Albion needs a Hero
Fable 3 ... is finally upon us and it's a mixed blessing. Normally I'd start a review with a bit of a pre-amble, but this time I want to get right down to it. So...
This time you don't start off as a child, you're either the Prince or Princess of the Kingdom of Albion, your brother Logan, is a tyrant and he oppresses the people and would rather see Albion burnt to the ground than surrender it. To make matters worse, you're also the son or daughter of the old Hero King or Queen. That means you're destined to overthrow Logan and take Albion's throne for yourself.
That's all I'm really going to say on the story, it's well told and it has a few twists and turns here and there that make it fun to watch unfold.
If you've played Fable or Fable 2 then you're going to be no stranger to the gameplay that's in Fable 3, even though it's refined it remains essentially Fable and that's not a bad thing. You have the 3 main attacks, mapped to the 3 buttons, melee weapons on X, ranged on Y and spells on B. You can mix them up in combat and the switching is a lot quicker, so you can throw a devastating spell one moment, fire off a couple of shots the next and finish off with a nice sword attack.
This system is smoother and a lot more fun than Fable 2.
It gets a little more cinematic as you level up your skills, which we'll come to in a moment, with flourishes and better blocks. The camera occasionally gives you a slow motion cinematic combat move that really makes combat come alive and the animations for those are great - they're also tied into the weapon you're using, so melee and ranged all have different key death-dealing animations, different again for pistols and rifles, swords and hammers and so on.
Flourishes are triggered in the same way as Fable 2, hold down the button and press the direction until the pad vibrates or you see your character's Will lines appear (if you're strong in magic). You can also unlock spell-weaving and put on two different kinds of gauntlets, mixing magic...like a fireball and vortex to create a powerful flaming tornado of doom.
You have your main attributes; they level up based on doing. So if you swing a lot of swords you're going to get stronger, fire a lot of guns, you get faster and taller (stature) and well, use a lot of magic and you're going to get all sparkly-glowy Annie!
As you battle the creatures of Albion, you gain Guild Seals (XP) for doing really well in combat, or completing Quests. These can be used on the Road to Rule, a kind of quasi-mystical pathway that represents your ascension to power. There are chests on the road and each one costs x-amount of Guild Seals to unlock. The chests can contain your core expressions, landlord packs (allowing you to own property and so on) and of course weapon and magic levels. From 1 to 5.
Each time you level up your weapons, you transform your Heroic Weapons into a different form, this also reflects to all the other weapons (Legendary) that you can buy from shops and find on Quests. Many of them will change their appearance based on what you've done so far in the game. There are a lot of attributes that Fable 3 keeps track of and they all count to something, for instance, my sword gained a more malicious appearance because I had apparently been very cruel to chickens.
I had been, I can't help it...see a chicken = kick a chicken; it's the law in my Albion.
The core gameplay values remain the same, kill monsters, go on Quests, meet people and express yourself (either evil, good or funny) to earn Guild Seals from them. Interaction being one on one now, no more crowds of people all standing around going: good even, or, I like your hat. The road is unlocked as you move through the core story, so you can never be overly powerful in your own game world. You're always at the right power level for the next bit of the story.
The other big change to Fable 3 is the GUI; no longer does the game bombard you with 2d menus full of stuff: everything is in 3d thanks to the Sanctuary. Weapons, costumes, items and everything appears in this mystical hideout, once you access it through the start menu. You can save and load your game, check on your map (from which you can also fast travel and buy/sell property, raise the rent etc) and check out your friend's progress, since they also appear as orbs on your map (depending on your setting in the Live Room).
Shops actually have their goods on sale, you can see them in 3d, you can interact with costumes and see what you're buying - so you'll know if that halter top looks good on your Prince or not.
It's a bold step away from our traditional 2d menus and I like it. I like it a lot, apart from the Silent Jasper bug which is a bit of a gamebreaker, since it can stop you seeing how much cash you earn from odd jobs, fast-travelling around the Sanctuary via the D-pad and preventing you interacting with Jasper (your butler voiced by John Cleese) - this includes important quest related information and so on. Not a very good bug and one of the reasons the game score is lower than I wanted to give it.
It seems directly tied to the Sanctuary and virtually everyone I have spoken to, has been hit with this bug at some point during their Fable 3 game.
At some point you're going to rule Albion, that's about mid-point in the game but the game doesn't feel very long during this ruling phase. You can still interact with your map and do all sorts of property management and questing, but the rulership part feels rushed. I think Lionhead could have done a lot more...also...would it have killed them to implement some kind of mass management for repair of property - it is insanely tedious trying to scroll the highly inaccurate mini-map around and find the property flags that are lower than the others.
