice to say that you’ll spend a lot of time playing patty cake.
Fable 3’s version of experience points, called Guild Seals, are obtainable from battles (at a slower rate), or from performing these fetch quests. One issue I noted was that if you try and be economical and bundle a whole batch of these fetch quests together, the game conveniently forgets about the first few, and are nowhere to be found on the map, until you’ve finished the last few. So much for efficiency! Once you’ve obtained a few Seals, you can visit the “Road to Rule”, a depiction of your progress towards deposing Logan. Abilities and upgrades are hidden in chests and unlocked with these Seals.
The sea! The mountains! The missing pixels!
The graphics engine that Lionhead is using is starting to show its age, with much in the way of graphical tearing and polygon holes. I must admit that the water effects look great, but the rest of it is looking a little a little dated. Graphical issues aside, however, the different areas are well laid out, and just by looking at the screen you can easily tell which area you’re in, whether it be Bowerstone, the Dweller Camp, or Aurora. It’s a nice touch, and one I doubt the art designers get much credit for, so kudos there! Furthermore, when you become ruler of Albion, the decisions you make affect the look of the areas. For example, if you lay on the taxes, the place starts to visibly change to reflect your decisions.
One really stunning aspect of the game that I think deserves a huge round of applause is the game’s version of the start menu. Instead of providing a series of boring menus, You™ are instantly transported into a space called the Sanctuary. Here, you can check a map of Albion (and transport yourself anywhere within in an instant); customize your dog; open any presents you may have received; visit the armory to kit yourself out with swords, hammers, guns, rifles, and magical gauntlets; go to the dressing room to try on clothes and outfits, dye your clothing, change your hair, and add or remove facial hair; and visit LIVE room to check out what DLC offers you can purchase, check your achievements, configure multiplayer options, and join another Fable 3 player’s game.
Other players? In my game world? It’s more likely than you think.
Thankfully, unlike Fable 2 where you or others appeared in other game worlds as henchmen, you actually visit other worlds as yourself, and your dog comes along for the ride, too. The options for multiplayer gaming are a bit bigger than Fable 2’s, and you can even buy shops together, marry, and have children with other players.
One of the reasons to play in other worlds is to obtain other legendary weapons (and there’s an achievement in store for those who decide to go out and try to Pokemon them all). Each game world only has a few of the weapons available, and you have to convince other players to give you these weapons as gifts. There are a lot of weapons, so don’t expect to do this easily.
Understandably, being able to use any of the multiplayer features requires that you have an Xbox Live Gold account.
Heeey, I recognize that voice!
We all love hearing celebrity voices in video games, and I’m a great fan of British personalities, so I was as delighted as a small child to discover that the voice actors are some of my favorite celebrities: Stephen Fry, John Cleese (predictably as a butler), Simon Pegg, Zoë Wanamaker (who was in Fable 2 as well), Ben Kingsley, Jonathan Woss Ross, Michael Fassbender, and Naomi Harris (who played Calypso in Pirates of the Caribbean, if you’re trying to place the name). The only way this list of names could have become more awesome was if they’d gotten David Tennant in. Still, at least there’s a tenuous Doctor Who representation in the list in the form of Sean Pertwee, son of a previous Doctor Who actor, Jon Pertwee.
As opposed to the previous silent protagonists, Fable 3’s heroes are now voiced, and they interact properly with the denizens of Albion, giving the heroes a little more depth than the vacuous You™ that plagues many of these games. In all honesty, it was refreshing the see this much personality in the heroes.
All in all, I liked Fable 3. It was an enjoyable return to Albion, and a good view of what the lands beyond Albion are like. The storytelling is simply superb, and brought to life spectacularly through the amazing cast of actors. Yes, the graphical problems detract from the enjoyment slightly, but it’s nothing so game-breaking that you can’t enjoy the experience of becoming a ruler (and beyond, but no more to be said on that, because of **spoilers**). The lack of health bar is annoying at most, but once again, not a deal-breaker. One of the major issues is a lack of visible inventory, but that, too, is something you can learn to live with, given the amount of adventure. Still, with so much to do (and there really is a LOT to do, even without replaying it!), you’ll be sitting with this game for a good while to come.
Score: 7.5/10 (The last 2.5 points were lost in a haze of graphical glitches, and partially obscured by the nonexistent health bar.)