imperiousrix's Fable III (Xbox 360) review

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"This is (unfortunately) my Albion"

 I'll make no bones about it.  Fable III is my favorite game of the Fable franchise.  I'll also make no bones about the fact that I was absolutely underwhelmed when I played the first Fable, and thought of the second game as a much better, if not equally underwhelming experience.  Fable III I feel finally nails what the series has been trying to do since the beginning, pulling the player into a timeless land where they actually feel as though their actions effect the world they live in whilst still providing an engrossing story thread.  This doesn't, however, excuse the multitude of strange idiosyncrasies in the game's design, it's rushed final third, or the unmistakable feeling that this is honestly the best Lionhead Studios can do with the franchise as it is.


Fable III returns players to the mythical land of Albion, now many years in the future from the second game.  As such, the last remnants of the old world are being extinguished in favor of a soulless industrial one.  You're placed in the role of the Prince or Princess of Albion under your brother, King Logan.  Both of you are the offspring of the Hero from Fable II, but frankly that doesn't play all that much into the game's world.  What does is the fact that your brother is running Albion into the ground with an oppressive rule that has its citizens clamoring for revolution.  
After an early game betrayal, you find yourself as the apprehensive leader of this revolution as you gather supporters and eventually take the crown yourself.  The characters in Fable III are what drive it, and the likable personalities and silly British humor make your ascending to the throne an enjoyable one.  It is, however, when the game attempts to push the gravitas of your plight when it fails greatest, and the final third or so is filled with far too little exposition for what should be the build-up to the game's "grave" conclusion. 


Content is a bit of a problem with Fable III as well.  Theoretically, all Fable games are supposed to have expansive worlds with ridiculous amounts of things to do.  In reality, however, I've never found the displaying or encouragement of these activities to be the series' strong point, and that is in full effect with Fable III.  If you take the main quest line straight on, you can conceivably beat the game in about 6-8 hours.  If you do stray off the main path, you will find quite a few enjoyable side-quests many of which have small stories within themselves to follow.  
That isn't to say all of them are winners, and in fact there are more than a few stinkers in the bunch, but it doesn't detract from the fact that most in Fable III are surprising.  There is of course the return of property and business ownership which can become its own mini-game in and of itself, and but unless you are extremely meticulous about your property, it does little to stretch out the game.  Overall, there's lots of content in Fable III if you're willing to dig, but the game itself isn't going to make or even seem to want you to dig for it.


 The actual act of playing Fable III was surprisingly my favorite part, and quite frankly this was because it's just such a breeze.  Combat involves one button marked to your characters' three main modes of attack; melee, shooting, and magic.  If you've played Fable II or any measure of hack-and-slash games, you're not going to be terribly challenged by the combat.  It still encourages enough experimentation to make it exciting to play and watch.   

The biggest change to this installment comes in the feeling of organic growth and "seamless" gameplay.   Frankly, this stuff works... and yet doesn't work.  From your character building standpoint, you now earn Guild Seals which are used to unlock abilities on the game's leveling tree; a literal pathway called "The Road to Rule".  As you progress through the game, more gates unlock on the pathway, unlocking more abilities which, in turn, take more Guild Seals to unlock.  This kind of literal menu application is also applied to the managing of weapons and clothes.  Now, instead of accessing a menu, pressing start transports your character (NEARLY instantaneously) to The Sanctuary.  This actual gameplay space has you running around rooms to physically pick out weapons and clothes, as well as providing a virtual space to view your trophies, achievements, income, and other character-centric stuff that would otherwise be stuffed into menus.  This, surprisingly, works pretty well, and with some intuitive tools for saving outfits and assorting weapons, I found it much more desirable than the cluttered menus of Fable II. 

Where this design choice utterly fails, however, is in the handling of the map.  The map is located in the Sanctuary as well, and seeing as how often you need the map for marking quests down and for quick travel, the fact that you must Pause, wait for the Sanctuary to load, walk to the table with the map on it, activate it, search the map, and THEN finally perform your desired action is quite frankly a little difficult to stomach.  The map IS decent enough for buying up properties (feeling a little like Godfather II in this respect) and the navigation driven by the "Bread-Crumb Trail" from Fable II makes it fine enough for finding your way around, but one question cannot be avoided;  WHY IN THE BLUE HELL IS THERE NO SINGLE BUTTON ACCESS FOR THE MAP?!  The "back" button on the Xbox 360 goes unused in this game.  That is how I'm going to leave the matter...
Lastly, I'd be remiss if I talked about the gameplay, yet left out its biggest caveat.  This would be the final parts of the game where you finally become king/queen.  Obviously, Fable is a game of choices and how those choices effect yourself and others, and this is boiled down to its simplest concept in Fable III where, when you become king, literally 90 percent of the gameplay consists of simply making choices.   

The rub here is that, without giving too much away, you need to form an army for Albion to safeguard against a growing threat, so you must juggle the keeping of promises to your followers and the need for money to keep Albion safe.  It's actually a fairly interesting idea that, if better executed, could have made for a much more drama-filled finale to the game.  As it is, however, it just feels half-baked and rushed and is frankly very little fun.  Furthermore, on a first playthrough, there's little doubt that you're not going to end up with an ending that serves the character you played throughout the game, which only compounds the frustration of being ruler.  I'd like to think that this was some grand scheme by Molyneaux and the dudes/dudettes at Lionhead; a commentary on the difficulties of ruling noble-y, yet realistically.  A statement on how, in reality, people are better off being told what is good for them rather than bend to the whims of an unjust society.  Sadly, I know that this was just poor choice of design and that they fucked up... sorry. 


 Finally, there's the presentation side of Fable III.  Fable has never been a graphical marvel, and this game is no exception.  Although there is some great detail in the more rural places of Albion and some genuinely cool architecture and lighting effects, player models look more than a little rough and suffer from recycled animations from Fable II.  It also doesn't help that, despite this not being a great game graphically and Albion being split into sectors rather than being a cohesive world, the game still chugs at points and has issues with clipping and texture pop-in.  The only consistently great thing about the presentation is the orchestral score, which is equal parts whimsical and sweeping, and the excellent voice cast.  Fable III is a funny game, but I can't say that, had the game a different cast, it would have been just as good.  Stand outs include Simon Pegg as the freedom fighter, Ben Finn, Ben Kingsley as the eccentric leader of the Dwellers, Sabine, and Stephen Fry as the insatiably corrupt Hero, Reaver.


 Fable III is the definition of "bittersweet".  It's a game that has great highs and indomitable periods of fun and fancy free.  But for every one of these moments, there's always undoubtedly two or three moments where the game seems to fail in some small way.  It's, in my mind, the most complete Fable game that Lionhead has produced since it first announced its ambitious new franchise many years ago, and yet it leaves one with the feeling that the developer really has no clue as to where it really wants to take the series.  Fable III is a game that can be played, enjoyed, even loved on its own merits.  The discriminating eye, however, may find just a few too many things to get hung up on.  As such, it deserves 3 stars out of 5; no more, no less.

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