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Posted by on Nov 11, 2010

Review: Fable III

Review: Fable III

Fable as a franchise, along with the infallible genius of its creator Peter Molyneux, is one of those things that I’ve just never quite… got.

The premise of the original Fable was one that could’ve redefined gaming, boasting freedom of choice, expression and morality, every little detail shaping your destiny, yet the finished product wasn’t anywhere near as open-ended as early previews had suggested and left many consumers soul-crushingly disappointed.

Nevertheless, it sold over two million copies and spawned a sequel that went on to enjoy even bigger sales and huge critical acclaim. For those of us who suffered the thinly-veiled confines of its predecessor, playing Fable II could be likened to a battery hen on day release – a much less constrained but ultimately linear experience. Somehow I still couldn’t shake the feeling that the franchise wasn’t delivering on its promise. Regardless, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on my quest to unearth the rich, beating heart of Fable, so earlier this week I dropped another forty notes on Fable III.

The third title in the series begins fifty years after the events of Fable II. You play as the Prince or Princess of Albion, the child of a Hero, coincidentally the same Hero you played as in the last game. Unfortunately, to say your character’s brother, King Logan, rules with an iron fist would be an understatement. Albion is in disarray – the people are poor and starving, while anyone who dares question the King’s rule is branded a traitor and swiftly executed. Before long, Logan has gone too far and our Hero, along with their faithful, treasure-hunting doggy and loyal servant Jasper, plus the King’s aide Walter, sets off on a journey to make peace with Bowerstone’s neighbouring towns and hatch a plan to overthrow the iniquitous King Logan.

The last fifty years haven’t been kind to Bowerstone.

Fable III is everything Fable II was but on a bigger, grander and more enjoyable scale. If you’ve played its predecessor, Fable III will feel instantly familiar to you, however there are significant changes to the way the game plays. Interacting with people (and animals, of course) has been streamlined. Non-playable characters no longer have likes and dislikes, so without the need to select certain expressions the awkward command wheel is surplus to requirements. Interacting with NPCs now brings up a remarkably unobtrusive floating sub-menu of a few random commands, one friendly, one not-so friendly and one threatening, while certain characters will have other more specific commands depending on how much they like you, such as proposing marriage.

Combat has also been tweaked, almost to perfection. Again, your Hero has a melee weapon, a firearm and the command of Will at their disposal. Weapons can be bought or found in treasure chests, and fulfilling specific requirements will imbue them with increased strength and other unique characteristics. Magic can be targeted at single enemies or unleashed on a group in your immediate surroundings, plus two spells can now be woven together to create an array of devastating effects. Battles are far more exciting and cinematic than before, thanks to a range of brutal, randomly-activated slow-mo finishing moves.

Fable III moves the series even further away from its RPG roots into the action adventure genre by doing away with XP. Your strength and abilities are now upgraded using Guild Seals, special tokens awarded by completing quests, interacting with villagers and defeating enemies. Seals can be used to unlock special chests on the Road to Rule, an ethereal path in another world, which serves to chronicle your journey to victory. Other chests on the road will unlock new expressions, job levels and even new elements of the game, like forging romantic relationships or purchasing real estate.

Fable III is an impressive adventure, made even more so by its hilarious script, incredible voice acting and stellar cast. Zoe Wanamaker and Stephen Fry reprise their roles as the enigmatic Theresa, a blind seeress who can foretell a Hero’s destiny and Reaver, the Hero of Skill in Fable II, now an ostentatious, tyrannical slave-driver in Bowerstone’s Industrial district. Julia Sawalha, who played Hammer, the Hero of Strength in Fable II also returns to lend her voice to some of the villagers of Albion. New additions to the cast include Jonathan Ross as Barry Hatch, Simon Pegg as Ben Finn, while the wonderful John Cleese provides countless laughs as Jasper.

The treacherous King Logan.

Unfortunately, Fable III isn’t without its technical flaws. There are a few noticeable bugs and glitches, such as the glowing trail that’s designed to guide you to your current destination. All too often it will get confused and change course at random leaving your character running around aimlessly while the game figures out where you’re supposed to be going. Your canine companion isn’t immune to the odd foible here and there either. Like the previous game, your four-legged friend doubles as a furry metal detector, alerting you to buried treasures hidden all over the world. However, while a real life dog probably wouldn’t view a picket fence as much of a threat, in Fable III it’s a deal-breaker. You’ll find your pooch will frequently get stuck behind some sort of obstacle and you’ll end up leading him to the treasure, rather than the other way around. Worse still, the game is all too prone to random bouts of inexplicable, crippling slowdown.

In spite of its issues, this is the Fable I’ve been holding out for, my very own Albion. Do good deeds and be loved by your people, or commit vile acts of evil and be hated. Buy a house, buy two, rent one out, buy a shop and before you know it you’ll have your very own real estate empire. Raise your prices, hike up the rent on your properties and make your millions, but be prepared to be despised by your tenants. You can truly play Fable III the way you want to play, the way Peter Molyneux has always invisioned. Fans of the series may feel certain aspects are dumbed down in the name of making the series more accessible, but there’s no denying this is a slick, smart and genuinely funny adventure that will thaw even the coldest heart.

Fable III is exclusive to Xbox 360 and is available now.

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