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Fable 3 (Xbox 360)
Game Reviews

Fable 3 (Xbox 360)

Despite its myriad of technical and pacing issues, Lionhead’s role-playing game of morality choices and action remains one of the year’s best.

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“Do you want to be happy or do you want to live?” It’s the question I found myself asking the citizens of Albion, turning away those asking for help in favor of defending my land from the threat that awaited at the endgame. For me, it was easy to betray those I had fought alongside for the greater good, but I can imagine for some players, those moral dilemmas were something of nightmarish proportions, and what gives Fable III (and the previous games) much of its charm. Decisions that may seem black and white at first glance might have drastic consequences later, meaning you’ll have to choose not just what weapons and magic to help aid your quest, but the direction of your very soul.

That’s part of what the game does right. Unfortunately, it also gets an overwhelming amount of things wrong. Yet despite this, it manages to remain one of my favorite games of the year, keeping me playing amidst some truly abhorrent bugs, clumsy navigation, and a rather anticlimactic ending. It’s probably the most powerful example of how a good story can take even a mediocre core experience and turn it into something memorable.

As the sister or brother of the current “tyrant” king of Albion, you’re groomed from the beginning of the game to overthrow Logan and save Albion from his seemingly fiendish hand. To do this, you must gain the support of the citizens, the aid of those who believe in you, and a considerable amount of wealth. You’ll travel the land, helping those in need (or making things worse if you choose), buying and selling property (or renting it out at ridiculous prices), eliminating or creating threats, and interacting with the people in a number of different ways.

Just like in the previous games, you can fall in love, get married, and have children. Similarly, you can kill your wife, cheat on her (or him), and send your child off to the orphanage – whatever strikes your fancy. This is all accomplished by way of performing different expressions. Once you’ve unlocked them, you can choose whether to perform a “good” or “evil” action and then your character will do one at random, something I actually did not enjoy. In Fable II I appreciated being able to choose whether I wanted to drop a cheesy pick-up line, dance, or even fart in front of potential suitors. This time around, I shook hands, played pat-a-cake, and struck a pose. This somehow led to marriage and childbirth. For a game that heralds choice, I found this to be a profound step backward. Not only that, but it just didn’t make too much sense.

In order to gain the support of the people of Albion, however, you’ll need to do more than just interact with people. As you will earn Guild Seals for doing just that, you’ll still need to complete missions and partake in battle. You needn’t acquire experience to grow per se, but your weapons can be upgraded and so can your skills. Your Hero will level in a much more tangible way. The Road to Ruin replaces a more traditional leveling system with a decidedly more streamlined method; it’s a path to the throne littered with chests: melee, magic, and ranged proficiencies, expressions, job upgrades, etc.

According to how many Guild Seals you’ve acquired, you can open up the chests of your choice. This allows you to further customize your Hero, so if you prefer clashing swords to incinerating your foes, you can focus on upgrading the proper skills. I went for a more balanced Hero, but you could enjoy the benefits of becoming a seasoned mage or proficient marksman. I found this streamlined approach to be interesting and a simple change from the norm. Thus, I enjoyed scuffles, earning seals, completing missions, and interacting with townsfolk all for the sake of visiting the Road to Rule again and indulging in a bit of instant gratification. This method doesn’t allow for tedious customization, but it’s accessible and easy to understand.

Your skills and spells do explosive damage, and can be amplified by completing weapon challenges. Some will require the deaths of innocent people, and others want simpler things, all in the name of upping the damage done via blade or your weapon of choice. Spells are simply upgraded via the Road to Rule, and may be charged up for a more powerful casting. And it’s not often you even need to rely on this, as Fable III feels like a criminally easy game at times. On my initial play-through, I did not die once. I sliced through errant Hobbes like a hot knife through butter. So while the game presents swift progression and simple RPG mechanics, it barely puts up a fight, which may gripe more experienced, hardcore players, but at the same time opens up a new world for RPG newbies.

If only the menu system was as intuitive. Gone are the traditional menu system in lieu of ‘The Sanctuary,’ where you are actually forced to walk around inside, changing outfits, weapons, and other pertinent game options. Rather than simple, logical text options, you must navigate these menus as if they were a literal part of the game, wasting precious time and offering up a bevy of bugs when attempting to play with a co-op partner. You can’t simply wait outside of their menu — you have to watch them as they toy with outfits, sift through menus, and do other tasks. Lovely! And if the bugs weren’t enough, it’s just plain stodgy. I certainly hope that a future Fable rectifies this situation.

At the end of your game you’ll be judged accordingly and have to face the music, coming out good or evil based on your deeds throughout the game. Even though I created a brothel in lieu of a children-friendly facility and was a real ne’er-do-well, I still managed to come out smelling like roses, but I did raise enough money to accomplish all the necessary tasks for the endgame. And when I got there, it certainly wasn’t the bang-up finale I had hoped for, not one little bit. The ride was a raucous, hilarious, and at times heartfelt one, though, and more than made up for an unsavory, boring ending.

But my experiences with ridiculously buggy co-op play did not. I encountered numerous oddities, such as being in my underwear while my partner would be exploring their Sanctuary, falling through a hole in the landscape while checking a property sign, jerky, laggy movements mimicking “scooting” motions rather than walking through villages, and a myriad of other ridiculosities that were more than just mild annoyances here and there – I thought for a moment during some of them I wouldn’t be able to get back into my story due to auto-saves. Luckily, I didn’t run into this problem, but no matter my co-op partner or our connections, I ran into these issues several times, as did several friends. Despite all this, I pressed on to the very end, which I do believe says a lot for Fable’s addictive qualities.

Fable III certainly isn’t perfect. I’ll be the first to admit that. But despite its myriad of flaws and jarring bugs, I kept playing until the very end. And after that, still, even contemplating picking up the newest DLC available for the title simply to press on and keep the party going. I enjoyed every second of raising rent, charging too much money, and playing the imaginary games with grown men.  The latest sojourn to the mythical world of Albian, like those before it, may have overpromised on its ambitious goals to create a morality-laden quest that redefines the role-playing game itself, but despite these issues (and many others), its uniquely British charm and addictive gameplay captures the imagination and truly feels as though you’re stepping into the shoes of a Hero. And I don’t think you can ask for much else, really.

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10/26/2010

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Microsoft Game Studios

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About the Author: Brittany Vincent