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Fable III Review

November 18 2010

Fable III Review
by Buddha

In October of this year, in an interview with MCV UK, Peter Molyneux said; “I’ve made a lot of good games, but never a great game.”

Peter’s been known to be harsh on his past games.  Prior to the release of Fable III, Peter berated Fable II for all of its shortcomings.  In typical Molyneux fashion, he turned every Fable II insult into a Fable III promise.

In the MCV UK interview, Molyneux went on to say that he wouldn’t be satisfied until he’d broken into the “Top Five” club.  He wants to create a game that will be placed in top 5 lists of all time greats.

Unfortunately, there is simply no way that Fable III will ever make such a list, unless the list creator is related or working for Molyneux.  Fable III does not even belong in the top 50 all time great games, let alone the top 5.  There are simply too many things holding the game back, not the least of which being Molyneux’s insistance to reach for the stars with each iteration, forcing his development team to always fall short.

Despite my inner fears of disappointment, I pre-ordered Fable III a week before release.  I even spent the extra ten spot on the Collector’s Edition, not because of the fancy case, coin or even playing cards (although I do love playing cards), but rather because of the additional DLC which when grouped with the rest of the package made the ten dollars a worthwhile investment.

I’m rationalizing, I know.

I’d been debating whether I would pick this game up. On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of Fable II.  The action, though quite simplistic, was still fun.  There were no consequences to dying other than a few scars, which meant that I would simply dive into the middle of packs of mobs and swing, shoot and bite my way to the end regardless of my death count.

Sadly, the same holds true for Fable III.  I’d hoped for more engaging combat, though in truth, there are even less consequences now, as you do not get scars.  You simply get knocked out, and return to the battle within seconds.  While your health gets topped up during this knock-our phase, that of your opponents do not, making victory inevitable, regardless of your skill level.

The same combat scheme exists in III as did in II.  You have one button for melee, one for guns (rifles or pistols) and one for your chosen magical abilities.  The game even auto-targets for you, though you have the option to change the target, as well as power-up an attack. 

Sure, you can bounce around, tuck and roll, and try to make the combat more engaging.  However the sad truth is, you can also stand absolutely still, pressing only one button on your controller, and eventually slaughter any groups who dare attack you.

Furthermore, there is really no benefit to using one type of attack versus another, in terms of “leveling up” a skill.  You rank up your attacks by using Guild Seals (your hero currency) on the Road to Rule (more on that in a moment).  This Road to Rule is literred with chests, each containing various skill-ups, including all of your three attacks (with off-shoots to specialize your magic).

As an example, I’d chosen to level my magic and melee (swords) on my diabolical princess.  Given the option eventually to use two magic-wielding gloves, I selected a lighting and a push-back glove for each hand.  What this allowed me to do was run into the heart of any battle, and by pressing one button on the controller, both electrocute (causing a pause in attack) and push-back on all mobs.  They would draw near, my attack would zap them, and then send them flying back.

Rinse and repeat.  It was very rare that anyone would ever get a sword close to me and all I had to do was rapidly press one button.

I think I’ve made my point, so let’s move on.

Molyneux had said that unlike Fable II, Fable III would be more of an action game and less of an RPG.

Well… that’s a lie.  I’m not saying this because the action is simplistic (in terms of the combat), but rather because it is very rare in the game.

The truth is, Fable III is not an action/adventure game.  It is an RPG, through and through. You will spend the majority of your time speaking to people in the game, dancing with beggars and playing the real estate market.  You will sit through many cut-scenes and speeches and be thankful when you can skip some of them by pressing and holding the A button.

If you stopped playing Dragon Age: Origins as you thought there were too many moments where you could just set the controller down and make yourself a sandwich, do not pick up Fable III.  The first half of the game is not as bad, however once you seize the thrown, you will have to sit (both you and your character) through countless scenes, making you wish for something, anything more engaging to do.

Now, please bear in mind that I adore lore-driven RPGs.  I want my games to drip with so much back-story that you feel as though you are drenched in it.  However there’s a very, very big difference between what I’ve just described, and what Lionhead has put into Fable III.

