Fable 3 Review Part One

By Garnett Lee, Oct 26, 2010 3:40pm PDT When I sat down to start Fable 3 over this past weekend I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself in to. Over the first two games, the series tried to strike a unique middle ground for fantasy role-playing by merging the requisite vast world with an epic story, while making it easy to get in and play. For Fable 3, I knew designer Peter Molyneux intended to push ever harder to make the game approachable. I was most curious, though, whether his hope to bring out more emotional connections by holding hands with other characters would work and how the grand twist of becoming king and having to cope with the realities of rule would play out.

Twenty some-odd hours in, Fable 3 appears on course to take its place alongside its predecessors as an ambitious game filled with creativity, but is still awkwardly trying to work out what it wants to be. I won't spoil the setup that puts you on the path to forcibly seizing the throne, but it didn't take long from the time I started up the game to be back in the familiar rhythm of Fable. During this relatively brief formative period I got my first taste of the promised moral dilemmas in some fairly basic interactions around the castle. For the most part they only amounted to binary good or bad options, though the climactic moment posed a more difficult choice.

After the opening, the game settles into familiar Fable fare. I begin by chatting up the locals, looking to make friends and bolster support for my bid for the crown. Maybe it's just a function of having done it in two prior games, but the whole idea of simulating conversations through a combination of handshakes, dances, and belches doesn't work for me anymore. The only laugh it gets from me at this point comes from how laughable the whole idea seems. Yes, I get it, I burped and the other person thought it was cute. Now, I get to do that another hundred times.

Both for Fable 3 and videogames as a whole, there's been a lot of attention placed on asking players to make tough choices in moral "gray" areas. Fable 3 hasn't challenged me much in that regard. For every question that impacts my character's disposition there's a "good" answer--complete with a handy angelic aura--and a "bad" answer--naturally shrouded in wicked flames. This reduced the decisions to a simple flip-switch mentality.

Fable 3 does do some interesting things with character development and management. All the traditional menus have been replaced by two virtual representations. Character development follows the "road to rule," which is literally a path set in a sort of mystical dimension. Treasure chests set along the road hold various unlocks such as increased melee attack power, new spells, and improvements like property ownership. It translates to a traditional experience system with unlocks handled by the "guild seals" earned while adventuring. I like the sense of advancement it gives, though. A series of gates along the path that only unlock through corresponding major plot points reinforces their importance.

The elimination of a traditional menu system is not as enjoyable. Pressing the start button whisks your character off to their "sanctuary." It still confuses me every time a menu doesn't come up, but beyond that ingrained response, there are some drawbacks. The sanctuary is something like a virtual master suite with a dressing room, armory, a trophy room, and a space for meeting other players online. There's also a central room with a diorama map table used for getting around the world with quick travel and managing quests. All are fun and engaging to use, but when I'm just out adventuring it's annoying to not have something as simple as a map or a journal with some quest notes to pull up for reference.

One other player progression element that hasn't lived up to its potential is the morphing of weapons based on how they are used and other actions in the game. It's not that the changes don't happen; my weapons have evolved with touches. The stock on my rifle has taken on an arcane appearance as result of my spell casting and my sword's blade has enlarged from use. But it's not particularly clear what, if any, impact that's having.

Not being able to see the impact of weapon upgrades largely reflects the simple combat system in Fable 3. It doesn't fill the screen with numbers indicating damage. Fable 2's one-button for melee, ranged, and spell attacks is back. It emphasizes combat choreography over tactics. Any statistical enhancements to my weapons goes unseen. While attractive in my sanctuary, the changes are not dramatic enough to have much aesthetic impact in-game.

I've just passed the coronation of my hero as king, at which point the game changes, but not as much as I'd expected. This brings some large-scale political and ethical questions into play, which need decisions, but they are presented in the same black and white as earlier choices. These questions are all taken in vacuum, judged solely by the value system of the game's design team. There's no accounting for nuances or secondary effects of any choice. For instance, initiating a public works program doesn't create jobs or stimulate the economy, it just costs your treasury money. I feel like I'm being preached at based on the virtues of someone else's social and political value system.

It's all heading toward a conclusion with the potential to hold my character accountable for his actions with the fate of the world on the line (of course, it is high fantasy after all). I'm curious to see whether that moment can validate the significance of my choices or if it simply reveals the result of the formula applied to the switches I flipped one way or the other.

Whether the solo experience lives up to its billing in the end or not, I'm definitely looking forward to playing some co-op online. As the video below shows off, they've put a lot of work into making playing together figure into every part of the game from adventuring to potentially raising a family together. That's an important part of the experience and one I want to really dig into before completing this review.

Click here to comment...


15 Threads* | 30 Comments

  • Great review so far Garnett.

    I picked up my copy on Tuesday, but haven't played it yet. I've tried to remain spoiler free, but one issue is nagging at me.

    Without giving anything away, at the end of Fable 2, the player needs to make a choice. A BIG choice.
    I was very impressed with this ending at the time, and excited to see how it would impact Fable 3.

    From what I've heard so far, the ending of Fable 2 has no impact on Fable 3 in any way. Is this the case? If so, it feels like a massive wasted opportunity to me. : (

  • I'm actually digging Sanctuary in place of traditional menus. True, you'll spend a lot of extra time over the course of the game running into different rooms to equip weapons and clothing, but common items in F2 were so buried in obtuse menus--not to mention having to root through menus over and over and over to use consumable items such as potions--that I'd rather spend time running right to the "menu" room I need.

    Plus, the game is doing a great job thus far of only giving me access to things I need, as well as providing that access at logical and intuitive moments (see above rant about F2's menus). For example, I found a book to increase my dog's combat. Rather than run around Sanctuary looking for the book, it appears in your dog's Interact menu. Potions appear in the d-pad menu when I need to use them, not before. It's wonderful to be able to keep my mind on my quests and adventuring rather than having to pause and open 12 sub-menus to access Item X.

    Also, roaming an area that is explained within the context of the story feels like a natural extension of the game world. Instead of breaking disbelief by browsing menus, and then becoming lost and frustrated by my inability to find what I need in those menus, I learned where everything is in Sanctuary and can get to it all quickly without thinking about it.