Review: Fable III

We want to be king, do we not? We want, at least, to try it, to reign wise and strong, loved, perhaps, or feared. Fable III is the video game that could let you learn which kind of ruler you might be. At least, that was the plan.

Fable III is the third game in Lionhead Studio's unusual and highly-regarded series about the daring deeds of a malleable hero. In this series you may be good or evil, gay or straight, married with children or married with side-marriages, a landowner, a serial farter, a swordsman, magician, or gunman. In Fable III, that range returns in the service of a plot that charges you with fomenting a revolution against your brother, the demented inheritor of the kingdom earned by the hero of Fable II. The twist is that late in the game you will be king and then play through the consequences of the promises you made during your rise to power.

Ideal Player Gamers who want an adventure in a world they can manipulate, where choice and opportunity feels abundant. Also, players who want to see one of 2010's most unusual game design experiments and won't mind its hobbled execution.

Why You Should Care Fable III is from the stable led by Peter Molyneux, a veteran designer whose ambitions for each of his games make them un-missable experiments , important chemistry sets that test possible game design futures.

We're talking about a role-playing game, right? How much of an RPG is this game? Fable III is thick with linear story. The main tale is simple yet surprisingly compelling. The hero, the exiled prince or princess (depending on the player's choice) of Albion must travel through forests, villages and snowy peaks to meet colorful characters who require the completion of a simple quests to win their membership in the swelling rebellion. The quests often bottleneck just when you want to explore. Clearly, the game's creators were determined to get you on the throne as king so you could see the back part of the game.

You can still shape the world, though? Isn't that the point? Definitely. I once asked Molyneux what the most impressive thing in Fable II was, and he offered an uncharacteristically un-enchanting reply: The number of simulations running simultaneously in the game. Fable III keeps that going. Walk up to a townsperson and start dancing with them or farting in their face and relationships will change; the way you execute your quests affects your moral bearing, the way you manage property, set prices, and decorate homes influences the game's economy and your reputation. In Fable III, weapons will morph based on your actions and gain new abilities as you complete kill-quota quests. Those are simple additions. More provocative is some of the design backpedaling here.

Retreat? Did Lionhead backpedal from some of their more ambitious accomplishments? It appears they have. Fable had been touted as a role-playing game series that hid its statistics, veiling the dice roles dictating its laws and physics. My hero became slender in a Fable because he used a gun and not a mace, for example. In Fable III your fighting style still determines your physique, but you improve your proficiency with guns by actively opening the treasure chest marked with the next gun skill level. You actively unlock the option to marry, the option to steal from people's homes, the option to buy houses and, later, the option to buy shops. This system may better explain this kind of game to newcomers, but for a return player it makes what had felt like a magical array of opportunity a less clever mechanism of levers.

But the game is built to get you to the king part? That's what it feels like. You amass your army and unlock all those core Fable systems briskly. Soon you have explored many beautifully-drawn lands, possibly tarried to start a family or hunt ghosts, and along the way made several key promises. Then you are king and in a 15th hour that sadly turns out to be the game's 11th hour. You sit upon the throne ready to make a year's worth of decrees. At last, a thrilling new system! You will face the moral dilemmas that come with wearing the crown.

But what really happens? Well, one choice you must make as king requires you to choose between opening a homeless shelter and opening a brothel. Another involves whether to allow child labour. Arguing for the dark side is a man who once tried to murder you. While it is certain that the people at Lionhead Studios are quite bright, the version of kingly rule they let us play posits a world in which rulers have the choice to do obvious good or to cackle while committing evil. Absent from Fable III's worldview is the idea that a ruler, be they George W. Bush or Barack Obama, does what they do out of the assumption their decisions are made for good. Evil is obvious. Its advocates are snakes. Fable III's simplistic morality in this king phase is a crushing disappointment. How frustrating given that the game's first moral choice, made in its first quarter-hour is a stomach-knotter.

Write off the king stuff as an interesting failed experiment, and what do you have? All of the game prior to the king-phase — and all that can follow, since the vast lands of Albion remain open for questing after the main storyline ends — is a solid remix of the gameplay experiences seen in Fable II. That's a strong formula of action-packed adventure and it's still good. I could enjoy a good Fable III quest, running around with my evolving pistol and my two-handed magic, chasing bad guys while my dog gets distracted by treasure.

Isn't there something with a butler in this game? Yes, the best addition to Fable III is one so daring I'm shocked it works. In most video games, you can press pause and access maps and text menus of items and attributes. In Fable III, you press pause and zap eye-blink fast into a sanctuary staffed by John Cleese. How walking into a map room to spot your quests or into a weapon room to change your load-out is an improvement is mind-boggling, but it is. Access to the sanctuary is lightning fast, visually charming, orderly, and technologically stunning. They got this very right.