The Story

The basic premise of Fable III is simple.  Your brother, Logan, now rules Albion.  You and he are both children of the hero of Fable II (which would be you if you played it).  There’s no saved game import (ala Mass Effect 2) wherein your deeds in Fable II have an impact on Fable III.  It’s a linear story, and there’s no real mention of this hero other than to say he was your ol’ man.

Logan is immediately portrayed as evil incarnate.  He is cruel, he is oppressive, and everyone in Albion, but for the rich and evil, want him dethroned. 

Almost immediately, you are made aware of this, as he forces you to choose between the lives of town workers or your boyfriend/girlfriend (depending on which gender you chose).  For the purposes of this review, I will refer to my character as the princess (soon to be queen), as I finished the game on an evil female play-through.  I did also play through much of the content as a good, nearly angelic, male… though have not finished the storyline entirely for him (nor do I know if I ever will… but I digress).

This is supposed to be the first truly heart-wrenching, moral choice which you have to make, however there really is no choice.  Fable III makes it easy for you to know which are the good, and which are the evil choices in the game, by highlighting the floating choice buttons (a mechanic which I really do not particularly like) in a halo or flames.  There are no morally-grey options.  You’re either good or bad.  Case closed.

Upon making your choice, you then decide to escape the castle with your trusty butler, Javis (what royalty would be caught dead outside the castle without their servants) and your mentor, Walter.  Oh, and let’s not forget your dog.

The escape from the castle is entirely uneventful, in terms of any resistance you’d think to encounter on such a brazen escape.  You enter a tomb, discover than like your father, you too are a Hero (note the capital… you’re not a hero… you’re a Hero), and then from there you proceed through a cave wherein the worst that you come across are some bats.

At the end of this path, you find a marker on the ground which teleports you and your party to the Sanctuary (again with the capital).  This is important, as the Sanctuary is your menu.  If that sentence did not make sense to you, it is no doubt because you didn’t bother following much of the news regarding Fable III prior to release.

In not so many words, Molyneux stated that those who played through Fable II were simpletons who could not properly grasp nor appreciate the complexity of its menu system, and as such, he chose to create an entirely graphical interface instead.  I’m paraphrasing, but not by too much.

Want to quickly check your map?  Hit the menu button which teleports you to the Sanctuary.  Run to the three dimensional map in the center of the room.  Move the magnifying glass over the city which you want to see a map for, and then try to decipher it, as it’s a three dimensional rendering of the city or village, and has no clear markers other than to hover over shops or pubs and then find those within the game.

Want to change your outfit?  To the dressing room.  Tab through the mannequins until you see the items you wish to wear.  Press to equip each piece you want, or all.  Exit the dressing screen.  Find the other mannequin which has some of the clothes which you wish to wear and do the same.  Of course, there are “spare” mannequins upon which you can save specific costumes, but the entire process is clunky and is just there to force lines out of John Cleese (who voices Jarvis the butler).

The same is true of the armory, used to view and equip your weapons.  In order to get the stats on any weapon, you must first stand in front of it, click the A button to select it, and then the Y button to view the stats.  Truth be told, the differences between weapons are negligible at best, even taking into consideration the “bonuses” which certain weapons unlock once you’ve performed their quota of kills.

As a point of interest, weapons are supposed to change dramatically in the game depending on how you use them, however I must say, I saw very little change on my evil princess who specialized in swords.  I saw more noticeable changes on my good prince using a mace, though even then, the changes weren’t jaw-dropping.

Back to the Sanctuary.  This is also where you can join online multiplayer games, buy items, gather presents, view your character’s stats or save the game.

Much was said about the Sanctuary prior to the game’s release, as a way of making it sound so much better than a competent menu system.  I will say this; once you get used to using the D-pad shortcuts as soon as you port into Sanctuary, it’s not that bad.  It’s annoying as hell at times, however you get used to it after several hours (and by that, I don’t mean that you “learn” how to use it properly after a few hours, Peter, but rather that you mentally give up on the prospect of something beter and just get used to the idea that you’re stuck with this system).  Does that mean you don’t wish for a regular map when you’re out and exploring or even in town?  No.  You will always wish for that.  However it’s functional.

