Fable 3 Hands-on Preview

By Xav de Matos, Aug 19, 2010 3:00pm PDT With Lionhead Studios wrapping up the third title in the popular Fable franchise, the company gave us time with multiple sections of the game.

Most importantly, we were able to watch the story unfold in a playable preview of the game's opening. Here we learn about the devastation suffered at the hands of an evil king and the character you will develop to either free or enslave the people of Albion from the clutches of a madman.

Although the traditional opening for the Fable franchise is completely bathed in vengeance, the start of Fable 3 is very different. Here the familiar town of Albion is on the cusp of revolution. The Evil King Logan controls an empire that scoffs at the downtrodden who litter his city's streets and impose strict punishments to those who oppose him. If you are continuing your adventure into the world crafted by Lionhead Studios, the setting and the issues of Albion are much more personal. The evil king is not only a new adversary developed to give you someone to loathe, but he is the heir to your Fable 2 character's throne. The evil in question, is from your own bloodline.

The story in the game revolves around the sibling of the evil king, be it the Prince or Princess of Albion. In the beginning you are shaken out of bed by Jasper, your trusty butler -- voiced by John Cleese -- before setting out to explore the enormous castle sitting over the town below. In Fable 3 you do not begin life as a child. Rumblings from the town speak of anger and hint at an uprising. The poor have had enough and wish for King Logan to help them rather than line his own pockets with gold.

With your trusty dog at your side, you set out and talk to your love interest who stands watch over the bleak city. Your companion, either named Elliot if your character is female or Elise if male, tells you that the rumors are true: People in Albion are not happy. More than that, the King's own personnel are pondering his nefarious ways and how it will affect their own lives.

Taking your companion by the hand you set off to discuss the issues with the castle's kitchen staff. This is one of the first major decisions you'll make in your quest during Fable 3. You can choose to berate them and force them back to work or reassure them that things will get better. Like previous Fable titles, morality exists. Sadly, from the choices I was given during the demo, the options were extremely cut and dry. Either blantantly good or evil.

Soon you're introduced to Walter, a gruff soldier who is training you to be able to defend yourself. After a brief tutorial explaining melee weapon combat, which is essentially identical to that of Fable 2, your companion bursts through the door and explains that the uprising of Albion has begun. Later your brother, the king, calls for the heads of all that oppose him. When you make your opinion known, which automatically lambastes him for his brutality, he turns on you. Moments later you are given a life or death choice that destroys the relationship between you and your brother, forcing you to leave the castle forever. Or until it's time to bring back the revolution. This is the first thirty minutes in Fable 3's epic quest.

Gameplay is largely the same in Fable 3. Combat still utilizes a simple single-button approach with held buttons tweaking the actions on screen. What has changed are things Lionhead felt were misunderstood in its 2008 title. Rather than gain multiple types of experience, players now collect one. Additionally, melee and ranged weapons now change in shape and characteristic as they are used. The game forms around your play style. For magic, the effects can now be combined to develop devastating supernatural attacks.

In one section of my demo I was led to a mortar cannon and had to hold off waves of demonic skeletons, which helped break up the action.

Although the gameplay is going to be immediately familiar to players of Fable 2, it hasn't lost its flair with me. Chaining together melee weapon moves with strikes and creating combos by holding down the attack button is still a lot of fun. Magic is still satisfying against enemies silly enough to rush in for attack or enter my area of effect. In one sequence a dozen skeletal demons attacked me and a large group of friendly soldiers but it was easy to juggle between each hostile. The only wild card is gunplay, which still has some fickle aiming.

Characters in Fable 2 all shared the same "dumpy" look in the sense that each character appeared to have a fondness for pudding. In Fable 3 the style found throughout the world remains but characters look much more proportional. It's still a cartoon-like universe but its more mature tone mimics that of the life and death choices you are forced to make every time you unsheathe your weapon of choice.

What interests me is how the concept of your bloodline will filter through the entire experience. Lionhead says it will pull data from Fable 2 but also state they do not want to make it a necessary title for new users to experience in order to get everything out of the third installment. One section of my demo led me through a tomb to find a music box. Throughout the area Jasper -- who escapes the castle by your side after you make the aforementioned life or death choice -- talks about things your Fable 2 character left behind for his children.

It's those moments, where the game tries to explain that what you did in Fable 2 mattered in the world that make Fable 3 so interesting. It reminds me of one of the core promises made, but not delivered, for the original Fable. It was the idea that you could plant a tree as a child and return to it as an adult, proving that you really did have something to do with how the world was formed. If Fable 3 can give me more of those moments -- moments where I actually matter to the world -- I'll be as impressed with it as I was with Fable 2. However, if Fable 3's aim is to simply allow me to (once again) rise to power and triumph over evil, Lionhead hasn't shown me anything they didn't already deliver in 2008.

Fable III is to be released on October 26 for the Xbox 360 with a PC version coming at a later date.

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