It feels like it’s been ages since Fable II won me over, but it’s just been a couple years. Regardless, I was more than a little anxious to dive back into the world of Albion, with the release of Fable III. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was dampened pretty early on by some major technical issues and changes to common game design mechanics that left me scratching my head. But that hasn’t stopped me from sinking over 25 hours into it, and I still have plenty left to take care of.
Story and Settings
The basic premise is a simple one – you are the offspring of the hero in Fable II. Your older brother is the king of Albion, and rules with an iron fist. The people are suffering on all fronts and hoping for a revolution to overthrow the king and restore balance to Albion. As you might have guessed, the playable character (the prince or princess) is that hero who sets out to build an alliance that will eventually storm the castle and seize the thrown. Since you are a sibling to the tyrant king, you often have to prove yourself to and make promises to better the lives of those that you strive to save. There is a point in the game where you are called on to uphold your promises. Depending on your financial situation, you will either do just that, or break them for financial gain.
It is supposed to have been a few decades since the events of Fable II, and Albion has definitely seen some change. It is the age of industry, and things are much darker. Returning to Bowerstone Market for the first time and seeing how things have evolved was especially cool. And there’s even a location where you can see the Spire on the horizon.
A Word of Warning – Don’t Make this Mistake
I’ve read a number of reviews and rants where people felt cheated by the last section of the game. Without giving away any key points in the story, you reach a point where there is a limited amount of time (days) to complete a certain task. The thing that many people aren’t cluing in to, is that the days only pass when you complete the main quests. If you stick to side quests and continue buying property and shops, you are able to quite easily reach the goal before the time runs out. The game doesn’t allude to this at all, and instead inflicts this false sense of urgency that I’m positive is the driving factor behind people rushing to finish it, but leaving themselves short, and in turn ruining the reputation they’ve built for themselves.
Combat and Weaponry
Combat is virtually untouched, with the exception of the difficulty level, which has dropped significantly. I completed the entire story (about 16 hours) without being knocked down (killed) once, and I have the achievement to prove it. Magic in particular, is vastly over-powered. I found myself rarely using my sword, as I could take out half a dozen baddies with a single charged magic shot, while I’d have to hack away at each of them individually with my sword. Enemies block most melee attacks as well, so you usually have to hit them with a charged attack, which leaves you vulnerable.
The magic powers themselves have not changed since Fable II. The only difference being that you can combine magic and unleash 2 powers at once. Leveling up magic is far easier. Instead of leveling up each power individually, you level up all of your magic at once. This is actually quite nice, since it allows you to switch up your powers, instead of sticking to a single one in order to advance it.
The same goes for the melee and ranged weapons, but at least there is some variation to those. Melee weapons range from short swords to massive hammers. The swords all perform the same, as do the hammers. And although the strength of the weapons vary, it’s not noticeable when you switch between them. Everything is equally easy to kill, no matter the weapon. Ranged weapons are similar to melee weapons in that the bigger they are, the slower they are.
Dumbed Down to the Extreme
From the get-go, Fable III takes you by the hand and doesn’t let go. If you had gotten used to the sprawling menus and click-wheels in Fable II, well, that’s too bad. They’ve completely done away with them in Fable III, as with the majority of the interactions one could perform at any given moment. It’s actually quite ironic, since Fable has always focused on player choices, and their repercussions. For the first hour of the game, you are only able to use magic. Your sword and fire arm come later. When you’re interacting with a character, you only have 3 choices when it comes to the actions you can perform – good, evil, and funny. And with such a focus on interacting with characters, it’s really surprising and kind of baffling that these options are so restricting. They’re often the same from character-to-character as well, which makes little sense. My king is an evil bugger with glowing red tattoos who looks like a pirate that just washed up on a nearby shore. When I go to a bar, I might grab Maggie the barmaid for a quick dance. Then when I speak with Sam the bartender, my only good option is to dance with him as well. What if I want to give Sam a gift, or strike a heroic pose? Tough luck! My only options are to dance, fart in his face (quite literally), or do a chicken impersonation.
