I got Fable III with mediocre expectations and high hopes. After playing through everything Lionhead has ever given us for adventures in Albion, I’ve been left wanting. Left wanting, but still buying. I have completed it all and continue to hope that “maybe the next installment will be better”. Well I enjoyed Fable, for all its faults (and it had many). I played and enjoyed “The Lost Chapters”, even though I felt ripped off. “Lost Chapters” really should have been called “Fable: The Shit We Meant To Give You The First Time Around But Are Charging You Extra For Now“. I enjoyed Fable II because it improved on Fable, albeit not in as many ways as I would have hoped. The dog was an interesting touch. I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. I did enjoy the fact that my dog had evil hellhound eyes by the end of the game though. EVIL! I even bought the expansions for Fable II and played those as well. They were ok. So anyway, after a tumultuous (at best) relationship with the Fable franchise, why would I even bother with Fable III? Because I never learn. Some day, I’ll tell you all about my experiences with the .hack series.
So I popped Fable III into the machine and began my journey. After a great opening cutscene involving a courageous and unlucky chicken, that many of you will have already seen, I took control of my Prince character and got ready for an adventure. I am not going to delve into the story specifics, even in the beginning, because I hate spoilers. However, let me just say that I was almost immediately thrust into a situation where I had to choose between sparing the life of one person I knew or many that I didn’t. There was no way out. I understand that the game utilizes moral choice and decisions and whatnot, and that they want to start off with a bang, but this was too much too fast for me. It felt like I had just woken up, was stretching my arms and yawning, only to get a baseball thrown at my chest mid-stretch. I gave them a pass though, because I understand why it had to happen for the storyline. What I cannot give a pass on, however, is how immediately crappy the controls felt.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by unrealistically lithe and nimble characters in games, but this just felt sluggish. I can’t really describe it any better than that. Its not that it was actively BAD, it just wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. The combat felt very much the same way, but I think that has pretty much stayed the same throughout the series. Not necessarily how combat works, but the feel of it. What they did with Fable III that bothered me was mapped melee attack and block to the same button. Press X to attack, but hold X to block. The problem that arises from this is that, if I’m hacking away at a swarm of Hollowmen and I need to block, it takes a second for the controller to register that I am now holding X instead of pushing it. Well, if I’m surrounded by baddies, I don’t have a second. In that second, I’m getting hit. Sure, you may be saying “well, don’t get yourself surrounded”. Well, I won’t again because I’ve switched to solely ranged attacks at this point for two reasons: 1) blocking is for jerks, and 2) guns are cool (in a fantasy setting, calm down). Now, there are a few good things about combat. Your dog (yes, he’s back) will attack downed enemies, which is entertaining, and stylized shooting over the shoulder and no-look shots and such are always a treat. You can also be fighting these guys in front of you and without even turning around, just stick your non-weapon hand out behind you and blast an enemy in the face with a fireball, and immediately go back to fighting the ones ahead. I like stuff like that. Anything to make me look and feel badass is a plus in my book. All in all, combat doesn’t suck, and neither does movement; they just aren’t at the level I had hoped they would be at this point.
Now, before I delve into the things I actually DID like, I have a few more negatives. Sorry guys, its just the way it is. First up is the bevy of glaring bugs in the game. Don’t expect the game to be ANY good if you don’t install it first. I played the first couple hours off the disc and noticed more chop than a karate dojo. The framerate blew at times, the landscape and backgrounds were still loading as I was walking through them, and I had an aura of fuzzed out graphics at one point (it was weird and hard to describe). I have no problem with a short clipping plane, and it didn’t happen often, but there were a few times where I was running through an area and seeing ground clutter and whatnot popping up as I was passing them. NO! Bad landscape! [rubs its nose in it] After installing the game, some of these problems went away. I don’t have as much trouble with choppy framerate, and…. wait, no thats it. Another OBNOXIOUS bug is that goddamn sparkley cheat trail that shows you where you need to go for your currently active quest. Now, I turned that off right away because I don’t like being told what to do. However, I ran across a character that I made online and added into my game (which is an awesome feature), and he had a quest for me. You may recognize him. He wears a wig and goes by CT Jefferson. Anyway, in true CTJ form, he wanted me to go kill someone for him. I was overjoyed to do this favor and immediately accepted the quest. Problem is that I have no idea where I’m supposed to go to do this. So I reluctantly turned on the cheat trail again to find out where to go. Nope. It wasn’t there. After TONS of testing, I’ve come to realize that it will show up for EVERY quest except the only one I truly want to do. GAH!
The next thing I hate is possibly going to make some of you angry, others overjoyed, to hear me say. I absolutely despise the expression system in this and all Fable games. I mean loathe, guys. I like to make a heroic character who, at some point in the story, takes a turn for the worst and become an evil tyrant. I do it in every Fable game. There’s always been one big problem for me, though. I don’t want to win over the hearts and minds of the people by playing Pat-a-cake with them or doing chicken impressions. Thats puerile and degrading for a man worthy of the title “Hero”. However, much to my chagrin, Fable III is no different. As an example of the new lows Lionhead has reached with these expressions, here’s a look into how I lowered prices at local pawn shop. I made friends with the owner (still a good guy at this point, remember) by playing Pat-a-cake and dancing with him. These things increased our friendship, despite the fact that his Info said that he was “Common, Straight, Joyless”. Sooooo….. treating him like a 4 year old and forcing him into a gay dancing scenario wasn’t weird for him? The dancing was NOT something normally accepted between two straight men, either. It was straight out of Dirty Dancing, right down to the climactic ending where I lifted him up in the air like an airplane (nobody puts Kieran the Pawnbroker in the corner). Somehow we became friends after that, and I wasn’t sent to the stockade. Ok cool, I got a discount coming my way. I went to purchase something and noticed my ability to Haggle. Yay, more discount! I was expecting some sort of mini-game, wherein I would battle against him for a price drop. No such luck. I danced with him again. I immediately went to the pub next door and got drunk afterward. Unlike previous installments in the series, players will need to approach an NPC and hit A just to interact with them. You will then be jarringly taken into a new screen wherein you can actually use those goddamn expressions for whatever it is you want to accomplish. I do not like this one bit. Its dumb and feels like I’m entering a combat screen. If they added a glass shattering effect, it would be complete. This lame new mechanic is something I’ve become used to. I haven’t accepted it but, like treading in ice cold water, I can no longer feel the pain it causes me.
