Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
RPG Fable III improves on its predecessor
- Smooth gameplay mechanics, excellent voice acting, ZOMG so many weddings
- Heavy-handed plot is preachy, dumping your own money into the treasury equals automatic paragon, you kind of want to punch Stephen Fry after three throne room sessions
Fable III is the better game when held up against the glitchy, twitchy gameplay of its predecessor, Fable II, but the heavy-handed moral of the game's story may leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Price$ 119.95 (AUD)
Players pick up in Albion a generation after your hero from Fable II apparently fixed everything and kicked general ass. Fable III does an eloquent job of remembering your Fable II character's gender (from game start — not post-gender-change potion), but not much else from the previous game carries over in a way that forbids newcomers to the series. After a run-in with your tyrant of an older brother, your character flees the sheltered castle life with your butler (John Cleese) and arms master (Bernard Hill) to begin raising an army to overthrow the king and take the throne for yourself.
The catch is, once you've taken the throne, your character actually has to rule. This is where Fable III enters uncharted territory. Plenty of games put players in charge of managing social ecosystems (Sim City, Command & Conquer, etc.) but few role-playing games have ever asked players to focus on the narrow role of a ruler. Probably because the realities of a monarchy are very boring and stressful.
Fable III makes the stressful part especially clear by attaching a dollar amount to your success or failure as a ruler. Without revealing plot spoilers, know that your character is asked to come up with a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time — or else suffer a consequence similar to "rock falls, everybody dies."
This reduces the role of being king or queen down to "How much does X cost?" X usually winds up being a promise that you've made to some other non-playable character who helped you win the throne (feed my people, give me an army, etc.), or some action that undoes whatever terrible thing your brother previously did to upset the people (introducing a child tax, raising the guards' pay rate). Keeping all your promises puts you in the hole, while breaking them somehow earns you money. Taking a neutral route (like keeping things the same as your brother had them) has no impact. You can of course postpone making decisions by not showing up in the throne room, but then you're not really playing Fable III so much as procrastinating it.
Upon experiencing a series of "ruler" days in the throne room, the bad thing that's supposed to happen eventually happens. At this point, the game tells you whether you were a paragon or a renegade ruler, bestowing you with a fancy set of translucent wings and an ending that's quite a bit more hacky and slashy than Fable II's "pull the trigger." When it's all over, you get a touching finale that's all at once more satisfying and more upsetting that the ominous conclusion to Fable II — but ultimately, you'll find yourself questioning whether or not the choices you made really mattered at all.
This is why Fable III comes off as the worse game when held up to Fable II's core ideals: Role-playing is all about making choices, right? You can choose a "good" interaction like hugging someone or a "bad" interaction like farting in their face, and the idea is that you as the player are exercising personal expression through your character. But though Fable III lets you make the choices, it never lets you off the leash — you will become king or queen, the bad thing that's supposed to happen will happen, and no matter how much of a paragon or renegade you are, you cannot choose to do something other than make or spend money.
The bottom line is that you can't "win" Fable III. Sure, you can get the paragon playthrough or the renegade playthrough, unlock all the Achievements, have a dozen wives, houses, and businesses all scattered across the land of Albion, but no matter what choices you pick for your character: You. Are. Wrong.
What makes that harsh reality harsher is that the rest of the game — the mechanics, the graphics, the voice acting, even the job mini-games — is superb. Even the pre-ruler gameplay is great all the way up to the point at which you launch the revolution. The fiddly interactions are gone, the "Road to Rule" simplifies your character levelling system by letting you pop in and out to unlock whatever character privilege you want most (a sword upgrade versus a Family Pack that grants your character the ability to marry, etc.), and the handholding mechanic successfully creates the illusion of responsibility for whatever non-playable character you're leading around by the hand.
And the romance interaction system is awesome to the point where it's my new obsession. Characters actually want you to take them on dates now, and the in-the-dark sex scenes have their own "Fableised" porn music that makes even the most prudish player laugh. When you do ask an NPC to marry you, each location in the game features three wedding options that range from poor (Alleyway Wedding) to lavish (Castle Wedding), giving you endless martial possibilities (and a Henry VIII Achievement if you marry six people and kill off two of them).
I can't say I didn't enjoy Fable III. I'm on my ninth wedding and I sometimes load it up just to play the Lute Hero job mini-game. The plot really sticks in my craw, however, to the point where I almost don't want to talk about it at all — pretend it doesn't even exist. I mean, how can I really say I enjoyed a game where the only way to win is to not play?
P.S. I named my dog Tres Chic and have four children. I'm about to find out if I can inflict sexually transmitted diseases I picked up from prostitutes to co-op players.
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