So it’s back to Albion for Fable 3 and a lot has changed since we were last here. A Dickensian style industrial revolution is in full swing. However for all this modernity it’s still acceptable to wander round in a snazzy bearskin wielding a hammer the size of a phone box. Incidentally it’s also acceptable to wander round in full drag or even a chicken costume should you so wish. The world of Fable is certainly a world of contradictions, and that is at the heart of everything it does well and everything it does wrong.
Fable 3 is absolutely overflowing with brilliant and innovative ideas (like getting rid of menu screens completely and replacing them with a walk-in wardrobe type affair) but unfortunately many of them are under-developed or poorly implemented. There is also a shocking lack of polish in places for the third game in such a high profile series. Serious slowdown issues, dodgy camera angle and screen tearing are all present, and Albion is clearly set in a fictional land where lip syncing has yet to be discovered.
But it’s not all bad, in fact it’s mostly great, and for all of you who are unfamiliar with the Fable series it’s a particularly British fantasy RPG (although it’s actually pretty light on any actual RPG elements – especially in this new version) that is also very funny. Think Discworld meets Monty Python, it’s a game where you can fart on people’s heads, do chicken impressions, get sent on ridiculous quests, all set in a quirky yet beautifully rendered world. A brilliant script and stand out voice cast (John Cleese, Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry and even Jonathan Ross) also lend a real air of class to proceedings.
In this version of Fable you’re cast as the brother (or sister) of the King, who seems to be going a bit power mad. Events transpire and after some very tough choices you escape from the castle and set about starting the revolution. This is quite a lot of fun as you travel the world, completing tasks and collecting followers. There’s even a particularly enthralling mission where you travel to a far off land and things take a psychologically scary turn. Eventually after completing enough tasks, some of which are brilliantly inventive, while others are somewhat tedious, you lead the revolution and become King.
Being the leader of Albion is the part of the game that has been really pushed in Fable III. The first thing you find out is that the treasury is in a pretty bad state and you’ve got some tricky decisions to make (sound familiar?). The right choice is always obvious, but can you afford to make it? Will you become a tyrannical leader like your brother or the benevolent monarch you promised all your followers you would be? This change in pace is an interesting development and works quite well but isn’t quite developed enough to work on any kind of Sim level.
There is a lot of fun to be had exploring and just tinkering around and you’ll often find yourself getting sidetracked from the main mission. On the surface Fable 3 seems to give you unlimited freedom but there is actually often little depth to a lot of the things on offer. You can talk to anyone in Albion, make friends with them, get married, have children, become a bigamist and marry someone else, or kill off your first partner and start again. This all sounds great fun, I wooed the town whore, threw a royal wedding, caught 3 STDs from her, then had a child. After a while I couldn’t be bothered to go and see them as I couldn’t remember which of the identi-kit houses I had bought for them to live in. I’m not sure if this says more about me or the game, but compared to something like Mass Effect the interactions are really underdeveloped and there is no real incentive to interact with anyone once you’ve got bored of farting on people’s heads, especially when you can’t even follow through by accident any more, unlike in the previous game.
In fact there have been a lot of things that seem to have been streamlined (or more accurately simplified) in this version. Combat is button mashing at its most basic and magic seems to overpower anything else, removing any element of challenge from anything other than the toughest battle. You don’t even need to explore properly as there is a glowing light always pointing you in the right direction. You’ve got a dog who (unless you are an insane animal lover) you’ll have no attachment for, who finds all the treasure items for you. There are no stats or leveling up, although you character and weapons do organically develop depending on your style of play. It really is RPG lite, and I’m not sure if this is an attempt to make it more accessible. It’s definitely more Lego Star Wars than Fallout 3, although that is not actually a bad thing, as long as it is what you were expecting.
All in all there is a lot wrong with Fable III, but it is still one of the most engaging and enjoyable game worlds around to immerse yourself in. The brilliant scripting and evocative scenery really pull you in. Some people have complained the game is too short, but I think if you rush through it you’re really missing the point. It’s the kind of game you think about as much when you’re not playing as when you are. Most importantly though it really will make you laugh, and there’s not many games that do that well. Now if they can just concentrate on ironing out those creases for Fable 4 we’d really have a game worth raving about. Fable 3 gets a very good 7 out of 10.
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