Written by Troy Benedict Wednesday, 03 November 2010 10:50
With each iteration of the Fable franchise, the series takes a decidedly different step in a new direction. Visually, each game has been consistent from the beginning, featuring a style that is not quite cartoonish, but not quite realistic, either. It’s a charming and unique look, where characters always appear to be a bit too small for their bulky outfits, like children playing dress-up in their parents clothes. However, in terms of game design and gameplay, the three Fable games are quite different from one another, as if each one is an evolution of the one before. With the latest in the series, Fable III, Lionhead Studios has addressed past issues, but it has also created new, and confusing, design decisions.
The original Fable started out as something of a swords and sorcery style game, taking place in the land of Albion, a fantasy kingdom where monsters and magic existed. Over the course of the series, the world of Albion has evolved. Fable II, for example, introduced gunpowder and firearms, like pistols and rifles, into the gameplay mechanics. The world of Fable III continues that evolution, and takes place about half a decade after the events of its predecessor, during Albion’s Industrial Age.
Smoke stacks belch black smoke into the skies and pollution coats the waters around the kingdom. The once naive, and picturesque fairy tale kingdom now appears more ominous, jaded, and world-weathered. But pollution is nothing compared to Albion’s biggest threat -- its tyrannical king Logan.
The player assumes the role of The Hero, either a prince or princess, who is the younger sibling of the tyrant king. The Hero knows only the pampered world within the kingdom walls, mostly oblivious to the plight of the kingdom and its issues with the king. It seems that King Logan is overly oppressive to his people, and fears of a rebellion are whispered throughout the castle walls.
In a rather monumental morality choice at the beginning of the game, the Hero quickly realizes that King Logan is out of his mind and has to be stopped. You have been tasked with the duty of gathering together the various oppressed groups throughout Albion, to earn their trust and to lead them in a revolution to dethrone the wicked king.
Fable III plays, at its core, very similarly to the previous games. Combat is very simple, there are three main attacks: melee, ranged, and magic. Switching between each style of attack is very fluid and easy.
Outside of combat, the design decisions are a bit unorthodox to say the least. In an attempt to address issues from previous games, like Fable II’s cumbersome inventory system, Lionhead actually made things more confusing by trying to make them less confusing.
Once the player begins the quest to dethrone the king, all item and game management is done within the in-game Sanctuary - a visual representation of a menu system. The Sanctuary is the in-game safe house where the player is immediately whisked away upon pressing the start button (and immediately returns with a second press of button). Within the Sanctuary the player can view the world map, to fast travel to visited locations, manage quests, purchase and/or maintain property. The player can also visit different rooms within the Sanctuary to configure weapons, clothing, items, Xbox Live preferences, player stats and save game management.
Throughout the game, the player can choose to form relationships, both friendly and romantic, as well as get married and start a family. In Fable III, players create (and destroy) relationships on a face-to-face basis, unlike Fable II’s relationship system where doing good and evil acts in front of a crowd affected them as a whole. With Fable III, things are a lot more personal, which also means that building friendships and romances takes a lot longer -- not only do you have to do enough positive actions in front of this person, but you must also perform quests and take your love interest on dates in order to encourage the relationship to blossom from neutral to friendship to love. This is a more realistic approach, in that you have to put forth some work to really form relationships, but it’s also a lot more time consuming, and friendship and romance “quests” seem to be quite redundant from person to person. Realism in games doesn’t always work out, especially if there is a lot of extra steps and micromanagement involved. Fable III’s relationship building interface sorta teeter-totters dangerously between acceptable and too demanding.
Forget trying to manage any sort of item. Seriously. Your head will explode trying to figure out where to even look. I’ve played the game for a dozen hours and I’m pretty sure the only way for me to view the items that I currently have in my possession is to visit a pawn shop and attempt to sell them off.
The game also features a “bread crumbs” trail that help direct the player to the next quest. But as of this writing, there are issues with the trail where it’ll sometimes disappear or point you in the wrong direction. Switching between quests, as a sort of data refresh, seems to resolve these problems, but it’s irksome to start walking in one direction, only to be told that you actually were going in the right direction to begin with and you need to turn around... yet again.
There are a lot of things that Fable III does wrong, but once you invest a lot of time in the world of Albion, you can kinda, sorta understand why the designers made the decisions they did. Kinda.
Despite any and all of Fable III’s eccentricities, the game is actually a lot of fun. The writing is fantastic, the voice talent is amazing, and some of the quests will have you smiling the whole time, especially the quest poking fun at the game of Dungeons and Dragons. For the serious overthrow-the-king storyline, the game isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself.
Fable III has a lot of witticism and charm, and that’s why I keep coming back for more. Fans of the first two games will likely enjoy it, but I’m hoping that future improvement to the game will resolve some of the game’s most head-scratching design decisions.