Monday, February 7

In case you haven't played it: Fable III Review (X360)

I've never survived any of the previous instalments of the Fable franchise. For all of Peter Molyneux's posturing, I found each of these games to be more sterile than innovative, and quickly lost the will to quest across Albion. Fable III has once again made some lofty promises, allowing players to take the throne; but will a healthy dose of government save the latest instalment from the depths of mediocrity?

The Good
A whimsical journey - Despite all of its flaws (and there are many), Fable III is a stress-less trip across the beautiful land of Albion. You see many sights, talk (fight with, snog) a cast of amusing, cockney-voiced villagers, encountering nothing reminiscent of tension throughout the entire adventure. Even when engaged in combat, rarely did I find myself tested. Fable III  never rocks the boat, and is (I believe) the gaming equivalent of taking a walk in a very big park - very relaxing.

Tinsel Town - I thought this might impacted negatively on the experience at first, but Fable III  is the most heavily-directed action RPG I've ever played. You're directed to your next objective by a glowing trail of fairy dust, so you're never left wondering or wandering as it were.

Charming cast - Each of the central characters in Fable III are made all the more lovable/loathable thanks to some fantastic voice acting. Stand-outs include John Cleese (your ever-present assistant, Jasper), Benard Hill (your mentor, Sir Walter Beck), and Simon Pegg (swashbuckling compatriot, Ben Finn). While the central characters are not always effectively developed, every resident of Albion has a voice. Further to that, you can choose to talk, dance with, whistle to, even marry almost anyone you come across. While choosing to wed the factory supervisor by the swamp doesn't really fit into the epic nature of the tale, it does give you an idea of how much freedom you have to determine your own fate in the timesink that is Albion.

Finding Aurora - While Fable III never manages to be difficult, the journey to the barren land of Aurora is genuinely dark; not the awkward, black comic stylings that permeate throughout the majority of the game. The change in mood, coupled with some stunning visuals served to distract me from the one-dimensional combat and further develop the relationship between the Hero and Walter. A truly enjoyable hour's worth of compelling storytelling. Even after this particularly memorable sequence, each time I returned to Aurora I once again found myself awestruck.

Road to Rule - There are two aspects of the interface which served as a refreshing change from the usual Action RPG fare. The Road to Rule allows players to unlock new abilities and combat upgrades as the story progresses, instead of a traditional levelling system. I found it to be a somewhat shallow version of Final Fantasy X's sphere system, which didn't pose any particularly hard choices; still, a welcome change. The other interface change comes in the form of The Sanctuary, Fable III's playable pause menu; allowing players to wander through a well-furnished armoury and closet, instead of navigating static menus. While it is a lot more time-intensive than a traditional menu, it is an interesting concept and a valid alternative.

The Bad
Nonsensical economy - I found it comical and completely absurd that one could earn more money from making pies, than playing the real estate game. I haven't checked whether this extends to the other minigames (Lute Hero and Blacksmith), but by upgrading the Pie Maker job to the highest level, I was able to make around 30000 dollars in about five minutes. Compare this to purchasing an affordable property or shop, which will earn you between one hundred and a few thousand dollars every five minutes. Why go to the bother of renting out some houses when you can make more than ten times the money by making some pies?

Stuttering - While Fable III is generally speaking, a beautiful-looking game; the frame rate consistently falters during combat, especially when confronting large groups of enemies. Sometimes it looked as though animations were truncated to accommodate more characters on screen, and it very rarely looked pretty. The effect was even more noticable when enemies were further away. It was also interesting to note that the frame rate took a pretty noticable hit any time that I attempted a job after taking the throne. I'm not sure if this was because of the NPCs swarming around me, wanting to give me presents, or if it was the armour I was wearing; but you should have seen the game grind to a halt when it was pie time.

Moral Compass- The final section of the game tasks players with ruling over Albion and making good (or not) on promises you made on your ascension to the throne. This should have made an interesting change of pace from the standard travel here, kill this (or retrieve that), return to quest-giving NPC formula; but what it boils down to are some overly obvious choices from each end of the moral specturm. For example:
  • Do you establish an orphange at a cost to your coffers, or do you approve of a whorehouse which will feed millions into your economy?
  • Do you allow for child labour in Albion's factories, or do you establish a school?
  • Do you drain a lake and mine for resources, or do you maintain the natural beauty of the region?
Most disappointing of all (and something that I didn't properly consider until viewing Yahtzee's review - which is highly recommended), is that there is no way for you to justify some of the more sinister decisions to your constituents given the circumstances in which you have to make them.

The Ugly
Monster Mash - Combat in Fable III is utterly forgettable. Let's forget for a minute that you'll be fighting about eight different types of enemies, each of which employ a similar strategy (read: rush him!) for every encounter. Enemies, even in very large groups are overly fallible and prone to dying well before posing a threat to the Hero. What's worse is that whether you choose melee, ranged or magic to fight the hordes, there's a very slim chance that you could come close to meeting your demise. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure why there is a ranged option when magic can be used for either focussed (with more than adequate range) and radial attacks. If it weren't for the fact that shooting an enemy in the face mid-combo is somewhat amusing, I'd never have even reached for my pistol in first place. You could go through the entire game mashing only on the X button in combat situations, and I would wager that you could survive pretty much every encounter. If you do find yourself injured though, you can always roll away from your opponents until you recover. Fable III is the easiest game I've ever played. I never died, and I've even got the cheevo to prove it (commence celebratory dick-swinging).

That's it? - Now to be entirely clear; I was the good guy, in almost every scenario. For that reason, I can't categorically say that the final confrontation is as disappointing for the more evil players out there when compared to my noble colleagues. What I can say though, is that the final boss fight in Fable III is without a doubt, the most anti-climactic (in terms of both challenge and scale) sequence in recent memory. It's over before it even begins, taking a grand total of about ten minutes to transpire.

Do I get a happy ending? - I must stress this once again: I tried to please everyone. When I (BEGIN SPOILER) took the throne, I was told that the only way to save the kingdom was to make unpopular decisions. I wanted everyone to love me, so almost every decision I made was popular with the people of Albion. Was I punished? No. It seems that the ending I attained was all the more whimsical because I failed to show the backbone required to make the decisions that no one would want to make, in order to keep the kingdom safe (END SPOILER). Lesson learned!

Sanctuary Shop - There are few things that can kill immersion quite like advertising. Nearly everytime I paused the game, I was reminded that there were some new "bits and bobs," in the Sanctuary Shop. If I'm interested in downloadable content, I'll download it from the XBLM or PSN at my own leisure. I'd prefer not to be reminded about these unnecessary additions ad nauseum.

5.0/10 - Fable III is the definition of mediocre, abjectly failing to deliver on its premise of thoughtful rule. Players are made to wade through a series of simplistic, morally-polarized decisions to save or forsake the kingdom of Albion. Save for one particularly memorable sequence, pretty much every aspect of the game fails to stir excitement, and unless you are in desparate need of ten to fifteen hours of walking and talking (and bashing X) this game is best left avoided.

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