Similar to the promises made by the hero of Fable III on his path to the throne, there have been a lot of promises coming from Lionhead Studios building up the hope of the people for what this game could be upon completion: Morphing hero weapons! The power of touch! An interactive “menu” that will bring those before to shame! Now it might be a little harsh to say that the makers chose to path of evil on this one, but what they have created remains disappointing for what was expected.
The Kingdom of Albion must have quite the history book dedicated to the stories of dangers and heroes rising to protect the people from them. This chapter is one following the rule of Logan, the son of the last great Hero and brother of the player’s character. No matter how thick blood is, it is your task to gain the support of enough followers who will back you in your fight towards throwing Logan from his tyrannical seat on the throne. Cue the Beatles’ “Revolution.”
For all it has been through, Albion still is a beautiful and diverse kingdom adding a lot to observe and explore during your travels while helping out those in need. The cities are rich with life and talkative people who will loudly whisper amongst themselves of your glory, or loudly (and inadvisably) judge your horrific actions as you pass. It is always a welcome distraction to take time out to fart in someone’s face or let them revel in a heroic pose, but one change that has weakened the interaction system is that it is no longer possible to pick the exact interacting. Instead it is a random selection of one good, evil, or funny expression, making it an uncomfortable possibility that you will dance with far more people than you would ever expect or want to. No matter how much in-game time has passed between this and the second, some locations will feel like walking down memory lane, with the addition of some familiar faces (and a certain demonically childlike chest) to boot.
No matter the location, whether it is the populated towns or dense forests hiding balverines or mercenaries, there is plenty of fun to be had in this colorfully animated land. With that said sometimes traveling down the same path from one location to the next seems a little tedious, and thankfully enough the gamemakers understand our fast food way of life. Inside the heroes Fortress of Solitude, AKA the Sanctuary, the player can access a map of the world that will show available quests, collectables, shops, homes, etc., in each area, making the scope of the open world a little less intimidating. In addition to fast traveling, the player can kick up their worn boots and go about their businesslike responsibilities, buying up property, adjusting rent, and repairing all of their properties. Though there are still a few things this map lacks, including a repair all option and “you are here” indicator, it is still a welcome counterpart to the lack of in-game map (which was replaced in the second game by the glowing trail, still present here).
The map may be the first thing seen when teleporting into the sanctuary, but it is far from the only thing to do here. Taking the place of a menu/pause screen, the sanctuary contains all of the things you will need during your quests that makes it easier for we visual learners to move through. Each room is dedicated to one aspect of the game, including your weapons stash, heaps of money, outfit-modeling mannequins, access to purchasable items from the XBOX marketplace and gifts received from your admirers. Easy to navigate, the Sanctuary really is an inventive and creative replacement of the boring menus of most games, and though it is lacking a compilation listing of stats that would have come in handy every now and again, it really is one of the best changes to the game. Plus, it comes with its very own talkative (until the glitch kicks in) butler hilariously voiced by John Cleese.
Those who have played Fable II will sink comfortably back into this sequel when it comes to gameplay. The controls are just as easy as ever, delivering a simple system of dedicating one button to long-range weapons, a second towards melee weapons, and a third towards casting spells. When things get frantic a quick repetitive pressing of the buttons can dole out a quick variation of violence, whereas the buttons can be held down longer, time permitting, to release something a little more powerful. Though gunning people down from a distance seemed to be the easiest means of attack to avoid close range combat, when things become a little more claustrophobic mixing up the attacks becomes the way to go, especially with spells in one hand and a sword in the other. In addition to the six spells that can be acquired during the journey (as well as the new power of weaving together two spells to create something ten times cooler), a few potions are moved to the d-pad, allowing the player to easily access potions to slow time or refill their health when it becomes necessary during battle (and should be stockpiled at all costs considering there is no health bar to indicate just how deep in the red you really are).
Keeping up with the slow motion trend in games today, Fable III is no different in its attempts to make the combat more cinematic. The actual fighting and character animation looks pretty good on its own while fighting, and a few power moves are mixed throughout to vary up the constant slash of a blade, swing of a hammer, or shot of a gun. These additional animations are pretty cool to watch, especially when it mixes in that classic Fable humor, but the slowed down versions are a little more obnoxious. During these moments the camera gets a mind of its own, sometimes moving away from the hero that is still getting attack off screen, making it much harder to defend from an attacker that cannot be seen. Also, there is a slow motion power move specific to the gun that is the worse of all, returning the camera to the front of the hero so that the player is looking at the hero face on and the world behind them, making it necessary to manually return the camera to a view of the attackers in front.
Even though the combat can use some work, the quests remain as fun as ever. There is a wide range of these familiar tasks, whether it is rescuing lost children, guiding defenseless people where they need to go, collecting a lost item, or doing something more vital to the storyline. In addition to the main quests a few smaller collecting quests return, including one that replaces the gargoyles of Fable II with rude gnomes littered throughout the world. As obnoxious as it is to find and shoot them all, their dialog letting you know they are near is always nice to hear (a favorite being when they tell the female heroes to get back to the kitchen). Also, the hero’s canine companion has returned to help sniff out hidden treasure. As welcome as it is to always have someone by your side that is willing to rip out a fallen attackers jugular, there are also a lot of problems that come with the dog. Sometimes it will point to “treasure” in thin air, other times it will recognize a dig spot and then get caught walking in circles as it tries to maneuver around the terrain, making the $300 dollars buried beneath it hardly worth the wasted time. And worst of all, sometimes it feels like the dog is off going on adventures on its own as it is no longer running alongside you and no where to be seen on the path behind. But eventually it catches back up, and who can stay angry at a puppy?
Following the first part of the game that mirrors the Fable II experience, eventually it is time to stop singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and actually don the crown. Now is the time that all the promises made along the way can either be fulfilled or ignored, with the choice having a great outcome on the end of the game. The idea behind this change to the gameplay is a great one, challenging the player to do what is best for the people of the land even if they will not necessarily appreciate the means of which you use to bring about the desired outcome, but in all honesty it is pretty anticlimactic. This part of the game is horribly structured, completed pretty quickly with a lot of the action being handled in the throne room, and instead of weighing the options that should show just how difficult making the hard choices as a ruler truly is, it still remains a question of the good or bad option. In other words, even though there is another level of how the decisions will affect the final confrontation and whether or not good choices will actually hurt us, it still feels pretty good or evil oriented (especially since each choice is marked with an animation clearly indicating which is which). Oh, and an added tip: procrastination will be your downfall and the reason behind the controller sized hole in your window.
In addition to the promises broken of certain aspects of the game, including the awesomeness of the ever evolving hero weapons (which will most likely never be seen considering as soon as a legendary weapon is available the hero weapons will collect dust in the Sanctuary), the importance of the power of touch that goes unnoticed unless dragging an escaped convict back to jail or pulling a lost girl from a wolf filled cave, the worst disappointment is that the promises of the blurred line between good and evil seems as obvious as ever. Most players will still make choices based on what is marked as good or evil, with options remaining black and white instead of the muddier gray of not knowing if the choices made were actually the “right” choices.
In the end Fable III is a solid game that does have fun combat, beautiful animation, plenty of amazing environments to explore, and a welcome sense of humor familiar to the series. But this familiarity is also the games crutch. The promises for change fall flat and instead of building on the great base of Fable II, Fable III becomes a game that doesn’t vary much from its predecessor. As the people of Albion had to do, gamers must too deal with the disappointment of what they have been given, taking the bad with the good.
Final Grade: 7/10
Pick up a copy of Fable III at Amazon.com today.