I will come back to this topic in a little bit when I discuss real estate, however I think it’s time to go back to the story.

Once it’s made clear that your ultimate goal is to dethrone Logan, Walter advises that you will need an army of supporters.  You would think the game would get exciting at this point, however truth be told, this is where it gets boring.  Why?  Because this is not an original idea, folks.  How many times must we see this type of story before we long for something more original.

However that’s not my only reason for disliking this part of the story.  For each village or town that you visit, you must “win over” the local townsfolk somehow, in order for them to support you in your endeavor.  You “win over” the townsfolk by earning a specific number of Guild Seals; the in-game currency mentioned earlier.  These seals are also used to purchase upgrades and unlock aspects of the game in The Road to Rule.

How does one valiant prince or princess earn Guild Seals, you ask?

Why, allow me to tell you.

There’s the ever-popular farting on people.  There is hugging, dancing, playing pat-a-cake (yes, you read that correctly… grown men and women playing pat-a-cake), insulting, riding the person like a rodeo pony, etc, etc.  You don’t unlock these all immediately.  In fact, it will take a little while before you’ve unlocked them all, and you will always unlock the “good” options chests before the “evil”... which means, get used to farting on people in order to get your seals and drop your morality standing.

“That will never get old!”, I can hear you thinking.

Oh yes.  Oh yes, it will.  I assure you.

You can also gain Guild Seals by completing quests.  This is actually the suggested route, as it is a lot faster.  Some quests won’t take you very long, and reward you with as much as a third of the seals required to win over a town (your mileage may vary depending on which quests you choose).  There are default quests you can choose from, however more are unlocked if you hug and kiss your way to a friendly disposition with certain villagers.

The quests are at times quirky and funny, while others are quirky and foolish.  Lionhead does not know how to walk this fine line, at least in my opinion.  There is a quest which has you dressing as a chicken in order to lure escaped chickens back to their owner (you then get to keep the costume, as you can see from some of my screenshots).  And then there are quests such as one which has you shrinking in size to enter a D&D type game, complete with two dimensional characters and such.  The scenes at the end of this quest allow you to actually see the game masters looming above you as you fight to the end.

I actually quite enjoyed this quest, as it was very unique.

It is a rare exception however.  Sadly, the game does not have many such encounters.  Instead, you’re forced to wear costumes in plays where your actions have absolutely no bearing on the success (or even end result) of the quest.

Which leads me to a very big problem that I have with this game.  Fable III is supposed to be a game which forces you to have to make difficult moral choices, however the game was not designed to accept morally-defunct choices.  Let alone the fact that the choices are blatantly obvious the entire game, you are not rewarded for making evil choices in the game.

Now before you go off half-cocked and tell me that you shouldn’t be rewarded for evil actions, let me clarify that I mean evil choices, for the most part, are not acknowledged.  In order to gain the necessary Guild Seals to win over the townsfolk of Brightwall, I maimed, tortured, slaughtered and passed wind on all but the children running rampant without proper supervision (and even they received “pointing and laughing at” actions), all the while dressed in that ridiculous chicken outfit.  I resisted arrest, massacred the town’s armed guards and upon receiving the required number of seals, a celebration was held wherein all of the townsfolk rejoiced around me as the announcement was made that I had won over the town. 

The game was designed under the assumption that most people will choose to perform good deeds.  Either that, or the development team simply did not have enough time to incorporate two cutscenes for every possible outcome.

What should have happened here?

Seriously?  The townsfolk should have been cowering.  The town’s leader should have been frightfully telling me that though they’d rather not, they would support my decision.  There should have been a completely different resolution to this quest, but because the game only truly rewards the “good” choices, get used to this.

I broke every promise I made to get to the throne, and the only consequences were harsh words from those whom I’d wronged.  I still beat the game, and quite easily, I might add.

