Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Jan. 10
Vanquish - Jan. 22
Dead Space 2 - Feb 6
Fable III - Feb. 19
Yeah, I'm a little late posting this, but I've been busy. Also, consider this a warning. There will be SPOILERSin this one. Nothing overly specific, but spoilers nonetheless.
With that out of the way, let's talk about Fable III and let's start with its positives.
Despite it's short length (and man is it ever short for an RPG, but by this point, it's expected from Fable games), I found Fable III to be a very well paced game. I was really pleased with that given that it was one of my biggest complaints about the last game, particularly from a story-telling perspective.
Essentially, the game sees you traveling from land to land, attempting to recruit each people to your side in an attempt at revolution against your evil brother. What this means is a methodical and well paced game that sees you steadily visiting each land, meeting its people, doing some missions for said people, and ultimately recruiting them until you're ready for the big revolution. What this means, though, is that there is a definite sense of progression in the game from both a story and gameplay vantage-point. You feel your allies increase along with your power and you feel yourself moving towards the big finale. This sort of pacing isn't anything new (Dragon Age also did it well, and admittedly, Fable 3's structure is similar - roving from land to land recruiting folks), but it works and it works well. It keeps you playing the game and it gives steady doses of accomplishment.
Though it's very simple by RPG standards, I enjoyed the leveling system for much the same reason. There's a very tangible feeling of progression here. Rather than simply showing you an abstract grid with holes to fill-in, Fable 3 puts the skillpoint system into an actual gameplay location, one called the Road to Rule. The road is littered with various treasures chests, containing basic combat/ranged/melee upgrades to social abilities to job efficiency, each chest costing a certain amount of XP to open. Sets of chests are also barred by gates, which only open as you progress past certain points in the game. All told, this sytem makes the whole leveling system feel real, enhances that feeling of progression, and is quite satisfying.
As far as the story goes, it's nothing to write home about, but it's servicable enough. To the devs' credit, they throw a major, major curve-ball around 2/3s of the way through, switching the villain into something far, far nastier. The swap in villains turns an otherwise drab story on its head, turning the game into something you weren't at all expecting it to be, something far different in tone and substance from what the game had built itself up as. It's a welcome surprise and a fun twist. It also helps that the voice acting is rock solid. Certainly, it also helps that Fable's world is as light-hearted as ever, always filled with comedy. In particular, there are a couple of side missions that are unbelievably uproarious. One in particular, called "the Gamer," must be seen to be believed in its satire of the "real gaming world."
I also admit that I enjoyed the magic system, even if it is as simple as ever. Mixing combinations of two magic powers is fun, charging up super-blasts is fun, and giving each power a single-shot and blast-radius version is a fun idea. The blast-radius is also incredibly satisfying, particularly when charged up.
But Peter Molyneux is known for the little things he tries to put in his games, with mixed success. One thing he does this time around that definitely works is the segment of the game where you become king. At this point, standard gameplay stops, and you begin a carefully scheduled resource-management game, filled with moral choices, frustrating sacrifices, and small victories. It's the one part of the game where Fable 3 really flexes its decision-making process and it's a lot of fun moving from one scheduled royal decree to the next.
Unfortunately, as I said, Molyneux's "little things" are a mixed bag. One thing he tries his best to jam down our throats is the new "hand holding" mechanic. You can now hold characters' hands to guide them through certain locations or protect them. It sounds simple enough, but it's fairly broken. It's not broken in a way that will really stop the game or shatter gameplay, but it's embarassing nonetheless. Unable to account for speed and terrain, characters will often break grip and the hand-holding becomes a simple "follow me" mechanic and nothing more...albeit occasionally with outstretched arms or hands clasped to nothing. And when the terrain gets interesting, yeah, things can get rough as your NPC friend gets caught on stuff.
But the major points of the game can't eschew criticism either. In particular, the melee system is something of an embarassment. It's not broken and it's completely functional. The problem is that it's grotesquely simple. It's all one button. Even blocking. You can throw the odd unblockable strike if you charge up, but otherwise, there's nothing to it. There's no variety in combos or anything like that. Hell, you can even pretty much get through the game without blocking at all. Just hammer the attack button. It's pretty sad really.
Then there's the fact that Fable 3 tries to do things that ultimately have no real impact on the game. Take the whole getting-married-having-a-kid and raising a family aspect that Molyneux is so proud of. It's all well and good, but the problem is that it has no bearing on the game itself or its story. Your wife and child end up as non-existent, unimportant characters who are nothing but burdens.
Fable 3 also has quite an extensive real estate management system, but again, it all seems a little pointless and half-baked. You buy property and make money, but there's not much that's actually worth spending money on. For example, I got through the game with no problem with only the hammer and pistol that I started with, never having to buy weapons. In fact, the only thing I found worth buying was the odd set of health potions. That's it.
So that's the thing really. From the family, to the shops, to the real estate, Fable 3 relies too much on its gamers' own initiative. It doesn't provide enough encouragement or motivation to ever explore everything it offers. There's not enough reward and, hell, the game barely even mentions this stuff. There's no story mission that has you purchasing goodds or buying real estate. Hell, even finding a weapons shop can be a task, given the troubling lack of a real map.
Beyond that, there are also little glitches here and there. The game does have moments of slow-down/lag and frame-rate drops, which is kind of inexcusable given that the graphics, while not bad, are nothing to get excited over.
Oh, and as a final negative, the last boss absolutely sucks, is utterly disappointing, and is incredibly easy. But I guess that's the biggest failing of Fable III: it's too damned easy. I am by no means a gaming god. I get thrashed in any game I've tried to play online. But I got through Fable III without getting knocked out a single time and I never upgraded any of my weapons. That's pretty goddamned ridiculous, if you ask me.
So yeah, ultimately, it's Fable 3. It does a bunch of stuff right, but also ends up feeling too simple with a handful of half-baked ideas and another handful of potential that's fun to explore. In other words, if you purchased either of the first two games and played through them, it's hard to really complain about this one given that it's guilty of the same crimes. It's the same old Fable: satisfying in its own way but possessing a lingering, half-assedness.