The last major thing I don’t like is the absurd number of mind-numbing favor quests you can do for people. Yes, they are optional, but are also the only way to increase your standing with individual people. They consist of two possibilities, really: “Go get this thing buried somewhere” or “Take this package to this person in this other place”. Thats it. Sure, there are other quests that can be done for people, which are much better, but for relationship progress, those are your two options. There is a problem when everybody in town has something buried somewhere randomly in the world and wants you to find it in order to earn their favor. Also, you would think that, with the HUGE number of people needing packages delivered to other towns, there would be some sort of parcel service already in place in Albion. Somebody could be making BANK on that, but instead, I’m earning the friendship of people I’m only going to betray and repress when I get a crown on my head. I love being evil. So yeah, inane fetch quests are no fun in ANY game. IF there was more variety to these relationship quests, I’d have less of a problem with it, but there isn’t, so I have a big freaking problem.
Okay, I know you’re all thinking that I hate the game now. Well I don’t really. I just hate a few things that I took me far too many words to describe to you. I get a little overzealous when talking about things I don’t like. When you boil it down, you’ve really only read about 4 or 5 things I hated. So now I want you wall to adjust in your seat, maybe take a pee break or something, because we are finally going to get to things I DO like.
Lets start with the fact that I absolutely love Albion in all its iterations. Its a great world that has been created for us, with colorful characters, distinctly cartoonish buildings and landscapes, and wonderfully rich colors all around. I love the design team so much, I want to take them behind the bleachers and get them pregnant. The dialog has always been a joy for me, as well. The colorful remarks that random villagers make will, oftentimes, make me giggle. The bawdy, raunchy, and sometimes shameless comments that people make in the game have led me to just stand in town and listen. The voice acting is over the top and great for all the townsfolk. As for the main cast of characters, all are done very well. Your butler, Jasper, is expertly voiced by John Cleese and that alone is enough for me to applaud the casting director. The ONLY problem I have with the voices is a problem that comes from having surround sound. I have found myself trying to talk to somebody in the middle of town, only to hear somebody walking by behind me and talking to themselves. Not a big issue until you factor in the fact that their voice comes BLARING in through a rear speaker over whomever I’m actually trying to listen to. So I need to try and move the camera so that they aren’t right behind my head. Its a minor gripe. Sorry, only positives in this section!
Lionhead has also added a great new feature called the Sanctuary. Pressing start at any time, once its unlocked in the storyline, will bring you to this place. Its like a headquarters for your Hero. Jasper is there to assist you with anything you need. Its also where you’ll find your armory, showcaing weapons you’ve acquired and allowing you to switch to the desired weapon. Similarly, you have a wardrobe where you can see, swap and alter your outfits, tatoos, hairstyles, etc until you get your desired look. Probably the best part of the Sanctuary, however, is the world map. This is a GREAT addition to the series. You can not only see all of Albion from a godlike perspective, but can also zoom in on individual areas and see whats going on below. For example, you can zoom in on Brightwall (the first real town you’ll come across) and see each individual building, with some villagers walking around and whatnot. From here, you can click on a building, causing the map to zoom even further, and manage your businesses and properties from here. Once you’ve become a land baron or tycoon, this will save SO much time, rather than having to run around to each place you own in the game world, adjusting prices or evicting tenants or whatever it is you want to do. With this, you can do it all in one place. This is vastly superior to previous entries. The map also allows for fast travel between towns and regions. YAY! In all, the Sanctuary wins big time.
So far, I am enjoying the story. You are put in the elegant shoes of Prince of Albion, younger brother to the King, and son of the Hero Queen of Albion (deceased). You brother is an absolute prick and powermongering tyrant, and the nation is crying out for revolution. It is your job to lead this revolution. You need to travel Albion, gaining the favor of its inhabitants so that you will have the support of a nation when you take on the monarchy. Its up to you to decide how best to go about this and how to rule once you have claimed the throne. After a day, I think I’m getting close to the point of revolution, but not quite yet. Your leveling system and story progression are one in the same in Fable III. Its called the Road to Rule, and it marks your progress in all things: abilities, allies, and proximity to the crown. It is literally a road with a bunch of gates that mark points in the story. Along the way, you’ll be able to spend your exp points on new abilities for combat and new expressions/traits for non-combative things as well. I like this addition, mostly because I can see how close I am to the castle and the pending revolution. I would imagine that it changes once you actually claim the throne, but I don’t know in what way yet.
There are more things to talk about, both good and bad, but this review will officially delve into the realm of absurd in length, so we’re going to call it a day on this. When I went to sleep last night, I didn’t hate Fable III. Nor did I love it. This seems to be the trend with me and Fable games. So why do I continue to buy them? For me, the pluses barely outweigh the minuses, and somehow thats enough to get my money. Here’s to hoping the game blows my mind once I become King of Albion.