Fable 3 Review: It’s Familiar to be King

Albion is your oyster in Fable 3, Peter Molyneux and Lionhead Studios’ more accessible than challenging latest chapter in the ongoing Fable saga on Xbox 360 (and PC). It will draw you in with its vastly improved narrative and excellent voice work then frustrate with a lack of measurable innovation and subtraction by means of addition. At the end of the day, or in the case of Fable 3 many days, it’s still good and quite addictive to be king.

Fable 3 dispenses with the burden of birth into less fortunate circumstances and struggles to ascend the sociological ladder. Here the journey begins 50 years after Fable 2 with the player as a prince whose brother is abusing the throne for his own personal amusement and gain. Revolution is the only answer to topple the blood tyrant and thus the ultimate goal Fable games have been building towards is within reach: ruler of Albion.

Ascending to the throne is only the first act of an as-advertised two-part story. Once the crown is acquired your objectives change but to discuss any further would prove spoilerish. There’s actually an enjoyable and clever narrative running through Fable 3 that, while not wholly original, is a definitive step up for the franchise and worth uncovering. What can be said is that ruling Albion requires a lot of straightforward “a or b” moral decisions to be made. Those choices, made blatantly obvious with little glowing white or red icons, will determine if you become a heroic ruler loved by the people or a devilish overlord.

Outside the story elements, Fable 3 lives up to its name and little else. Lionhead has tweaked their gameplay formula a little here and a little there as would be expected from a sequel. The underlying game is undeniably “Fable” with some of the same frustrations and lack of innovation that has continues to plague the franchise and not measurable leaps forward aside from the aforementioned narrative. Hours will be spent running around, watching your almost useless dog struggle to pinpoint dig spots, interacting with people to gain their friendship, easily killing enemies from afar with limitless ammunition and spells, and playing finger-numbing mini-games to build up cash.

Surely there are better ways to gain NPC friendships than wasting several minutes clicking through a cumbersome series of fart, burp, tickle and dance animations. At least in the previous games emoting could be performed to groups of people at a time and there was no need for relationship quests i.e. delivering items back and forth across long distances to impress someone. Better hunker down for awhile to gain a spouse as the item delivery process will need to be completed more than once.

It boggles the mind that now into the third Fable game Lionhead has not managed to correct the dysfunctional breadcrumb trail that leads you to your next objective. This useful glowing ray of navigational hope struggles to reappear after some cut-scenes and in some lighting conditions is nearly impossible to keep track of. Other visual oddities include only a sliver of collision detection and some rather obnoxious clipping. The king’s cape is continually cut through by his weapons with every step taken, for example, and the dog will penetrate many a wall.

Another perplexing oddity are some of the vast locations Lionhead has intricately built into Fable 3. The game’s geography is not huge per se, but there are some stunning areas designed at a grand scale. What’s frustrating about these mostly non-industrial areas is their scope is wasted with little to actually do in them. They look pretty but serve as little more than a large piece of real estate that must be traversed to reach another objective.

Running around has always been an integral part of Fable to discover treasures, keys, demon doors and the like. With the new Sanctuary that replaces a traditional menu, Lionhead is providing a means to instantly jump to the far reaches of Albion without spending 10 minutes making the trek. The Sanctuary also acts as a repository for all your outfits, weapons, spells, etc. and is accessible from anywhere in the game. It’s maybe a touch more time consuming having to move the character around in the Sanctuary to say change from a sword to a hammer, but the caretaker voiced by John Cleese more than makes up for the additional few seconds.

Road to Rule is another destination outside Albion that tracks your progress during the revolution and provides treasure chests to upgrade your weapons and social skills. To open the chests, Guild Seals earned for completing quests and impressing people with your “emo” skills are used as a sort of upgrade currency. Does it make sense to upgrade all the weapons first or learn new “emo” skills? Or does it makes sense to save up Seals until new areas of the Road to Rule are opened to gain earlier access to more powerful spells? It’s an interesting conundrum players will have to face and decide upon.

Fable 2 introduced cooperative play into the franchise but failed in one important aspect: players had to always share the same screen space. This has been remedied in Fable 3, along with the addition of players being able to marry and create families with one another from other corners of the country. There’s little point to the game in doing this other than Achievement acquisition but someone must have been clamoring for it.

The deeper one plays through Fable 3 the more evident it becomes that Lionhead understands its fan base veers more casual and did not want to rock the boat. Why else would a new touted addition be a handful of slow-motion kill animations instead of something along the lines of having to solve riddles to locate hidden treasure? Anyone with limited gaming experience will have no trouble plowing through the enemy and boss battles. At the end of the day there’s little to do outside following the narrative other than Fable’s stable of emoting with people, looking for items and making/spending money.

The good news for Fable fans is by sticking tight to the franchise’s game plan, Fable 3 is certain to be appealing and just as addictive as its predecessors. I happen to be a fan and have already wasted quite a few hours as a blacksmith and pie roller trying to build up cash and buy up property like a Monopoly pro. It’s mindless play but the allure of adding to one’s empire is hard to dismiss. That doesn’t blind the fact that Fable 3 is far from a perfect game scarred by questionable changes, overlooked fixes and missed opportunities.

– Dan Bradley

Shop for Fable 3 in stardard or collector’s edition versions at Amazon.com.

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