Have you ever wondered what life as the ruler of Albion would be like when you're not preparing for, and fighting in, demonic battles? Well, it turns out that it's a lot like the day-to-day adventuring that formed the foundation of the last Fable game. Traitor's Keep, the second piece of downloadable content for Fable III, places you in the role of a conquering hero and monarch of the free world, fresh off your victory from the dark events that concluded the main game. Instead of worrying about enacting social and economic policies, though, you set off on another adventure; this time, you need to seek out would-be assassins before they accomplish their sworn duties. The reliance on shallow combat leads to monotony and the few moral choices fail to deliver much hand-wringing, but Fable III's lure didn't stem from those simple aspects anyway. The world was the main draw in the original game, and that distinction holds true for the DLC as well. This is a colorful universe that is bursting with charm and personality, making it a worthwhile addition for those who crave more cheery tomfoolery.
It's no surprise that life as a monarch is difficult, though the most challenging thing to overcome is the crushing boredom of presiding over a helpless populace. Frivolous decisions, such as who should be the official castle gardener (a process which stretches on for upward of two months), are enough to cure the insomnia of even the most hyperactive individuals. With no small relief, an assassin drops down from the ceiling in the middle of another amenable debate--just in time to inject some excitement into the daily grind. It turns out that the attacking party was not acting alone, and you soon learn there's an underground movement intent on removing you from the throne. As ruler of the entire land, you could easily command a few dozen soldiers to quell this uprising, but what fun would that be? Instead, you grab your sword and gun, strap on your magical gauntlet, and head out on another adventure to ensure that Albion remains a peaceful, civilized society.
Three hopeful regicides escape during a prison riot and set off to their headquarters strewn across Albion. Professor Farady is your first target, inhabiting a futuristic town affectionately dubbed Clockwork Island. Friendly robots line the streets, waving at passersby, and the rustic architecture of the wooden houses coupled with the cobblestone pavement underfoot create a charming atmosphere that melds old-fashioned sensibilities with mechanical men. It seems like a pleasant enough place until your presence is found out by the eccentric inventor who hides behind the scenes. Once you're spotted, the waving arms of your robot friends turn into churning fists of death, and the fights that break out are more difficult than those in Fable III. These teleporting, mechanical killers pummel you without any remorse, and it takes deft dodges to stay alive. Granted, there's still no penalty for death aside from unsightly scars and casting area-of-effect spells is still the most efficient way to succeed, flaws that are intertwined with the core Fable experience at this point. But these bouts manage to entertain because the pleasant visuals give you something pretty to stare at, and the robots are at least a new foe to square off against.
Each of the three potential usurpers inhabits a distinct location that shows how strong artistic direction can go a long way toward hiding gameplay flaws. Traitor's Keep is a fine-looking game that presents an enticing view no matter where you travel, and that pull makes it tempting to rush from one section to the next to see what lies ahead of you. Unfortunately, the moral choices that should provide the most absorbing aspect of the storytelling fail to elicit a similar sense of engagement. The few moments in which your moral compass is used to guide you are so inconsequential as to be rendered meaningless. Decision making was poorly developed in Fable III as well, yet these scenarios still manage to disappoint despite the low level of expectations. There are two reasons these choices register a dull thud. First, they're entirely black and white. There's no moral gray area to land in; instead, you have to prove that you're unwaveringly evil or blindingly good. Second, the ramifications carry little long-term impact. Your choices don't produce an interesting ripple effect; it's as if you're handing down your sentence in a vacuum that inhales any speck of potential consequences.
Aside from the three combat-heavy missions that make up the majority of this DLC, there are a few scattered side quests to pad out the overall experience. Fetch quests, such as collecting the pages of a how-to prison manual, and extermination missions, like when you have to execute restless hobs, lack the imagination that made the best optional quests in Fable III so endearing. Traitor's Keep has a knack for making mundane events tolerable, though, and completing all these little quests serves as a decent complement to the main adventure. There are also new costumes to collect, weapons to track down, and even a skin for your dog that transforms him into a steam-powered robot. These are small additions with only superficial changes to the core experience, but these little touches give this content a personality all of its own. If you complete every side mission and spend time exploring the three new environments, Traitor's Keep should keep you entertained for more than four hours. It's a good length for the modest $7 (560 Microsoft points) price tag.
As entertaining as Traitor's Keep is, it's hard not to be let down by the lack of ambition. The tone, combat, and storytelling stick closely to what Fable III offered, without pushing any individual element that would allow it to stand out from its forebearer's shadow. That familiarity is certainly not a bad thing, and it's a welcome homecoming for those who crave more of the same, but in the rich world of Albion, a few doses of ingenuity could have gone a long way. Nevertheless, it's hard to deny the inherent fun Traitor's Keep delivers. The gooey charm that Fable exudes is so pleasant that it's easy to get lost in this world all over again. With new places to explore and enemies to fight, you can be sure of at least a few surprises, and your expressive adversaries provide fresh faces to square off against. Traitor's Keep is too traditional to lure in players craving something unique, but for those who want a chance to return to Albion once more, this provides a welcome return to your throne.