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Review: Fable III
by Tom Acres
16.1.11

I loved Fable II. The way that it combined RPG elements with the staples of an adventure game really drew me in, with the choices you made and the way your character shaped the world really setting it apart from other games on the market. It was also genuinely funny, with some great voice acting and a quirky, Tim Burton-esque art style. Sure, there were technical issues and the combat was simple, but I sunk so many hours into Fable II that I even went to the lengths of unlocking every single achievement for it - including the DLC.

Fast-forward to 2010, and here is Fable III. A game that, like it's predecessor, is full of charm and plenty of heart. It's also a game that is going to be compared to the likes of Fallout: New Vegas, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins. At least that's what you'd think, because really, at it's core, Fable III isn't really an RPG at all.

When you boot the game up for the first time, you're given the familiar choice of choosing to be a male or female character. In Fable III, this choice sees you pick a Prince or a Princess, as you play as the sibling of Albion's new, (not so) benevolent King Logan. Both you and Logan are the children of your character from Fable II, although don't expect the in-depth game-save reading found in Mass Effect 2: from what I noticed the only attribute or decision used from Fable II is what gender your character was. The game doesn't waste any time throwing you into the action as you're soon introduced to the nastiness of your older brother, and you have to make a very important and game-changing choice right at the very start (which I won't spoil here). Once that's done, you set off on an escape of the castle with your mentor, Sir Walter Beck, butler Jasper and loyal canine companion. From there onwards your journey to becoming a hero begins, as you fight your way across Albion to recruit followers and take down Logan. For the first time ever in Fable, the much talked about land of Aurora can now be visited and the game gets noticeably darker from that point on. Whether that's a good or bad thing probably comes down to personal opinion, but I thought it was a bit at odds with what makes Fable so unique: its splendid world and great sense of humour both disappear in the last third of the game.

What's interesting about Fable III's story is that it doesn't end where you'd expect it to, as once you defeat Logan a whole new portion of the game opens up in which you are the King, making decisions and trying to keep promises that you had previously made in order to gain followers. It's a cool element but doesn't really feel fully realised; the decisions you make are very limiting and are so clearly black-or-white that they come across as a little contrived. Most of the time these decisions come down to how much money you have in the bank, so you don't really feel like you're doing anyhing, with things instead determined by your bank balance. Without wanting to spoil anything, things in your kingdom can go badly wrong at the end of the game, and if that happens the world becomes... well, you're probably not going to want to play anymore. Fable III's end-game takes some admirable risks, but it gets to a stage where the game seems to want to shock you more than it wants you to have fun: a fatal error.

What I will give props to the story for is a great use of cut scenes which were stubbornly omitted from Fable II to try and keep you 'immersed'. Their use here shows that a good cut-scene should not be underestimated. They're brought to life by the stunning cast, perhaps the best I've ever seen in a game: it's basically a who's-who of British talent, with appearances from Simon Pegg, Jonathan Ross, Michael Fassbender, John Cleese, Stephen Fry, Bernard Hill, Ben Kingsley, Zoe Wanamaker and Naomie Harris are all present and accounted for. The writing is excellent, with some fantastically witty dialogue permeating the whole experience. Annoyingly a lot of this humour and wit is lost in the final portion of the game.

Fortunately the rest of the game leading up to the conclusion is cracking Fable fun with all the great elements you've come to expect from the series: great quest variety, fantastic imagination, genuinely funny moments, memorable characters and some spectacular locales. In your quest to becoming King or Queen, you'll take on quests ranging from escorting townsfolk through scary forests to raiding a bandit camp. The more creative quests see you perform a series of roles in ridiculous theatre performances and dress up as a chicken to coax some poultry back into their pens. As well as the great quests, it's still a joy just to explore Albion with it's terrific art-style and funny characters. Hunting down pesky gnomes that take the place of the gargoyles from Fable II is well worth it, in fact this is one of the few games where hunting down collectibles is actually enjoyable.

Albion is a terrific world, but the aforementioned Aurora is a bit of a kick in the teeth for players. The game takes on a dramatically different feel, with the land coming across as a really dark version of something from Arabian Nights. It feels very out of place and that portion of the game just isn't very fun to play through.

The final portion of the game isn't helped by the fact that, by the time you reach the end of the game, the core gameplay is starting to feel a little bit tiresome. The gameplay mechanics are much the same as Fable II but have been even further simplified. Combat is still restricted to one button for melee, one button for firearms and one button for magic. Unlike Fable II though, where the system was surprisingly deep for such simple mechanics, Fable III's combat is stupidly easy. To sum it up, there's an Xbox LIVE Achievement for finishing the game without dying and I completed it with ease.

The character interactions, job systems, character customisation and the role of your dog is also significantly simplified. You can now only perform one of three interactions with a character at any one time, and the game selects these randomly so if you want to hug your spouse you have to hope the game is going to let you. The jobs are so boring now they're hardly worth it, boiling down to hitting the same button again and again until you make enough money. Whilst these simplified mechanics are refreshing and fun for a while, after seven or eight hours they become tedious.

What does liven the game up a bit is the fantastic co-op, which is one element from Fable II that has been expanded rather than dumbed down. Combat becomes immediately more bearable with two players, but it's the other things you can do together that set this apart from other co-op games. You can get married, have kids, set up a business partnership, share dogs, trade items and gold and plenty more. It's deep and rewarding to play the game with another player, but most importantly of all it's great fun. It's available both locally and on Xbox Live, which is a plus, and the latter removes any movement restrictions so your characters are no longer tethered together, which allows you to be doing completely different activities in different parts of the world at the same time.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Fable III is the user interface. Basically, rather than a pause menu to access maps, potions and weapons, you now have the Sanctuary. Pressing the Start button takes you there, and it's essentially a visual representation of a pause menu with different rooms representing the sub-menus. I found it to be a fantastic system and used very well; the map is an especially neat feature as you can now set waypoints and zoom right in on people and buildings. However, I do understand that some people would prefer to have quick access to a pop-up map or quest log without having to bother with the Sanctuary, and that's where the problem lies. It seems as though the interface in Fable II was so bad that Lionhead decided to get rid of it rather than simply make a better menu system. It's not that hard to design a good menu system, so this is an area that some may find bemusing.

Fable III's graphical style is one of the game's big strong points. Technically it's a lot better than Fable II, although it's not going to have you ooohhh-ing and ahhh-ing at the screen. What sets it apart is the terrific art style, with beautiful environments and cool-looking enemies being the stand-out aspects. I've already talked about the voice acting (which is superb), and the rest of the audio is of a high standard. Danny Elfman composed the main theme and it's still as haunting and memorable as ever, whilst the rest of the score stands up as well.

As you can tell, there is a lot to consider when reviewing Fable III and I don't think there's been another game this year that will split opinions to the extent that this game will. For what it's worth, I do think that a lot of the core gameplay is overly simple and the game definitely runs out of steam in the latter stages. However, when considered as an experience, Fable III is a joy. It's still set in a fantastic world with great characters, it looks and sounds as good as anything else on Xbox 360 and it stands out as top of the RPG or Adventure genre in terms of its quest variety. Ultimately, whilst the gameplay may be a little unfulfilling for some, Fable III is still one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year: there's just nothing else like it. From the casual adventuring to the unique charms of being the ruler or your own kingdom, Fable III is chock-full of fun. If you have an Xbox 360 and are looking to spice up your games library with something other than a shooter, then Fable III is absolutely worth checking out.

8/10 [?]

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- Tom Acres

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