Which leads us to the second half of the game, where you rule over Albion.

As mentioned earlier, once you take the throne, you will spend most of your time with your ass on the throne, listening to proposals regarding your promises and preparations for the oncoming invasion (I don’t want to spoil too much of the story and so won’t go into great detail here).  However I’m getting ahead of myself.  Your first point of action will be to deal with your brother.

Now, I know that I’ve included a few spoilers here and there so far, however this is a big one, so be forewarned.

Your brother will try to explain that the only reason he acted as he did, was to save Albion from this future invasion.  You then have to decide whether you will let him live, thereby gaining access to his armed forces, or make him pay for his actions by taking his life.

I know that this was supposed to be a heart-wrenching moment, however I scoffed it off for the following reasons.  First, my evil princess, now turned queen, could give a rat’s ass about her brother’s life, and from an RP perspective, no option was given her that would even give her pause.  Secondly, and more importantly, there was absolutely no foreshadowing of any of this at any point in the story.  Logan was evil.  He was a beast of a man who would sooner spit on his people than do whatever was needed to keep them safe.

And yet here he is, NOW stating that the reasons for his actions were in the best interest of Albion.

I don’t blame him for this.

I blame Lionhead.

You cannot change a character’s entire raison-d’être in the second half of a story simply to force a moral choice.  Had there been any foreshadowing throughout the story, perhaps this would have been a more difficult choice to make.  Molyneux may argue that too much foreshadowing would have clued people into Logan’s character and made the choice to dethrone him more difficult.

This is absolutely true.  Which means hire better writers to either make it so that regardless of foreshadowing, dethroning is still the only viable option; or write an entire other playthrough which allows you to assist your brother, versus dethroning him.

Other Inconsistencies

Of course, seeing as a simple evil playthrough was not properly developed, I find it hard to believe they could have also include any other options.

That said, there were inconsistencies through the game which eventually forced me to simply raise my hands in defeat.  It’s not just the lack of reward for evil choices.

Raising money as a Hero (note the capital) from baking pies?

... baking… pies.

Or how about the relationship aspect of the game?

Yes, let’s cover that now.

Prior to the game’s release, Lionhead allowed those who pre-ordered the game to create their own villager who would then be ported into the game.  I thought this was a fairly fun twist, and so went about creating a female whom I could romance on either of my planned characters.  This meant making her open to experimentation, let’s say.  I gave her a flirty disposition, which would make it easier to win her over regardless of my moral standing, and lo and behold, Phelicia was born unto Brightwall.

Phelicia’s “loyalty” quest notwithstanding, I set to woo her on both my “good” male and “evil” female.  It wasn’t until I was queen that I decided to finally win her over and see if I could get her to marry me.

To Lionhead’s credit, they included options for lesbians and gays to woo whoever the hell they want.

It took no time at all to win Phelicia’s heart over, even with swarms of people running around me screaming… for you see, once you are king or queen, you can go on a murderous rampage and the guards won’t come after you.

Phelicia and I moved into my hunter’s lodge, because apparently she was not allowed to move into the castle with me.  We enjoyed our wedding bliss, whenever I came home from demoralizing small villages.

One evening, just to see what the results would be, we had unprotected sex.  I figure, two lesbians… what are the odds.  I’ll save on condoms, because those are the only type of “protection” in the game. 

Let’s not dwell on the fact that Lionhead devs apparently think condoms work on chicks.

Let’s dwell on the fact that I knocked up Phelicia having unprotected sex.

Prior to release, I believe the Lionhead devs should have reviewed certain high school sex education films.

They may have learned a thing or two.

Seriously, if they’d wanted to implement a means by which lesbians and gays can have children in the game, there’s an orphanage in Bowerstone.  It would not have been that difficult to make this work, however they chose the easy path which required the least amount of coding, for you see, Phelicia is my “husband”, as was said during our wedding.  For all intents and purposes, she is a male in the game.

It’s a shortcoming.  They didn’t follow through for whatever reason.

