"The old Peter Molyneux would say, 'You can level up everything in the world!'" joked the Lionhead Studios creative director with no small dash of self-deprecating humor. This moment of self-reflection punctuated a sequence in Molyneux's E3 2010 Fable III demo in which he sought to explain the game's focus on empowering players by giving them the means to leave a visible impact on the world around them. Is he finally trying to temper expectations--a likely first for the charismatic game developer? Not exactly. In poking fun at his own penchant for lofty proclamations, Molyneux still managed to highlight just how ambitious the latest entry in the Fable series aims to be.
More so than previous games, Fable III is about a hero's rise to power--literally taking the throne and ruling over the world of Albion. To do so, the player has to recruit followers and gain influence. With enough followers, the player will be able to stage a revolution and bring about a new rule. The current king, Logan, is a tyrannical dictator of epic proportions. He has recklessly thrust Albion into an industrial revolution, with the Dickensian sights and sounds of charcoal skies and children shuffling into day jobs at factories making up the initial gameworld. Molyneux didn't dance around the issue: "I want you to hate Logan."
As you run around Albion doing missions, you'll collect more and more followers. Your influence--that vital indicator of just how close you are to ridding the world of Logan--is reflected in a number of different ways. At the most immediate level, you'll see your weapon morph and change in accordance with your number of followers, as well as your affinity for doing good or evil. A well-known jerk will go to battle with a sword that has gradually grown red, dripping spikes and horns, while a famous nice guy will wield a weapon that bursts with angelic light.
However, you'll also see the world changing in other ways based on more heady decisions, like those made over the course of the story. At a certain point in the game you'll encounter a group of travelers led by a character voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley. Being people of the land, they're very familiar with the fact that Logan is chopping down every tree in the kingdom, so you're able to work with them to stop Logan from demolishing Mother Nature. The same goes for the factories in the city. As you gain wealth and power, you can eventually own those industrial factories and make the decision whether or not to continue employing children. Once king, your influence is felt in things like how viciously you tax the poor. All of this is a means to the same end: letting players see their experience reflected not only in their own character, but in the world around them.
Bowerstone is where Logan's rule has hit hardest, with peaceful mountain villages more secluded from the tyranny. These locations offer up a chance to interact with characters who aren't quite as downtrodden as the ones in the city. Maybe that's why the Lionhead rep manning the controller during our demo didn't seem to feel any guilt when he walked up to a nice lady and farted directly in her face…which was followed up by jumping onto her back and riding her like a mule. Of course, that stuff is typical of the interactions the Fable series has always had. New to Fable III is the ability to reach out and take people by the hand and guide them places. If you're the mean type, you can literally drag a homeless man into forced labor. But it's not always for something that vile. At the end of a mission where you have to rescue a missing girl from wolves on a snowy mountain pass, the little girl is so traumatized that she won't move. You have to console her with kindhearted gestures, which lessens her traumatized state so that she will accept your hand and return to the village. But if she were someone from Bowerstone more aware of your status as a hero, she might have been more cooperative from the outset.
These are a few of the ways that the decisions you make and the actions you carry out affect the world around you and, as a result, how people interact with you. What we're most eager to see at this point is the game's second half, when you're king and making decisions on a much larger scale. What about those promises you made to people before the revolution? Just how much can you abuse your seat on the throne and still feel comfortable as king? We should find out more before Fable III is released on October 26.