The Hits and Misses: Fable III
Like its predecessors, Fable III is an overly ambitious game that bites off a bit more than it can chew. Regardless, if you can look past its (plentiful) issues, you'll find a lot to love here.
The beautiful people...: The most immediate change from Fable II is the look of the game. The Albion of Fable II was a wonderful world filled with bulky characters, made even worse by a wildly erratic animation system that dropped frames based on how distant an object or individual was from the camera. More than anything, the people of Albion in Fable II looked like the people of Albion from Fable I: downright ugly. Thankfully, Fable III is a different beast. Your Hero character, along with the many friends and enemies you meat along the way, have a lot more personality and seem much more detailed. Sure, you still run into countless doppelgänger villagers, but at least they look more interesting to begin with. The game has a better blend of realism and cartoony than the past entries in the franchise which makes for much more expressive characters. By the end of Fable II, my female hero was repugnant. A muscular lady-man with the jaw of a hippo. By III's end, I had a sexy badass. I played 100% "good" in both games but only in III did I feel like my character's look reflect her personality.
...with the beautiful voices: Fable III has the best voice acting in a game this year. From John Cleese's deadpan delivery of "The kingdom is doomed" in the options menu, to every time Sabine (Sir Ben Kingsley) opens his damn mouth, the game is a complete joy to listen to. It's also hard to fault the writing, consistently dry and clever, be it spoken dialogue or simply an item description. Perfect
Albion, 3.0: While the upgraded character models are the most obvious improvement, Albion itself has also gone through a makeover. While still very Albion-ish, this is a much larger and beautiful world. The scale of locations (be it the underground caves beneath the castle, or the jaw dropping Auroran desert) have dramatically increased, allowing for a world that feels much more relaxed and breathable. The loading screens between areas are still there but the locations feel much richer and expansive. The change is subtle if the last time you played Fable II was in 2008, but when comparing both games back to back the improvement is stunning.
Combat Evolved: This is the same three button combat from Fable II but light tweaks have made the entire experience much more enjoyable. The fluidity of changing weapons mid combo has been greatly improved, making the (very easy) combat a lot of fun, encouraging you to mix it up. The way your weapons evolved also adds a lot of personality and individuality to your character. These are minor tweaks that really go a long way to make you care about the specific weapon you are using. Even the default Hero Sword can look vastly different by game's end based on how you used it. Cool!
Russell Hall is a genius: Fable III's score is beautiful. Emotionally a cross between the charms of a Dickens story with the haunting melancholy of Shadow of the Colossus cutscenes, Russell Hall has created a soundtrack that hits all the right notes for what a Fable soundtrack should be: magical, whimsical, and yet sombre and bittersweet. Between the music, sound effects and voice work, Fable III is one of the best video games I have ever heard. Buy the damn soundtrack.
You might be on to something with your Sanctuary, Pete... The Sanctuary is to Fable III what menus are to every other game. Pressing the start menu brings you to your own private space known as the Sanctuary. Here you have access to your money, weapons, clothing, map, and access to all your accomplishment. Removing menus from your game is a noble goal, and when it works, it works quite well! Walking around your own wardrobe trying out the various clothing options is infinitely more interactive and satisfying than picking options through a menu. Seeing all your weapons, spells and achievements, not to mention your tower of money, is totally badass.
...but it still needs a lot of work! The awkward map from Fable II has been replaced by something almost as obtuse. Pressing the start button now brings you to the Sanctuary after a 1 second blank screen pause. Then, you walk over to the map in the middle of the area and interact with it. From there you're given an awful three dimensional map with no reference points. A character marker, telling you where on the map you were located (or simply the orientation) would infinitely improve the map. Also, the Select button is 100% unassigned throughout the entire game and you can't remap the buttons : why can't I simply press Select to bring me right to the map. It'd save about 3 seconds, which is not a negligible amount of time across a long game like this.
Or is it Albion 1.5? For every genius revision Fable III also brings a handful of steps backward. Character interactions are much more detailed than they were in Fable II, unfortunately, you are now limited to interacting with one character at a time. You can no longer gather up a large crowd of people and impress them with your burping skills. You'll have to go up to everyone, one at a time, slowly befriend them, then move on to another character. It's terrible. You could make an entire village love/hate you in 5 minutes in Fable II. This time around, the same feat would cost you your entire afternoon. It's no fun and it's a huge step backwards.
Timing. Near the end of the game, you are given a countdown clock that goes down only when you do certain actions: you have unlimited time until you trigger those events. The only problem is that triggering those events does not correspond to a rational amount of time. Put simply, the game puts you into a VERY important end game sequence without letting the player know he or she is amount to embark on the end of the game. I felt cheated and it made the final product seem vert rushed and unpolished. I have to talk around spoilers, but basically if you get to "Day 121", CHILL. Make sure you're ready for the game to end before continuing with the story quests.
BUT IN THE END:
I felt extremely torn about this game. On the one hand, the sights and sounds of Albion rank among the best I've heard/seen in a game. Similarly, the combat is satisfying and the impact you can have on the world, be it micro or macro, is staggering. On the other hand, the map is inexcusable for such a massive game world with so much to keep track of. Combined with the irritating character interactions and the very rushed ending, it's hard to be entirely satisfied with Fable III. To me, these issues are greatly overshadowed by what the game does well. One of my favourites of the year, though I recommend it with some slight reservations.