Fable III Review
This gorgeous world is brimming with humor and personality, but a bevy of technical problems and overly simplified gameplay distract from the fun.
The combat system is just as fraught with troubles. As in Fable II, your three core offensive abilities are mapped to three different buttons. Melee, magic, and ranged attacks require you to tap or hold the appropriate button and watch enemies die before you. Previously, you would gain separate experience orbs depending on which moves you used, but that upgrade system has been removed. This means that you have free choice in your actions--you no longer have to use ranged attacks just to build up that specific skill. However, without an incentive to use all of your powers, it's easy to ignore one or two almost entirely. And this change is compounded by a couple of issues. First of all, your magic attacks are severely overpowered. Enemies usually come at you in groups of a half-dozen or more, and the quickest way to dispose of them is to conjure an area-of-effect spell. Simple, effective, and oh so boring. Second, there's a delay when you switch between attacks that leaves you open for a retaliatory blow. There's little reason to fumble with a hammer midbattle when it's safer and more effective to quickly roll away from danger and just cast more magic.
Because you don't upgrade your character directly in battle anymore, a new system is in place. You gain guild points by completing quests, killing enemies, and so forth, and you spend these on new powers. This is how you upgrade your various attacks (up to level five), unlock new gestures, and purchase new types of magic, among other things. There are also aesthetic and practical changes made to your weapons as you play through your adventure. Your hero's starting weapons (an axe, sword, pistol, and rifle) change shape depending on your actions. If you earn lots of gold, your sword may grow a gilded handle; or, if you like magic, glowing runes may be imposed on the side of your pistol. It's a neat feature that doesn't have much impact in combat, but it's a cool visual trick. More important are the attribute upgrades you can unlock for purchased weapons. If you slay 300 human enemies, then you may be able to gain money with each hit, for instance, and because these goals are clearly spelled out, it gives you something to strive for during the normally tedious combat. There is one other change to the melee that may not make it more fun to play, but it's certainly more fun to watch. Your hero randomly performs killer takedowns, and it's enjoyable to snap the necks of your enemies with your knees or pierce their hearts with your sword in a burst of brutality.
One of the strangest tweaks to the standard formula has to do with the removal of the traditional pause menu, but it's also one of the few positive changes in Fable III. Instead of being taken to a boring menu when you stop the action, you're whisked away to your sanctuary. This is a safe house that hides a few separate rooms in which you can take care of your royal duties. Duck into your wardrobe to don a chicken suit or maybe go around in just your underwear; change your weapons in your armory; go into a treasure vault that gives you a chance to ogle your wealth and marvel at your trophies; or visit a fancy co-op room that lets you check your stats and join another player's game. And in the center of these rooms is a map that lets you look down at the whole kingdom or fast travel anywhere in a snap. Because it only takes a second to warp to the sanctuary at any time (even midbattle), load times aren't a problem, and there is an undeniable pleasure in grabbing a rifle off the wall or seeing your clothes on a mannequin before you get dressed. The sanctuary is a quiet place to take a breather and a novel way to deal with item management.
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the minutia that makes up Fable III and assume that dull combat or morally limited choices bog down the entire adventure. But though they certainly make your carefree swashbuckling less exciting than it could have been, they don't derail all the fun. The sights and sounds are certainly the most obvious draw in Fable III, but this is also a consistently funny and often hilarious game. The sheer wealth of punch line victims is awesome. Once again, chickens are thrust to the forefront, but theories involving evil poultry are just the beginning of the ridiculous instances. There's one mercenary's reaction to being farted on (an unhealthy amount of puking), a clever wink at the anticlimatic final boss in Fable II, and even a jab at the expense of child labor. Few topics are off limits, but all the humor is good natured, ensuring that it delights rather than offends. And though the taunting gargoyles from Fable II have been removed, there are now 50 gnomes dotting the land. There's nothing quite like searching for a lost child and then hearing insults raining down from above until you finally find the foul-mouthed gnome and shoot him with your trusty gun. Fable III keeps up its funny facade the whole way through, and it's a huge part of why it remains so entertaining despite its problems.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the game comprises small issues. The finance system has been tweaked, which means it's more difficult to exploit, but it's not a perfect solution. You can purchase businesses and properties in Fable III, and you receive a stipend every five minutes. In the previous game, you earned money even when the game was turned off, which was a cheap way to build a fortune. Now, you have to actually be playing, so your bank grows more slowly, and you have to maintain your properties. It may not sound like much, but when you own dozens of houses, it can be a huge pain to go to each one and repair it so you can continue to reap your financial benefits. Thankfully, you can handle all of your property management using the map in your sanctuary, which means you can buy that pub you've been eyeing in the middle of battle or even evict some peasants because you feel like being a jerk. If you had the option to just "repair all," it would have made things less tedious, but at least you can't abuse the system as in the last game.
With all the side quests in Fable III, it can take more than 20 hours to reach the end. This is a marked improvement over the last game, giving you a reason to stay in this enchanting world a lot longer. And you can even play a proper cooperative game if you're pining for some companionship. You can take your hero into another player's world or, if you're the trusting type, invite another player to play in yours. The core gameplay is unchanged so don't expect any cool additions just because you have a friend in tow, but it can still be a lot of fun. Combining forces lets you dispose of those pesky enemies even quicker, giving you a chance to focus on the good elements while brushing the weaker aspects to the curb. If you're really committed, you can start a family (and even have a baby!) or enter into a property contract and share your collective wealth. If you team up with the wrong person, though, you could be bankrupt in a hurry or be stuck with a hungry brood while your friend is off adventuring, but it's all in good fun. This is a game about choices after all, so just make sure you don't unwittingly team up with someone on the evil side of the morality fence.
Fable III has issues--tedious combat, emotionally distant characters, and weak moral choices among them--but its biggest problem is Fable II. The latest adventure in Albion plays so similar to its predecessor that it struggles to establish an identity of its own. The small tweaks don't dig very deeply and the cosmetic changes are welcome but insubstantial. So, this is ultimately a really enjoyable game that will deliver a serious case of deja vu for anyone who spent time playing the last game. That's not a deal breaker, but it makes the good elements less exciting and the bad elements more noticeable. The outstanding artistic design and great sense of humor make it worth playing, but the other aspects have been streamlined to such a high degree that their simple pleasures have been lessened. While you shouldn't expect everything to run smoothly, it's a joy to be whisked away to Fable III's magical world.
- Player Reviews: 267
- Game Universe:
- Fable: The Lost Chapters (PC, XBOX, MAC),
- Fable III (X360, PC),
- Fable III: Traitor's Keep Quest Pack (X360, PC),
- Fable: The Journey (X360),
- Fable II: Game of the Year Edition (X360),
- Fable II (X360),
- Fable (XBOX),
- Fable III: Understone Quest Pack (X360, PC),
- Fable II: See the Future (X360),
- Fable II: Knothole Island (X360)
- Number of Players: