Fable III Review
By -- Richard Jacklin
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Fable III is game that is completely built around decision making. Although this is the first Fable game I have played, I've come to understand that the entire series is focused on decision making. My first decision with Fable III was whether or not I wanted to start the series with the third game, but I can tell you that doing so was a good decision for me. Fable III is a light-hearted, but intense action RPG that takes you by the hand and never lets go. Unfortunately, some poor design choices and general bugs damper an otherwise bright tale of a hero finding his way to the top.
Fable III has you playing as the prince or princess of the character from Fable II. This is just a place-holder character meant to tie the two games together, so if you didn't play the second Fable, you won't be penalized in any way. As the prince/princess, it is your goal to dethrone your evil brother who has thrust the land of Albion into a terrible depression, all for his personal game. In order to overthrow your brother, you must gather support from different areas in Albion. Once you have gathered support from the towns and villages across Albion, an epic battle results in your Kingship/Queenship. However, this is only part one of the story. The second part of the story tells the tale of your character as King/Queen of Albion making decisions to protect the land from a greater evil force than the previous king.
The first part of Fable III is mostly spent completing quests to gain support. These quests include everything from chasing chickens into their pen, while your character is dressed in a chicken suit to exploring dungeons and fighting the various evil creatures that infest Albion. To get to the locations of these quests, the bread crumb trail feature has made its return. Unfortunately its return is not a warm welcome. If you can actually get the trail to work flawlessly, it isn't bad and is a great alternative to simply entering a general quest area and walking around/talking to people until the quest is initiated. Most of the time though, the bread crumb trail rarely works. At least 70% of the time, the bread crumb trail would randomly disappear. When that happened, I needed to continue walking in the direction I was going and pray that the bread crumbs would come back. Completing quests awards players with Guild Seals. Guild Seals are the game's version of experience points, and work almost as another currency separate to gold. Players can take these Guild Seals and use them to open chests on the "Road to Rule". Road to Rule is the games way of showing the characters progress on its way to being king or queen. Each time the player reaches a certain event in the story, a new gate unlocks on the Road to Rule and allows the player to open new chests. The chests along the road can improve the players melee skill, gun skill, and spell skill, and can also unlock less important things such as dyes for clothes. The problem I have with the Road to Rule is how restrictive it is. I wanted my character to excel at melee, but not bother with guns. However, I couldn't focus on my melee skills exclusively because I couldn't move to the next stage of the road until I reached the next part of the story.
Unfortunately, the problems don't end here. While the quality of the quests are great, the execution of them is far from great. Once players undertake a new quest, it is nearly impossible to cancel the quest and move on to another. This isn't much of a problem for main story quests, but once players get to side quests, this becomes a huge problem. For example, I was attempting to "woo" an Albionian female and the time came when I must begin undertaking quests to win her love. I wasn't happy with the quest I was given, so I went to another female and attempted to vie for her love. When I attempted to change from the previous woman's quest to the new woman's quest, I simply couldn't. The quest menu would not allow me to switch to the new quest and change the bread crumb trail. If there is a way to change, I could not find it. I would consider myself familiar with the RPG genre, so if I couldn't change the quest, there is likely something wrong with the game's quest system. In order to make money in Fable III, players must play button matching mini-games. Similar to a rhythm game like guitar hero, the player must hit the correct button at the correct time when the matching colour scrolls across the screen. As the player completes each level, the difficulty ramps up. Once again, the mini-games work well, but there execution is very poor. The frame rate drops horribly, and makes it nearly impossible to match the button presses at higher difficulty levels.
Apart from the glaring technical problems, the over simplicity of Fable III also becomes another one of its downfalls. As I said in the intro of this review, the game grabs you by the hand and never lets go. This allows for Lionhead to take the player on a fantastic gaming experience, with light RPG elements. Where this goes wrong is when the player wants to let go of the game's hand, but the game's grip is too tight. If the player collects a health potion from a chest, he or she is unable to use it until the game feels that it is necessary for the player to use it. The game usually picks the perfect time for players to select their items, but for me, the lack of control became a nuisance. I play video games to have an interactive experience, which includes having the ability to drink a potion whenever I want. The over simplicity doesn't end there though. While I could write a book on the problems of Fable III's over simplicity, there is one more I wish to touch on. For some reason, Lionhead Studios felt it would be a good idea to completely remove the players health bar. That means the player never really knows when they are going to die until the colour fades from the screen and the bottom flashes red. If your player does die,
Thankfully the gameplay picks up once players enter the second half of the game. As the king/queen of Albion, players must decide whether or not to keep the promises they made with those who helped in the takeover of the kingdom. While it may seem simple: good players keep their promises; bad players don't, Lionhead has thrown a bit of a curve ball. Explaining it here would ruin the experience, but I will tell you that during my play through, I was emotionally attached to my decisions and truly had to think whether I wanted to be known as good or bad by the citizens of Albion. Despite hating the technical problems of the Fable III, I absolutely loved complexity of the decisions.
When it comes to graphics, Fable III doesn't get any better. As I mentioned before, the frame rate of the mini-games drops to an unplayable level, but this problem isn't exclusive to mini-games. While playing the main game, there were multiple times when my character would be almost be running in place from the frame rate dropping so low. Even if you ignore the laughable frame rate, the graphics of the game just look plain ugly. Fable III opens with a beautiful CG cut-scene, but once it turned over to the first cut-scene with in-game graphics, I couldn't believe the contrast. The enthronements in Fable III are fairly beautiful, but the character models are comparable to those of early Xbox 360 titles. Saying that Fable III needed a layer of polish before it was released is an understatement. Lionhead needed to completely rethink their approach to graphics in Fable III because what they released is laughable in comparison to the rest of the Xbox 360 games published by Microsoft Game Studios.
Thankfully Fable III finds some respite in its audio quality. Fable III is fully voiced by an interesting cast that pushes the lighthearted, comdey feel of the game to the max. This game is one of the few that can actually have me laughing, and this can be attributed to both the dialog and the voice overs. The soundtrack for Fable III isn't quite as memorable as the voice overs and dialog, but it still does a damn good job. The audio quality isn't enough to carry the rest of the game, but if you are going to take a chance and dive into Fable III, the audio is a nice rewarding quality.
Fable III is a fantastic concept that just doesn't come close to its aspirations. Lionhead attempted to make a great experience, but fell flat in its execution. The story is great and so are the majority of the quests, but the glaring technical problems unfortunately over-shadow the rewarding qualities of the game and leave you with a bit of a mess. While there are a ton of problems, Fable III is a fully playable game and players who have enjoyed the series thus far shouldn't be deterred by these problems. My playthrough of Fable III was full of fun and if these mostly easy to fix problems were addressed by Lionhead before its release, I would be praising this game. While I never want to see a developer put out a poor game, I think this may be in Lionhead's best interest. Lionhead now needs to go back to the drawing board, address the glaring problems of this latest entry in the Fable series, and come back swinging with a fantastic game.
- Great story
- No lack of fun
- Beautiful environments
- Fantastic audio
- Glaring gameplay problems
- Overly simplistic RPG elements
- Awful character models
- Constant frame-rate drops