The same can be said of the real estate portion of the game.  In order to amass a large wealth of coin, you will want to play the market.  Lutes and pies are for loser.  However I will say this.  Playing the lute and baking pies is far less frustrating that having to repair every single one of your properties, one at a time using the map in the Sanctuary and that stupid goddamn magnifying glass.

The real estate portion of the game is a horribly designed time-sink, which Lionhead desperately needs to fix via a patch.  There is little to it, to be sure, however several small tweaks, not the least of which being a repair all, would go a long way toward making the system appear finished (versus half-assed).

In Conclusion

I know that there are some who would disagree with what I have written here, however know that this is an honest review, not the least bit influenced by the developers or other media.

I would not recommend this game as a purchase.  Plain and simple.  For fans of the first two games, I would suggest a rental, however without having completed all of the side quests, I still clocked in well over twenty hours.  This was because I listened to every single quest given, or proposition to the throne.  These are time consuming, though hardly fun.

I made the comparison earlier to Dragon Age: Origins, and I think it appropriate to end with an important point when comparing both games.  Dragon Age: Origins, certainly had an abundance of cut-scenes, however in each, you were a participating member.  You didn’t simply choose a halo or flames at the end of a speech.  You took part in the conversation and steered it as you thought best. 

The morality system in Dragon Age: Origins worked.  It allowed for grey choices, and the results of your choices were noticeable.

And lastly, Dragon Age: Origins attempted to deliver an equal blend of story and action.  Some may argue that the story was more prevalent (hence my choice of the word “attempted”), however it was nowhere near as lopsided as Fable III.

Had Fable III had more action, more interactions, as well as properly developed story-arcs depending on the morality choices presented, the game would have been far more enjoyable.  As it is however, I feel it is only going to be truly enjoyed by those who are fans of the IP.


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dpking2222 01:59pm, 11/18/2010

Awesome. I was wondering whether you were going to do a review of it.

Buddha's avatar
Buddha 02:08pm, 11/18/2010

Oh, for sure.  It’s an important title, regardless of whether it’s actually worth playing or not.

Sadly, when purchasing this game, it was between it and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

Suffice it to say, I chose incorrectly.

/frowns at Molyneyx

Naithin 02:30pm, 11/18/2010

I have to say that personally? I enjoyed the game, and it was worth the purchase.

That said? I still 100% agree with the review regardless.

Particularly in regards to Logan. ((((SPOILERISH, NOT REALLY, BUT KINDA: When I was in the desert area and having gone through the experiences there (which I have to say, were pretty well done) and hearing that Logan had once been there, I completely thought that this was the reason Logan was evil. That he’d been infected or influenced by the thing there, and that Walter would succumb to the same fate. The actual truth of the matter ended up being… well… it was tangentally related, I suppose… But still completely out of left field with no real foreshadowing to speak of.)))) SPOILERISH PART ENDS.

And the repair all thing, ugh. Do want.

Much else could complain about as well, although the review covered it fairly nicely already.

I’d say that if you were a fan of Fable II (and Fable I, or simply didn’t like Fable I because of it’s unwieldy combat controls mixed with a fairly unforgiving combat system, in terms of skilling up rapidly anyway) then Fable III probably <i>is</i> worth a purchase. If you didn’t like the prior ones, there really isn’t anything to bring you in now unfortunately.

Buddha's avatar
Buddha 03:11pm, 11/18/2010

The funny thing is, I spent the entire game seeing potential wasted. 

I write, and I see stories within stories and when I look at characters which could have been written so richly and yet were squandered… well, it’s disappointing and saddening.

Logan could have been a deep character.  He deserved it.

Instead, he was cast as a stereotypical villain.

The same can be said of nearly everyone in the game.

dpking2222 03:51pm, 11/18/2010

As a whole, I like the game. The only thing I’ve found that I don’t like so far (haven’t reached the King side of the game yet) is the interaction menu when you talk to other people.

Buddha's avatar
Buddha 04:22pm, 11/18/2010

It’s terrible.  Truly terrible.

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