Gamescom represented my first chance to go hands on with Fable III for the Xbox 360, a game that's more action adventure than its forebears. It's also a game that matches its dark side with a lighter one.
Playing through a small section of Fable III's core storyline at a Microsoft preview event wasn't its most interesting aspect. Sure, it helped familiarise me with Fable III's better, smoother, groovier combat system. It was the darker side of Fable III. The game's comedic side missions were much more memorable.
Still, the portion of Fable III that was tied to its campaign, a combat-heavy mission that took place about one-third of the way through the game's story, was enlightening.
I learned about spellweaving, the practice of combining two magic spells for different effects. In this case, my character was already wearing a fire gauntlet on one hand, a force-push gauntlet on the other. That combination translated into an area of effect attack. Holding down the B button charged up a spell with a big blast radius, capable of taking out multiple foes. But after charging, that spell could be directed with the left analogue stick, targeting a single foe with a powerful force-fire blast.
Without spoiling too much, the core storyline mission involved dispatching numerous royal guards, then making a beeline for a suitable ship on which to sail to safety. My character was joined by an AI controlled partner who fought alongside me, but wasn't much of a help in battle. We made it to the boat, safe and sound, a trail of bodies in our wake.
Fable III's less bloody, more jocular side was a welcome change of pace. These were two of the three playable side quests offered by Microsoft.
Sam & Max
A pair of ghosts - Albion citizens Sam and Max, previously seen alive in Fable II, but now in spirit form - sent my character on a fetch quest for the mystical Normanomicon. The book apparently had secrets contained within that were attractive to those stuck in the spirit world. Being a nice lass (in this demo), I set off, following the glowing breadcrumb trail.
The long journey took me and my dog around Bower Lake, through the areas of Millford and Mourningwood, encountering townsfolk to chat with and plenty of skeletal Hollowmen to do battle with en route. A helpful Lionhead staffer informed that I'd probably want to use the fast travel option from the game's world map. It was good advice.
But the speedy jog to my destination, a graveyard said to house the Normanomicon, offered a chance to better experience Fable III's combat.
Hand-to-hand combat in this entry feels more fluid than that of previous entries, with gunplay and spell casting that mixes in naturally. It took me a few battles to find the groove of sword swinging (with X), blocking (holding X), rolling (tapping A) and charging up slow-motion finishing moves (seriously holding X). It's not as graceful as, say Ninja Gaiden, but it's easier to find a rhythm in Fable III, more enjoyable to engage in its combat sequences and see dozens of undead Hollowmen burst into clouds of dust and bones.
Upon reaching my destination, where my faithful dog companion found a perfect digging spot, I recovered the Normanomicon, kicking off another Hollowmen battle. This time, there was a powerful gang leader and a dash of colour commentary from the spectre guarding the ghost book.
No battle seemed too hard and after dispatching a few dozen skeletal warriors with sword, pistol and an icicle storm spell, the book was mine. So I returned it.
This time, I took the fast travel route. Hit the start button, enter the virtual Sanctuary space - where my butler Jasper and the Albion world map reside - and pull up the map. In two steps, I was back at the Mourningwood cemetery. Handed the book to Sam and Max who read its entries - ghost pantry, ghost pants, and, ah, there it is, ghost party! - and said the magic words.
A ghost party ensued, full of spectral revellers and kegs of spirit booze. That was that.
Gnomes Are Great!
My other off-storyline fetch quest involved gnome enthusiast Brian. He was quite a character, obsessed with collecting (and dressing like) garden gnomes. Brian explained to me that his passion for gnomes was affecting his family life. He had to make a change, he said, so he cut off all contact with his family.
Brian would have gone on and on if I hadn't accepted his quest and interrupted him. His ongoing dialogue about how great gnomes are would have continued for who knows how long. With 47 hours worth of voiced dialogue in Fable III, you won't lack for humorous spiels from Albion's citizens.
So Brian set me off, instructing me that a package was to be delivered to him - presumably, another gnome - but that it never made it. He gave me directions to the package's route, which I followed via breadcrumb.
On the way, I encountered a large pack of feral wolves. I didn't want to fight them. They didn't seem to want to fight me, so we let each other be, even though I had clearly invaded their space and mingled too closely with them.
After taking in some Albion scenery, this time in Brightwall, which is full of mountains and forests, I found my quest loot. Bandits had stopped the shipment en route, so I did the right thing and killed them with sword and spells. It was a more challenging battle than the ones against Hollowmen. They were better at blocking and had a big brute of a spell caster amongst their ranks.
Still, they fell and acquired Brian's booty, a stone gargoyle head. It was a reference to the gargoyle's of Fable II, the one's that crack wise at the player and something of an in-joke that I was about to see the humour in.
On the return journey, I ran back through a Brightwall village and learned something new. Casting a spell - like that ice storm I'd been using - doesn't cause non-player characters to cower in fear as it previously did. Instead, Albion's citizens consider those magic shows entertainment. They'll clap and cheer as shards of ice fly around them. They must have grown accustomed to it.
Having finally returned that gargoyle head to its rightful owner, Brian's team of garden gnomes began to glow mystically and then... offer good advice. While the gargoyles of Fable II may have hurled insults, the same stone beast engendered some sort of kindness in these gnomes.
Lionhead staffers indicated that this particular side quest would have a follow-up quest where the situation would drastically change.