After the super-fun-but-not-quite-life-altering experience of Fable 2, I was prepared continue the journey with Fable 3. I pre-ordered the game in October 2010, just a few weeks before it was released and traded in Fable 2 to help with the proceeds. As with the previous Fable games, Peter Molyneux offered some revolutionary words about Fable 3’s brilliance. I get that he kinda saw the whole series as some sort of Shakespearean epic replete with the underpinnings of what all is so “human” about human nature, but honestly, that rose is still a rose and sometimes a game is just a game.
But I went into my first playthrough of Fable 3 with the glimmering notions of human nature in tow. My hopes were not dashed, but neither were they lifted as high as Molyneux’s words. Probably a good thing though; I don’t know that I really want to be around the air up there.
Mr. Obvious says, spoiler, spoilers, spoilers…
For this round in Albion, the player is transported a mere 50 years into the future. Albion has entered into its own Industrial Revolution, complete with assembly lines, child labor, and pollution. It’s an “advanced” but not wholly unfamiliar world. The hero of Fable 2 is long gone and his/her evil son Logan has taken over and has led Albion into a tyrannical nightmare. From there the game commences as you, the new hero, set up to overthrow Logan. In order to do so, you must make allies of the rulers/influential people from the different regions of Albion. This task leads to the general exploration of the revamped Albion kingdom. But overthrowing Logan only takes up the first half of the game. The second half of the game is devoted to your defeat of the “Crawler” and its dark forces, which is slowly encompassing Albion. (This fact is revealed during your revolution against Logan.) Once the Crawler is done in, you are free to rule and explore your new kingdom as you see fit.
This all sounds rather neat and tidy, but the game is far from that. Though I played through the game twice, and had a fine time doing so, like human nature, I found the game a bit messy, and I think Molynuex bit off more than he could chew. I didn’t necessarily hate Fable 3, but I didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would. My sentiments tend to echo a lot of the negativity that’s already been aimed at the game – the game’s disconnected “halves,” the truth of the point of no return, the unimproved character interactions and morality choices, the Sanctuary, that whole business with the Crawler’s alternate reality, the less-than-ideal map navigation controls, etc. etc. (here’s a pretty good rant if you like); but I don’t want continue to beat Fable 3 into a pulp. Instead, I’m going to *try* to focus on the positive.
So what did I like about Fable 3?
1. The dog
I certainly like that Lionhead kept the dog around. Like in Fable 2, your dog helped you during quests, whether that meant finding treasures or defeating enemies. I wish I could remember what I named my dog, but I really can’t. For some reason, “Herman” keeps popping into my head, but I don’t think I’d name a border collie that. A jack russell, maybe. Anyway, I enjoyed having my animal companion around and training him in the same fashion as before (using books).
2. My male character looked like a guy and my female character looked like a girl, and they talked.
The previous Fable games had notoriously bad character renderings – no matter male or female, adult or child, they all looked awful. The folks in Fable 3 looked more human, particularly during the cut scenes when your character actually *gasp* talked! No more deaf mute heroes in this game. S/he had opinions, and opinions that matter godammit! (Though not really.) Lionhead did a fair job distinguishing between the boys and the girls in Fable 3, and each hero had a sizable closet that you could fill with all sorts of accoutrements. It would have been so much better if it all wasn’t enclosed in that damn sanctuary with Jasper’s incessant suggestions, but that’s how it was.
Yes, I know he was in Fable 2, but his character was just about the best thing going in Fable 3. Stephen Fry as the voice of Reaver was awesome. (And if you don’t know who Stephen Fry is, then off to the YouTube you go! Off, I say! And be sure to check out his stints on Whose Line is it Anyway.) His witty and salacious quips were truly the best in the game. And his arguments against the kingdom during the second “half” of the game were divine.
4. Albion’s finances
Despite my own financial denials, I rather enjoyed dealing with Albion’s budget during the second “half” of the game. In fact, I wished it had more to do with the game overall. I mean, it’s fun and all to gather treasure, buy up properties, and become rich and famous; but if I had know that my own cache of money was pivotal to Albion’s fate, maybe I would have spent it a little wiser during the first half. Because once the second “half” rolls round, there’s not much time at all to gather the needed capital if you haven’t already been saving. But I wouldn’t have minded having to deal with the financial nuances of my kingdom. I like it when little touches of reality are brought into a game.
4a. The changing landscape
Following up on the financial stuff, once you became ruler you had to make choices about what to provide for your kingdom. Did Albion need a factory or school? An orphanage or a brothel? Would you choose or raise or lower taxes? What’s you take on outlawing alcohol? How about opening mines or protecting the environment? I know you had to take on each of these issues for a black or white standpoint – one choice was “right” and one choice was “wrong” – one choice raised your morality and one lowered it – one choice made money while one choice took it away. But it was interesting to see how those choices affected (if only in the minor sense) the characters and the environment.
Fable 3 was not a complete waste of time, but it wasn’t much of an improvement over Fable 2, which was much better than the original game. I think I expected a little more out of the game, not just an odd reboot of Fable 2. With the more nuanced play available in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, it’s hard to overlook the crappy storytelling and poor plot execution in Fable 3. The developers tried; I think they really wanted to make a revolutionary RPG that gave players complete control over their surroundings. But they didn’t yield quite enough and the game just felt mostly awkward. Was it cool that my evil character developed red demon aspects and my good character developed blue angel wings? Yeah. But it would have been a lot cooler if the game hadn’t felt like a $20 romp + $40 environments.