Review: Gear up for more of Molyneux’s tall tales in Fable III

Fuck you Molyneux Syndrome. There, I said it and I’m not sorry. In 2008, with Fable II, you promised me the world, boasting a new level of co-operative play and expansive combat, and like pulling a fake number from that supermodel at the bar, I believed you, only to be ultimately let down. Now as 2010 draws to a close, you come spouting the same lines, assuring me that the premature ejaculation known as Fable II has had a solid dose of Viagra, and now with more staying power, the new improved version can go the distance. While that may indeed be the case, I’m not sure if what I’m playing is an action adventure title, RPG or just some slant on The Sims. 

It’s been fifty years since the events of Fable II drew to a close, and now Albion is battling a new beast, extreme poverty. As one of the progeny of the protagonist you played in Fable II, you have a sympathetic ear to the plight of your people. Your seemingly cold-hearted brother is holding the poorer elements to taxable ransom, as well as swelling the ranks of his army. To the people, he is a tyrant. Albion is on the brink of revolution, and desperately needs a “Hero”. That’s where you come in.

After your brother sets the wheels in motion, you, your trusty butler Jasper, and man at arms Sir Walter Beck all must flee the city, and after the appropriate anointment as a Hero, you set off to become the savior of the downtrodden and depose your evil brother. To achieve this goal, depending on your alignment, you’ll go about shaking hands, dancing and tickling your soon to be constituents if you favour good, or scaring the pants off them and berating if you lean towards evil.

You do this over and over and over to gain their favour and embark on various fetch quests, but more importantly to gain Guild shields, which are your leveling up currency (also gained during combat). The first few hours, as you endeavour to unlock weapons and spells, is an almost unbearable grind, even for an RPG, and isn’t the strongest selling point for the game, especially since Molyneux himself touted the title as a non-gamer’s game. To be honest, I almost gave up at that point, but Fable III does gain momentum, and I’m glad I persevered.

Your in game menu can be brought up at any point, and rather than the traditional system, you’ll be teleported to The Sanctuary with your man-servant, Jasper (magnificently voiced by John Cleese) at your beck and call. Each option has a physical place or room within, and it is a very clever way to make the complexities of an RPG seem simple to newbies, I just wish that Jasper wouldn’t constantly recommend I go to the Sanctuary Store to check for new DLC items every freaking time I want to change clothes, or grab a new firearm. It got real old, real fast.

Using The Sanctuary as your hub, you’ll also gain access to The Road to Rule, a magical highway filled with unlockable chests and gates that can be opened under specific conditions. The chests merely require the right number of Guild shields, whereas the gates can only unlock after you complete a certain section of the main quest. The chests hold a variety of weapon, firearm or spell upgrades, as well as new expressions or levels of specific jobs. If you want to unlock them all you’ll need to do a lot of side questing, especially if you intend to be maxed out before the final confrontation.

On the road to revolution you’ll work your way through many of Albion’s townships and after performing specific tasks for their leaders, make promises and assurances for their aid in the upcoming coup. Most quests have a high Guild shield yield, but for some of the smaller ones, you’ll regularly earn more shields just interacting with passers by, than for completing the actual task at hand. That doesn’t mean you should discount these side missions, as some of the most entertaining moments of Fable III are contained within.

The world appears expansive, but is deceptively small and linear, You can teleport to any location you’ve traveled to before, which takes out a lot of the leg work. As with Fable II, your trusty canine companion returns, as does the golden wisp breadcrumb trail to lead you to your next quest, and sadly, both retain the same flaws. The dog will often disappear for no reason, or excessively bark to bring something to your attention, when there’s nothing to be found. The golden trail can be infuriating at times, especially considering there’s no ability to mark destinations, either sending you in the completely wrong direction, or even disappearing for no specific reason at any given moment.

Combat has been simplified even more so than in Fable II, with single button presses or holds the most complex manoeuvres you’ll complete throughout your battles. You have an arsenal of a sword or hammer, pistol or rifle and spell casting gauntlets. As you’d expect the hammer and rifle inflict more damage than the sword and pistol, at the expense of speed, so it’s all up to personal preference. Each has a single button attack, or a heavier blow or flourish, that can be completed by holding down on the button. These develop as you progress, as do the actual weapons themselves and their appearance, and there are quite a few different animations available, though to experienced gamers, it will feel just a tad rudimentary.

Spells work pretty much the same way, with a directional regular attack for a button press, and holding down affects a larger region. These too expand as you level up, becoming more powerful and destructive, especially in later stages when you can merge two gauntlets together offering a myriad of new sorcery at your fingertips, and is one of the highlights of Fable III’s combat.

Unfortunately, if you’re a seasoned RPG veteran, you’ll be leveling up to such a point that you never really feel in danger or overwhelmed throughout your entire travels in Albion. By journey’s end, everything was my bitch and I found the toughest skirmishes occurring after the completion of the main campaign, which is disappointing.

I won’t delve into the story too deeply, as it will, at times have you surprisingly invested in the characters’ plight, though I will say that around the three-quarter mark you’ll become king or queen (no real surprise) and have to confront a new evil that threatens Albion. This is where Fable III really grinds to a halt. You’ll need to raise a serious amount of capital for the Royal Treasury to make the necessary preparations to defend Albion from this new threat, and keep your word to each faction that pledged their loyalty to you.

The choices are extremely black and white, and lose any real depth due to that fact. The game urges you to be good (I mean, why bother replacing one tyrant with another?), so you feel honour bound to keep your word, and the game penalises you monetarily for doing so. Those savvier individuals will be familiar with how to make money in Albion, with plenty of menial jobs along the way to get some quick cash. You can circumvent that nonsense entirely by dabbling in real estate (businesses are the best option as they earn you cashola with no upkeep).

In fact, by the time evil invaded Albion’s shores I had acquired enough funds personally to transfer to the Treasury, AND still maintained all promises to my former brothers and sisters in arms. It’s good to be the king! The final battle was extremely lackluster and I felt that it was more a matter of time before I won, than any real testament to my gaming prowess, and here’s the crux of the problem with Fable III.

I’m not sure if it’s actually a game, or just an interactive story. The combat never threatened me, I never felt at a loss, or overwhelmed, more like I was marking time as the story unfolded. It has some truly innovative ideas, but for every “pro” I marked down, there was at least a “con” to balance it out, leaving me feeling torn about my entire experience.

Casual gamers will definitely get something out of Fable III, and may use it as a gateway drug to more complex RPGs like Mass Effect 2 or Fallout: New Vegas, but to those more familiar with the genre it just won’t have enough substance to leave a lasting impression.

7/10

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Dave Kozicki

Shotgun Samurai
Video game reviewer, presenter and enthusiast. Film and TV-aholic. Pop culture geek. T-shirt and sneaker addict. All around nice guy and one hell of a sexy beast. Writer for Official PlayStation Magazine AU, AusGamers and Hyper Magazine.