What makes interacting with characters in the game even more painful, is how dreadfully uninteresting they are – both the characters and the emotions you portray. There’s no dialogue, except for the odd 3 word sentence. And most emotions require you to hold a button for 3-5 seconds, which can make interactions last far longer than you’d like. Once you’ve drudged through a series of positive emotions, the person you’re communicating with might want to step the relationship up a notch, and offers to be your friend or best friend, if you do something for them.”If you go buy me some jewelry, I’ll be your best friend.” What kind of shit is that? I don’t know how you were raised, but I was always told these types of “friends” weren’t worth my time.
Similarly, when you’re engaged in combat, you can only use whatever the game is allowing you to use. For example, potions are used by pressing different directions on the d-pad, but only when they show up on screen. There are other shortcuts which appear on the d-pad from time-to-time, but it would be nice to have had permanent shortcuts available. Like map on the top, health on the right, etc.
Getting Around is Clunky at Best
I don’t recall how I got around in Fable II, but I don’t remember it really being an issue. In Fable III, you enter the sanctuary by pausing the game, then walk over to a large 3D map, select the map, find the town you want to visit and select it, then move a magnifying glass over a specific building, vendor, or quest you’d like to fast travel to. There’s no quick way to bring up the map, which makes fast traveling anything but.
Then there’s the breadcrumb light trail. If you played Fable II you surely remember it. Except this time, it’s incredibly broken. It disappears frequently, or flat out points you in the wrong direction far too often. I’ve even had it try to lead me up the side of a steep cliff. Whenever you are engaged in combat, it disappears entirely, which is super annoying if you are trying to get somewhere quick or are low on health potions. You can always outrun baddies, but it’s too easy to lose your way once the light trails has disappeared.
Co-op, Online and Local
One huge improvement over Fable II, is the online co-op mode. Previously, players had to remain within a certain distance of each other. And even then, the camera would zoom way out and it was difficult to engage in combat. Thankfully, this has been fixed, and players can go their separate ways, as long as they remain in the same town or village. One thing that is quite disappointing though, is that only quests pertaining to the host player’s game can be completed. There is a demon door which requires to heroes to perform kind gestures in front of it. I went into my wife’s game to open this door, which worked. But when I returned to the door in my game, it was still closed. She would have to then come into my game and do the gestures again to open the door. I can understand why most quests would work this way, but something that requires online co-op should be the exception.
Local co-op is still brutal though, and resembles co-op play from Fable II – don’t even bother with it.
Bugs, Bugs, and More Bugs
There were a number of ridiculously obvious and down-right silly bugs I ran into, but this one takes the cake…
I had agreed to do a delivery quest for the owner of the clothing shop in Bowerstone. I accepted the quest, took the item, but got sidetracked and ended up doing something else. When I activated the quest, the light trail directed me back to the shop, but the door was closed. It remained closed permanently, despite days passing by and other shops being open for business. I re-read the quest’s description, which told me to take the item in Bowerstone Industrial and return it to the shop keeper. I activated the quest again and tried looking for the person I was to deliver it to in the industrial district, to no avail. In the end, I had to purchase the shop to open the doors, but when I entered the building, I was charged with trespassing – it was the middle of the day, and I now owned the shop. Once I paid the fine, I was able to speak to the shopkeeper, who once again handed me the item that was to be delivered and I was then able to complete the quest.
Fable III is a strange one. Despite all of the glaring flaws, I’ve still invested nearly 30 hours into it, and plan on at least a few more. If I hadn’t played the previous game, I doubt my experience would have been as enjoyable and I likely wouldn’t have been so forgiving. It’s incredibly disappointing for such a massive title to have so many obvious technical issues, and I wish Lionhead had taken a few more months to tie up the lose ends and really make the game shine.