Genre: Action-Adventure, RPG
Designers: Peter Molyneux (Creative Director), Josh Atkins (Senior Design Director)
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Console: PC (not released yet), Xbox 360
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2010 (NA/AU), Oct. 29, 2010 (EU)
Age Rating: M for Mature
Lionhead Studios’ Fable empire is built on the innovative notion of how selfless and selfish choices affect storylines, main characters, and bystanders. Moral choices in Fable I are obvious and easy — to kill or not, to steal or not — and rewarded as expected. Exemplified early in its Bowerstone Old Town region, Fable II ups the ante by adding surroundings to the list of things that are affected by moral decisions. Economics also plays a developmental role, as the amount of gold spent at shops and going rates for their goods contribute to the displayed degree of community affluence as well as shopkeepers’ perceived purity. Fable II also makes select moral choices a bit more ambiguous, but they are still pretty clear in terms of consequences. Enhancing all of the above, Fable III tells a story that takes place 50 years after players put down their controllers and shelved Fable II. Within this gap, the then hero-turned-monarch gives birth to Fable III‘s hero, who has a brother crowned king and a servant from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Despite the latter, many call Fable III heavy-handed … and for good reason. The story is one of revolution and thus focuses on conditions that lead thereto: crippling poverty, exploitation, and abuse of power.
In the eyes of Albion’s citizens, the king has grown corrupt. He neglects or exploits the majority of the land’s people and allows industry to determine morality. There are but two thriving towns, one of which can be likened to an open-air mall, while the others are either in shambles or on their way there. As if to exemplify this, beggars, while naught but a scant novelty in Fable II, are prevalent in just about every town, very vocal, and heartbreaking. In fact, the very first heroic act players are tasked with performing is simply to engage the disheveled Dwellers of Mistpeak. The heavy-handedness comes into play via the oppressive atmosphere, lent to by an impressive array of one-liners from the downtrodden, their general aesthetic and manners of motion, and the sight of houses falling into disrepair. Thus the hero’s first role is that of the people’s savior, a goal that must be reached by accumulating public and military support. To this end, Fable III puts forth decision after decision (almost immediately and most definitely substantially) that affects the story’s hero, the people that surround him or her, and the places all of Albion’s citizens inhabit. After players oust the king, it’s their turn to play sovereign and prove that they can do better.
The effects of players’ actions on the characters of Fable III and the contrast betwixt them and players’ lives aren’t the only means of fostering sympathy. Little things, like Demon Doors that require you to work with someone online (friend or stranger), achievements for marrying someone online, and the fact that the online co-op portal facilitates random hero match-ups, fosters the same interaction the game preaches as an instrument of positive change. These sorts of details may not exactly be the same as twirling a random citizen about in a two-step or clucking to evoke the laughter of children, but it is coerced interaction (mandatory, even, if the solo player chooses to try and complete 100% of the game).
However, interactivity isn’t the only impressive thing about Fable III. A simplified inventory and more streamlined gameplay greatly improve the overall experience. Early on, the most noticeable improvement is with the quick d-pad selection during fights. No longer are the suggested health items and potions randomized; players, when engaged in a fight, are offered 3 types of potions, two of which were formally Will capabilities (Slow Time and Raise Dead), and one food option. Also, there is no more random food or drink, as players can only carry around one type. Similarly helpful, all experience orbs are now automatically collected during a fight instead of requiring players to hold down a button at the end while losing some of them due to evaporative time.
Some players might find the theme heavy-handed or dislike the repetition involved with the garnering of support, and RPG fanatics might dislike the fact that there aren’t 50,000 potion and food choices. However, Fable III‘s compelling story line with two-part plot, exhilarating climaxes, and myriad options for replay make this game an astounding and well thought out addition to the series that actually manages to carry over its effects into the real world. More than a few moments made me get choked up, and every gameplay session was so absorbing that none lasted fewer than a couple hours.
This review is based on a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.