The reviews have begun, but who will lead the revolution?
When I reviewed Fable II back in 2008 I gave it a 9/10. I said that, despite its flaws, the fact that it tries to push the boundaries and address things rarely addressed meant that its shortcoming's were negligible. "Better to have tried and nearly-but-not-quite failed, then to have not tried at all," I said. It's almost two years to the day later, and Fable III has now landed on our doorsteps, but as much as I want to, as much as I like the franchise, Microsoft, Molyneux, the PR guy, and even like the game itself I just can't bring myself to say those words again.
Join the Revolution
The main problem with Fable III is that, minute to minute, we had thoughts ranging from "oh, this is quite good" to "Wow, that was awesome" down to "Well that's just stupid" all the way over to "WHAT THE BITCH" and back again. Fable III is a mix of oddities mixed in with moments of greatness tempered by disappointment, which has really stemmed from Molyneux himself - both from his desire to push the boundaries of the RPG experience and his own hype. In Fable II the problems were more technical and functional, and were easily hidden underneath some added depth, but this time, it's not something that can be as easily brushed aside.
But let's be clear for a moment: overall, on the whole, in the grand scheme of grand things that are grand, Fable III is an enjoyable game. Not amazing, but still good, and worth getting for many reasons. But as my favourite saying goes though "God is in the details", and when you get to the details of Fable III that's where things start to get... complicated. In many ways it is a much simpler and 'lighter' game than its predecessor. A fair bit of depth seems to have been removed in favour for increased scope and some added innovation, although there's only a select few instances where these omitted elements are actually missed.
Take combat for example: There's less 'useable' depth in the sense that you can't unlock different abilities such as melee counters, or pin-point targeting, and in all honesty combat can get a tad button-mashy at times. But on the other hand it is one of the most fun portions of the game purely because of the flourishes. Apart from the standard charge attacks you can do, if you time things perfectly, you'll do one of a couple of special moves that each specific enemy has in a very movie-like and stylistic kill. Whilst we never quite got the hang of the 'rhythm' in trying to pull these off, they were always fun to watch, and they make the whole endeavour just that much more enjoyable. But even still, once you've figured out the system, once you're forced to traipse through Millsfield for the umpteenth time mentally preparing yourself for that ambush that you know is always going to be there... even the most epic of flourishes can seem like a chore.
Then take the map room, in fact take the whole Sanctuary. This area was more of an experiment than anything - Molyneux trying to push the boundaries of conventional game mechanics and present it in a different form. Much like the game itself, on the whole this works pretty well. In reality, it would be easier to just navigate a menu, but this is an interesting alternative. But here's where it gets a little odd - take the map, for example. Not only does it not accurately reflect the various game zones (it varies from zone-map to zone map, but in general there's always something out of place), but it doesn't show where you are either, thus rendering its primary function as a map kind of useless. Of course, things get a bit meta when you realise that you technically 'leave' the zone in order to view the map, so you aren't there to be viewed anyway, but that just gives us a head ache. Another thing you could talk about is general inventory. Apart from your hoard of gold in the gold room, there's no way of looking at what else you own. Potions and combat assist items (of which there are really only a handful) only show up when you're in combat. Everything else only appears when you go to a shop to sell it, or you happen to be doing something that requires that item.
These are relatively small, and somewhat insignificant points, but the general feeling of things not being quite right is duplicated through-out the entire game. The 'dynamic expression' system that really isn't dynamic at all, the morphing weapons that, whilst interesting, is made redundant by the fact that your main 'living' weapons can be easily outclassed. A whole new continent to explore that you can't really explore at all... there's a list, trust me. We're not one for letting niggles affect a review too much, but there's simply too many here to ignore.
Oddly enough, Hollow Men are the only enemy I found that didn't have ultra cool flourish animations assigned to them
The main portion of the game differs little from Fable II apart from the particulars in the story. The game world slowly opens up to you as you go through the main quest line, side quests open up, you can start buying houses, do the social interaction stuff etc... as stories go, the main quest line is quite interesting: The revolution concept nicely played out in the quests you need to do, although the sheer disconnect between this game and the last game was surprising. Even returning characters like Reaver and Theresa are given no development, no back story... A missed opportunity we felt.
But the bit you're probably most interested in is the later part of the game where you get to rule your kingdom after the revolution. Now, due to restrictions imposed upon us by the good people at Microsoft, we're not really allowed to reveal much about this part of the game - you're just going to have to find out for yourself. It's definitely the most innovative portion of the game, as whilst its very narrative driven, the gameplay shifts to reflect the changing circumstances. Unfortunately, it's another one of those things where we felt it didn't go as far as it could have gone. This is a very scripted and... 'linear' sequence for a game who's core tenant is to basically do what you want. We also have the feeling it's rather short, although we went exploring in between so provided you have side-quests to keep you occupied, we suppose the game gets away with it. The very ending also screwed us over big time, and was over all a bit of a letdown, but we can't talk about that either.
Finally, what review would be complete without a mention about Co-op, which is another aspect that has been shown off with this game. We were worried for a while that we'd have to add this in later, as Co-op still wasn't ready until earlier today, we've had a decent play with it though, and we can safely say that... well, it's co-op. Not being tied to the same camera view is welcome, although you're still limited to the same zone. Causing mayhem in a friend's world is always funny, for a while, and the enhanced interactions like marrying another hero and going into business together are intriguing but really have minimal impact on the gameplay experience. It's good, don't get us wrong, but don't expect anything ground-breaking here. If you liked Fable II's co-op you're most likely to like this as well.
Unfortunately, this review has come off more negative than we would have liked - but having put over thirty hours into the game we came out of it feeling a bit down, in all honesty. But as we said right at the beginning, overall this is an enjoyable game: Why? Because despite the oddities, the head-scratchers and the disappointments, there are some moments of pure brilliance that reminds us just why we were playing in the first place. Some of the side quests were absolutely superb, with poignant messages and top-notch dialogue. We recommend you look out for one in particular, called 'The Game'. Combat, as we've said, can really make you 'feel' like a hero, and as we've touched on already the main quest itself is interesting, but it also has some really emotional and compelling moments in it. I didn't go through the marriage gig initially in my main playthrough, just adopted a child, and honest to god, I smiled like a mofo whilst playing with the kid through the expression system.
They've won the battle, but now they've got to win the war...
FABLE III VERDICT
So it’s not all doom and gloom. This is by no means a bad game. It does some new things, some of it works, some it needs more work, but you will (we hope) enjoy playing through this game at least once. Ultimately, (and since Peter has already said this isn’t being limited to a trilogy), the Fable franchise is building up to something epic. Maybe with Fable IV, or Fable V, but if Lionhead keep innovating but also keep perfecting, eventually they will create that game that lives up to everything we ever dreamed it could. In the mean time, enjoy the road that will lead to that gaming revolution, just keep in mind that it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Pulling off that sweet sweet flourish that made me feel like Brad Pitt in Troy.