I want my 100% rent!
On the whole though, with a bigger gameworld, massive areas and a lot more satisfying and fun combat. Fable 3 is a step in the right direction in terms of core gameplay and is a lot of fun (apart from the bugs) - there are also a lot of secrets off the beaten path, so secret in fact that you're going to have to play to find them.
Yes, the dog's back and no he's not a nuisance like before and no you can't kill him or children - you can kill anyone else if you turn safety off and you will gain negative karma for it. Just like Fable 2 etc. The dog will also help you in combat and finds treasures a lot better than before.
Major bug #2: the golden trail, glitchy in Fable 2... totally broken at times in 3. Another reason why I scored the game lower, it will totally bug out at times and either point the wrong way or vanish for minutes at a time before returning to appear for a few seconds before it vanishes again, really annoying if you're trying to complete a quest and you don't know where the heck to go next.
Lastly one of the new mechanics in the game is the 'touch' mechanic, where you can literally take someone by the hand and lead them around. It's great for that all important romantic date that ends with a quick trip to the workhouse and being sold into sla...er...a nice dinner for two.
It's a pretty game, a lot prettier than Fable 2 and it retains the quintessential feel that is Fable in the graphics. You can tell you're in Albion, only this time it's a lot more dynamic in terms of effects and graphically beautiful. There's a lot more detail on everything from characters to the environments and some of the locations are actually incredibly well done. I have a particular favourite late-game sequence that makes use of dynamic lighting and shadows very well.
Suitably improved from Fable (except for the golden trail's AI) the enemy AI actually uses some form of tactics; they work together, especially if they're a pack animal and will assault you from all angles. The dog AI is improved and there are less pathing issues, so it doesn't spend a lot of time crashing into walls or getting stuck behind trees.
It does what it has to on the tin, nothing more or less. Bodies fly when explosions go off and they react to blows in combat, with a nice weighty feel.
Fable 3 wins with animation, the facial animation is great and the whole combat animation suite is excellent, with some amazingly cool combat finishers that trigger from time to time.
A competent sound suite is presented for the game with the usual ambient sounds expected from Fable, the clash of blades in combat and the sizzle of spells. The oofs and yelps of pain, it all works well.
Fable 3 has the best music of the Fable series yet, especially later on when new themes are introduced and a brand new musical style reveals itself. This matches one of the new areas of the game that's not Albion, but I shall say no more.
The story script is well written and well put together, it is clichéd as one might expect but has some pretty dark moments that offset the game's humour and cheese. All in all it's probably one of the better Fable stories told so far.
A huge cast has been assembled for this game, with the likes of Sir Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Sean Pertwee, Michael Fassbender and many more rounding out the cast. John Cleese lends his expert comic timing and dry sardonic wit to the role of Jasper (as long as you don't get that bug) and Sir Walter is voiced by none other than Theoden (Lord of the Rings) himself Bernard Hill. Zoe Wannamaker returns as Teresa and for the first time ever...the main character, be it a Prince or Princess gets a voice. The delivery of these parts is near-flawless and the only one I have an issue with is Bernard Hill...who appears to be a little silted at times.
Playing it with others
You can leap into any Fable 3 world and Quest with your friends, but unfortunately as of this review there are some game breaker bugs in Fable 3 that make this a lack-lustre experience. When it works, it works really well; when it falls down...oh boy does it fall down hard. You can own property together, get married and have children and do anything that two Heroes can do in a normal game. You can also give gifts and weapons (as long as they're not the Hero weapons) to other players.
It would be so much more fun if it worked near-flawlessly though. We've had moments where the game has totally bugged out, breaking a Quest completely and forcing a total restart of said Quest in single player since it was so broken in Multiplayer.
Due to this, we didn't really get much Multiplayer done - when it worked though, it was a hell of a lot of fun. With coop attacks and tactics galore...lots of Guild Seal rewards and earning cash for when you adventure with a friend, since you don't get cash for leaving your console off and turning it on after a few weeks.
Lionhead are hard at work on a patch, but...the game could have done with another month or so in testing in this case, lots of Multiplayer testing...how they missed some of these bugs is beyond me.
All in All...
When this game is patched it would deserve a 9, but at the moment due to the bugs, I can't in all honesty give it higher than I did. So there you have it, fun and flawed, Fable 3.