Review: It's up to you to save Albion ? one framerate-chugging moment at a time.
Fable III is the latest edition of Peter Molyneux's grand vision of the ultimate RPG. Despite a history of over-promising features and under-delivering in the final product, Molyneux and Lionhead have established a critically acclaimed and incredibly fun AAA franchise. Part II was closer to Molyneux's original concept and III is closer still ? but in many ways, it is also a huge step backwards for the series.
The game grabs you right away with a hilarious opening cinematic that you would swear was made by Pixar. It is one of best openings I've seen and raises your already high expectations up even further. Unfortunately, the rest of the game never lives up to the opening, starting with the story.
It is 50 years after the events of Fable II, where despite how good or evil you were, your rule from the throne has brought peace, happiness and prosperity to Albion. In Fable III, that Hero has passed on, with his (or her) oldest son ascending to the throne and ruling with a despotic iron fist. You play as the new king's younger sibling. Your brother forces you to make a horrible, gut-wrenching life-or-death decision right at the start of the game, which galvanizes you and your faithful companions to escape the castle to gather followers and lead a rebellion.
Normally, the game would end once you overthrow the evil king, but not here: the game is only half over by then, as you need to make important decisions from the throne and prepare for an even greater threat over the land.
Sounds cool, right? Well, in actuality, the story is a little clich? and predictable, and the ?greater threat? really comes out of nowhere. In all fairness, you can probably say the same thing for practically every RPG in existence but here, the story moves sluggishly and simply doesn't capture your interest like it did in the first two games. And since story is a fundamental component of RPG's, this is not a trivial criticism.
Neither is the fact that you can be caught unprepared for the final battle. Without getting into too much detail, you are given a certain amount of game time to accumulate resources to prepare for the ?greater threat.? However, you are led to believe that you have a lot more time than you actually have, which means you can be caught short, resulting in nasty consequences for your subjects. Not good.
Overall gameplay will feel familiar to Fable veterans. The same one-button combat system returns, with cool bullet-time finishing moves thrown in at random. Your Hero is as powerful as ever, so you should easily be able to earn the Achievement for never being knocked out in combat. Battles are action-packed and can get a little hairy when you are swarmed by a dozen enemies at once, but a skillful combination of melee, ranged and magic attacks ? along with simply rolling out of harm's way ? will have you dispatching evil-doers without breaking a sweat.
And therein lies a problem: battles in the series have always been easy, but Fable III is a bit too easy. You can find or buy new, more powerful weapons but would have no problem finishing the game with the original default weapons you start with.
Weapon management has also been greatly simplified. Instead of adding augments, you now need to complete specific tasks to upgrade your weapons. For example, you may need to kill 200 Hollow Men for extra damage, or dig up 30 items to increase your chance for a knock-back. This means no more weapon customization, which is a bit disappointing. Of course, this also means not fretting about whether to use that rare augment either, but I would still rather have some degree of customization.
On the other hand, you now have the cool new ability to mix two magic spells together. Mix Vortex with Shock and you'll have an electric tornado, and weaving Fireball with Blades basically gives you flaming missiles. Sweet! There are dozens of combinations and it's a blast testing them all on your hapless victims. The bad news is that the formerly useful spells Slow Time and Summon Creatures have now been downgraded to single-use potions.
The game has taken a page from Mass Effect 2 and greatly simplified the RPG micro-management, which is either good or bad, depending on your point of view. On the plus side, the horribly clunky and disorganized menu system from Fable II is thankfully gone. In its place is the Sanctuary, a special hub that you can teleport to at any time (including in the middle of combat ? very handy if you want to change weapons or spells). The Sanctuary is essentially a 3-D menu system, with different rooms for weapons, clothing, money management, map access and player stats. It works surprisingly well, though the brief loading time as you move from room to room can be a little annoying.
Upgrading your attributes has also been simplified. Instead of using potions, you can teleport to the mystical Road to Rule, a symbolic roadway that leads to your eventual ascension to the throne. The road is sectioned off by gates that open as you complete story quests, and gives you access to chests that upgrade your melee, ranged and magic skills, and unlock new spells, expressions, and job skill levels. Hardcore RPG fans may hate the over-simplification, but fiddly micro-management can really get in the way of an action-oriented series like Fable.
Opening each chest on the Road to Rule costs a certain amount of Guild Seals, which are earned by completing quests, defeating enemies, and befriending citizens.
Fable III uses the much-hyped ?touch? mechanic where your character now physically interacts with NPCs. Previously, you did expressions and never touched anyone, but now you can shake hands, dance, play pat-a-cake, and even shove someone's face in your butt while you blow a massive fart. It adds a nice element to the game but really isn't anything that blows you away (except for that fart thing). It's also a bit broken; for example, there are many times where you have to hold someone's hand to lead them somewhere. Run too fast and you'll separate; technically, you're still holding hands because the NPC will run after you and automatically grab your hand when it catches up, but it ruins the illusion. Bump into something and the hand-hold will actually break, forcing you to go back and grab the NPC again.
Unfortunately, this is one of many bugs. Most games ship with bugs; sadly, it's pretty much expected nowadays. But the bugs in Fable III make it look like it was shipped out way too early. The glowing bread crumb trail that leads you to your destination often stubbornly refuses to appear, or points in the wrong direction. Worst of all is the framerate, which frequently and randomly dips down into single digits for no apparent reason. Normally something like this happens when there is a ton of action on the screen, but the framerate will plummet even when you're simply walking by yourself with nothing going on.
This is especially annoying when you're doing jobs like forging blades at the blacksmith's, making pies or playing the lute. You need to successfully complete a timed color matching mini-game for these jobs, but this is simply impossible when the framerate ? again, for no apparent reason ? stutters and drops like a rock.
There is also a lot of pop-up and draw-in, even for objects fairly close to you. Worse are the bugs that freeze your character in place (forcing you to exit to the dashboard and lose all unsaved progress; this bug is especially evident during co-operative play) and disturbing reports of corrupted save files. For an AAA title, these bugs are simply unacceptable and really ruin the experience. To their credit, Lionhead quickly released an initial patch that helped, but did not completely fix, the problems. But really, it should not have shipped in this condition.
This is a shame because like the previous games, Fable III is filled with the hilariously unique brand of British humor the series is known for. From quirky characters to a delightfully self-deprecating quest that pokes fun at video game development, you will enjoy many laugh-out-loud moments. This is enhanced by the all-star cast which includes Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Michael Fassbender, Stephen Fry, and the ever lovable John Cleese, who plays Jasper the butler. Unfortunately, yet another bug can permanently cut off Jasper's voice after you get to the Sanctuary, so you really only get to enjoy Cleese's performance at the very beginning of the game.
The artwork is as amazing as ever, including some of the most stunningly beautiful crystal-clear water effects you'll ever see. No, they still haven't fixed those weird clipping issues but you'll forget all about them once you dive into your first lake. Russell Shaw's engaging musical score is pure audio joy and really enhances the on-screen action. While the story won't hold your interest and the bugs will have you gnashing your teeth, at least your eyes and ears will be in for a treat.
The game also supports two-person co-operative play. Unlike the previous game, an online player can't wreak havoc in your world. Sure, they can kill wantonly if they like, but it won't affect your character's attributes. Instead, the game encourages you to ? surprise! ? work together co-operatively. You can enter into a business agreement with another player to pool your money to jointly purchase businesses and houses, and share in the profits. If you're particularly amorous, you can even marry another player online, do the nasty, and have a baby together. And you thought Facebook hook-ups were creepy.