Parent Talk: While rated M for Mature, parents can breathe easy knowing that Fable III isn’t grotesquely violent. The rating is due to sexual content, alcohol use and the touching of characters. Given Fable’s trademark humor, it’s no shocker that the touching makes the game go from a T rating to an M rating.
Audio-visually, expect usual 1080p native resolution, and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. I have a bit to say about both, but that will be left for the following review.
Upon finishing Fable III, I thought that about half the game was Fable II, and the other half brand-new. The past familiar gameplay is still present: you tackle quests to progress the plot, fight Fable enemies and interact with NPCs by way of expressions. You also once again use melee, magic and ranged attacks, and you can be distinguished as the greatest hero or worst villain in the history of Albion. The significant changes come with the Road to Rule upgrade system, which grants players the ability to physically interact with other characters, and reign supreme as monarch. Is this adventure worth your time and money?
It’s good to be king! The most interesting addition to the Fable formula is allowing the player to become the king or queen of Albion. Being royalty is not entirely a comfortable position though, because you then realize how much weight lies on your shoulders. A king is responsible for his people in every sense. Do you raise taxes, allow child labour, legalize prostitution? What about the promises you made to citizens as a lowly prince of princess? Are these worth honouring in the long run? Without spoiling the story, I must say these choices have been the most difficult to make in a game for me this year. Why? Because somebody will lose out on your decisions. When a videogame evokes that kind of emotional in players, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. The problem is that it doesn’t last long. I wanted to be king for days, not a handful of hours.
+ Refinement. This theme affects almost every facet. I already mentioned the Road to Rule upgrade system; now I’ll dig a little deeper. Think of the progression system as an alternate realm wherein the experience you gain can be used to unlock special upgrade chests that contain new expressions, stronger magic, and more. In Fable II, advancement seemed much more open-ended, and while some may view that as positive, I thought the laundry list of options was confusing. For example, you at times had to cumbersomely claw through countless menus to discover which essence you needed in order to improve a skill. Now, you simply head to the Road to Rule, spot your desired chest, and check the requirements. Acquiring essence is a joke: get married, perform fetch quests, or do virtually anything…and it’s yours.
+ Menus. Or the lack there of. The menu system has seen major alterations/improvements. Fable III must be the first “action RPG” with no menus to speak of, whereas everything was done from the main menu in Fable II. You changed gear, accepted quests, and so forth. With III, everything is chosen form a real-world hub. Before you wonder if it becomes repetitive, I acknowledge that it does. Take the map for example. Instead of just pressing the start button, now you have to teleport to the Sanctuary (menu hub) and walk over to the map. Thankfully there’s no loading between standard gameplay and the Sanctuary; you wait just a few extra seconds. As you might imagine, that becomes a bit tedious. In retrospect, though, everything else is more streamlined. Want to try a piece of clothing? Well, now there’s a changing room that allows you to see how it looks. What about online friends? Head to the online hub within the Sanctuary. Even that infamous map becomes second nature after a while. The bottom line is that you can’t appreciate Lionhead’s effort until you actually use the new hub.
+ I have a few more comments about the map, if you don’t mind. It also allows you to zoom in on any location, warp directly to that spot, and interact with real estate opportunities instead of physically visiting each area you’re interested in buying. This is important because homes now decay over time, thereby forcing you to repair them occasionally. Without this improvement, I probably wouldn’t have bothered investing much.
+ An epic tale that actually feels epic (but still not perfect). We’ve all heard this story before. A ruthless king, who shows no remorse for anything or anyone, has to be stopped at all odds. As the king’s younger brother/sister, the fate of Albion lies in your hands. The biggest difference with Fable III and all those other games is that once you actually take the crown, the story doesn’t end. Better still, these characters are the children of the legendary hero you played as in Fable II. Sadly not all is perfect as the expression system interrupts the natural flow of story. We’ll touch base on that shortly.
+ Mortal Combat. Having finished Fable II before I began III, I immediately noticed the better combat. It’s not necessarily ideal, as the same issues that bogged down the previous Fables remain. You can finish the game without being defeated, enemies can be completely brain-dead thanks to weak AI, and a wonky camera sometimes makes fighting a chore. But the action is sped up now, which makes those problems seem less glaring.
+ Great audio, but a mixed bag for graphics. The music is multicultural by inspiration. The vast desert enjoys Middle Eastern rhythms and hymns while some of the bigger battles feature orchestrated violins, opera chants, and more. The spoken dialogue, while incredibly cheesy, is professionally performed. John Cleese even voices the butler! Unfortunately, the visuals are showing age in some respects, while remaining fairly impressive in others. The animations have improved, but still aren’t as polished as those seen in other AAA Xbox 360 exclusives. Could the 360 be nearing its peak?
+ Great online fun…if you have friends. Upon booting up the online mode, I was shocked to see a hero simply standing still, despite calling out through my mic. I was baffled, and left the session. I tried another matchmaking. Guess what? Same problem. Only by inviting a friend could I experience the online mode properly, and it’s a delight. Your character is transported to your friend’s Albion, or vice versa. You can begin a business partnership, get married, or even have a child with your virtual pal. That’s what I call co-op!
+ You have a voice! It’s great to finally hear the protagonist speak. This has been one of my biggest pet peeves about Fable. But wait until you read what I have to say next…
– The expression system. Why do you speak to NPCs and then use expressions to persuade them to like or dislike you? That doesn’t make sense, and is woefully humorous at best. As the new king of Albion, you lower taxes, have serious conversations about rescuing cities… and then you have to dance with villagers and play patty cake. Oookay. It’s a funny system, but obsolete.
– Missed opportunity. Ever play Mass Effect/ME2? If so, you probably know what I’m referring to: character importing. That is a huge draw for ME, and how Lionhead has completely dropped the ball here is beyond me. Fable II is focused on your adventures, so would it have been so hard to at least include pictures of your previous hero? What about hearing from people you’ve saved, regardless of whether you were gentle or ruthless? I’m saddened by this omission and you should be too.
– Repetition. Quests are more varied this time, but the fetch quests are boring as sin. At key points you’re tasked with making friends, meaning they must like you. This is achieved with expressions. Eventually, the people ask for a favour. It’s either to deliver a message to someone in the next town, or dig up some lost item. That’s it. Technically friends aren’t necessary, but they’re part of the fun. By the time you hit 20, you won’t pursue any more. I guarantee it.
Bugs galore! Like its predecessors, Fable III is littered with bugs, ranging from overlapping dialogue to graphical hiccups and slowdown. Twice I had to reset my Xbox because the game locked up. Sometimes a lot of freedom is a bad thing. That and leaving the couch — that’s never good!
Fable III does much more right than wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. If you loved Fable II, then definitely buy III. For everyone else, the improvements are welcome, but the shortcomings stick out badly. I’d love it if everyone tried the game because it deserves that much. Fable III is one of those rare games that almost anyone can play no matter how high or low their skill level.