Fable III In Action (a brisk tour of its basic systems)

The Bottom Line 00

Shave off Fable III's disappointing end and you'd have a better game, albeit it one quite similar to the laudatory Fable II. But the world is boring without experimentation. Fable III is better off with its shaky, risky king phase. The fifth act of this play is still a rough draft. But it's been built on an impressive set that we can play in for a long time. Those interested in ambitious stumbles should commit to Fable III. Those wanting something more polished can settle for the previous model.

Fable III was developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360, released on October 26. Retails for $US59.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the singleplayer campaign, became king, dragged a guy to the mines, did some two-player co-op in which an attempt to have a threesome resulted in a divorce and the loss of my house. But at least I got the other player (virtually) pregnant over Xbox Live


    damn, fallout new vegas and fable 3 were the two games i was really looking forward to these holidays but both seem to have missed the mark a bit, i'll still give them ago but its bloody annoying haha.

      Dude. Where did you get your info on New Vegas...?!

      I've played the Fallout series since the first game and I'll tell you this, New Vegas is more a true sequel to the Fallout story than F3 was.

      If you like Fallout: GET NEW VEGAS.

      Yes it's buggy, but... man the F up! It's an RPG game! Games of this style always have bugs.

        +1 to this. Kotaku pretty much poo-pooed NV, but I'm loving it heaps more than Fallout 3. I'm assuming the same goes for Fable 3 over Fable 2.

          Kotaku's treatment of New Vegas was more of a Rybicki Maneuver.

      I have to go along with the praise for fallout new vegas. 60 hours of play and I've encountered a few bugs that weren't showstoppers and some boneheaded henchman AI (but since thats been there since Fallout 1 its as much a feature of the universe as nuka cola) and had a few crashes to desktop but overall the game has been great, the only thing holding it back is that the engine is pretty dodgy in little ways even with a thousand band aids on it

      Essentially if you liked F3, you'll like FNV

        Awesome i stand corrected, im still waiting on my copy, orderd from and its taking an age to get here but i'm glad to here the bugs have been over hyped. my comments weren't really on the fact that either games are bad but they just seem to have failed to hit that upper echelon on gaming quality that i hoped for.

        60 hours?! I thought I was addicted with 13 hours logged!

          I am a massive fan of the original Fallout series and Bethesda destroyed Fallout in a big way for me. Fallout 3 was one of the worst games I have ever played, in my opinion, closely followed by Rogue Warrior (another Bethesda monstrosity)

          I am glad to see that the latest spinoff, New Vegas, is done by Obsidian Entertainment (many employees of which worked for Black Isle Studios on Fallout and Fallout 2). I fear what Bethesda have planned for Fallout 4

    Whenever the pause menu is brought up, I still keep thinking of Terranigma...

      Ahhhh Terranigma, you crazy walk-around-the-inside-of-the-world-looking-for-towers devil...

      Also, shutup Andy. :P

    That's all interesting, fine and dandy and whatnot, but if you choose a female protagonist will she finally look like a woman instead of an even uglier man?!!!

    What with reviews commenting on how good or bad the end is? Yes yes, we're all very pleased that you've reviewed and finished it before everyone else, but seriously, I really don't want to know about how good or bad the endgame twist/result is.

      Yeah, I'm getting increasingly disappointed in Kotaku's reviews. Especially with all the videos(which I hurriedly scroll past) they're becoming waaaaaay spoilery.

      I always hate being told a reviewer thinks the end of a game is bad because it then taints your whole experience if you buy it. You can't just go with it because you're always waiting for it to get bad and by the time the end comes(which often isn't anywhere near as bad as was made out) you've not even enjoyed the rest of the game like you would have.

    The problem with the fable series seems to be that all the ambitious ideas get dumbed down to make it immediately accessible to every possible audience.

    Maybe if they had made it from the start to be a game for established gamers then all the great ideas could have been implemented with the complexity and subtlety that they needed.
    Like deep morality instead of a good/evil tick box or open locations to explore instead of lots of linear paths.

    Bought this today, hope it's worth the money. From the manual (and this review) it looks a heck of a lot like Fable II with some extra features - the Fable II that was really disappointing. I'll reserve judgement though. Might even write a reader review in a while.

    none of the DLC or EB games preorder DLC is showing up in game aswell

      Yeah... what's up with that?

      Also, it looks nicer than Fable2, but clearly it cost something to do it. There's a lot of screen tearing, and the game chuggs at times.
      But, you do get to run around in a chicken suit... so it's not all bad.

    A Molyneux game turned out disappointing and not living up to previous boasting? RUN TO THE HILLS!

    I think being the 5th or 6th time, people should have gotten wise to it by now.

    A coward's end to the review.

    "Those interested in ambitious stumbles should commit to Fable III. Those wanting something more polished can settle for the previous model."

    Its good and bad...WHICH?

    Fable III sounds like a rental to me. I already paid good money for Fable II, which was underwhelming to say the least... I don't think I'll be shelling out for an updated version.

    Actually, I think I'll just stick to Fallout NV.

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