When Fable III came out a couple of weeks ago, it didn’t seem real to me. I hadn’t really seen much of the game and the first two in the series seemed like they were in development for years. Yet here it was, only a couple years after Fable II, the next entry in Microsoft’s answer to Zelda. Unfortunately, Fable III feels like it could have benefited from some more time in development.
It’s 50 years since Fable II and you play as the younger son or daughter of your hero from the first game. Your older brother, Logan, rules Albion as a tyrant, quickly forcing you to run away with your mentor, loyal butler, and not-as-important-as-Fable-II’s dog. Despite being a prince or princess you have no money and no one trusts you, so you must go around Albion inspiring the people to bring about a revolution.
Normally, a game would stop when you win the crown. But Fable III tacks on another plot and a few hours of gameplay with you acting as the monarch, forced to choose between honoring the promises you made to those who helped you dethrone your brother. This part of the game is all about money; you’re forced to choose between popularity and security, which the game equates to being good or evil. Which is messed up. Sometimes a leader has to make unpopular choices for the greater good, but Fable III does not offer that depth. You simply have to be a saint or a dick. Giving rewards based on morality and making choices black and white really hurts what could have been a compelling aspect of the game.
The core of the game is not much changed from Fable II. One button combat returns, and it is as easy as ever to defeat every enemy. Magic has been changed, now you equip two spell gauntlets, allowing you to “weave” two spells together, instead of power up through tiers of spells like in the last game. This is less interesting and strategic, although it does look pretty cool. Also, you can now spam the spell attack button, basically allowing you to shield yourself in magic and make every fight stupid easy. Oh, and the dog helps out in fights and finds loot and dig spots for you too. He has no story importance, however.
The story is quite good, although the characters are less memorable than the motley crew from Fable II. There are plenty of funny moments and the cast is one of the best I’ve heard in a video game. Stephen Fry is back as Reaver, Bernard Hill (the king of Rohan guy) is your mentor Walter, John Cleese is your butler Jasper, Michael Fassbender is your brother Logan, and your companions include Sir Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg and Naomi Harris. It’s just a shame that the monarch stuff at the end feels rushed.
What feels the most rushed is the interface, which is a real problem. In Fable II, the biggest complaint people had was the menu system. It was slow and took too long to browse through. So instead of just making a better menu, Fable III introduces the Sanctuary. Now when you press start you’re teleported to this place where you can choose to go to a rooms to level up, change weapons, change clothes, and look at your fortune. It’s really a neat system for looking at your wealth (it’s a Scrooge McDuck style pile) and gear, but it gets really frustrating in practice.
Let’s say you’re leveling up a weapon (they have achievement style goals now, i.e. “kill 300 mercs”). You have to press start, run into the weapon room, find your weapon on the rack and select it. Even if you just want to check your quest log, you have to return to the sanctuary and run to the world map and then open in. They really should have had an in game map and quest log, especially since the game suffers from a number of fast travel and questing bugs.
The game has a lot of janky qualities. The breadcrumb trail breaks some times. Selecting fast travel from the quest list sometimes teleports you farther away than if you had just fast traveled to the town. One story quest straight up bugged out for me. I had to seduce a lady but could not interact with her. This was about halfway through the game, and remains broken even now, after I’ve beaten it and Lionhead has even released a patch. When I got married, I paid for the fancy royal wedding, only for my and my wife’s models not to appear in the cinematic. I could not interact with the wife after the ceremony, and when I rebooted the game she ceased to exist.
Fable III is a good game in spite of itself. The adventuring during most of the game is a lot of fun, helped further by its excellent cast. There are plenty of things to do and collectibles to obtain. The multiplayer is fully functional, everything we wanted from Fable II. However, some of the game is straight up broken and a lot more is stupidly annoying. Hopefully Lionhead can fix some of this with patches and DLC, because the product on the disc is far from what it should have been.