M for Mature (Blood, Language, Sexual Content, Use of Alcohol, Violence)Release Date:
October 26, 2010Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
Christian HigleyNovember 16, 2010
- In the few short weeks since Fable III’s release, the game and I have had a troubled affair. Our brief tryst began with the seduction of pre-release hype that lead into a mild first few hours. From there, a short-lived explosion of full-blown, can’t-keep-my-hands-off-her addiction that quickly tapered into a passionless marriage of convenience. Finally, it ended as abruptly as it started, and I was left scratching my head, wondering where everything started to go wrong.
As I look back and try to compartmentalize the many feelings I had playing the game, I realize that every sign of trouble was present within the first few hours. Before anything else, you’ll notice the biggest little mistake Fable III makes: your Hero has a voice. Previous Fable games cast the player in the role of a silent protagonist, and with good reason. The Fable Hero is supposed to be you, more so than most other games that make the same claim. He/She is your avatar; the Hero changes to reflect that fact. Fable and Fable II weren’t the stories of the “Hero,” they were your stories.
By giving the Hero a voice in Fable III, Lionhead have made the player a third party. The Prince wasn’t “me”; he was the Prince. I was guiding him, I was controlling him, I was making choices for him, but by having a voice, he always felt like a separate entity. I was an active participant in his story, but it wasn’t my story. Compounding this issue are the lack of physical changes for the Hero in comparison to past Fable games. Focusing on Strength (melee) won’t buff you up into a tank; focusing on Will (magic) won’t make you aged; and focusing on Skill (ranged combat) won’t make you exceptionally tall and slender. You look pretty-much the same throughout the entire game.
I could never shake the feeling that Lionhead wanted to design an actual protagonist, but attempted to balance that by giving him little dialogue and allowing me a certain amount of agency over his appearance. By trying to meet my desire for player control and their desire for authorial control halfway, they only succeeded in making a shallow protagonist, about whom I simply didn’t care.
The abrupt storytelling didn’t help matters. Every set-piece, every act break, every crescendo moment of the game comes and goes with such blinding speed, that I found myself wondering if they had even happened. While Fable’s predecessors spent time acclimating the Hero to his/her life, allowing them time to gain some small connection to their home and family, Fable III thrusts you into the action in mere minutes.
I could better admire Lionhead’s attempt to start with a bang if it wasn’t handled so inelegantly. During the game’s introductory moments, your brother, King Logan, forces you to make an impossible choice with unavoidably tragic consequences. Later that night, your mentor, Walter, bursts into your room to proclaim that Albion is going to have a revolution and you’re going to lead it. And just like that, at the snap of a finger, you begin your quest to overthrow your brother and take his place as the ruler of Albion. No Hero’s journey, no complete act structure to what is, as developers Lionhead put it, the first episode of a two-episode game.
The rest of the game’s bigger moments happen just as abruptly. When the revolution does finally come, you find yourself immediately thrown into the middle of the violence. You’ll fight some guards, achieve victory in a cut-scene, and it’s done. The final battle is no exception: fight some monsters in the street, fight the boss, done.
Once you do become King, Lionhead tries again, admirably, to try something new and brave. Fable III has been criticized (unfairly, I would say) for its black and white moral choices once you do become king. In the short term, these choices are black and white: you’re presented with decisions and one choice is considered “good,” while the other is “evil.” But the game broadcasts plainly that “good” and “evil” aren’t so simple. Doing “good” usually means turning the monarchy into a charity, which isn’t very prosperous for Albion’s overall economy. Doing “evil” usually makes you an unpopular tyrant, but your people will be better off in the long-term.
Unfortunately, these tough moral decisions boil down to one scale-tipping factor: money. In my game, I was basically richer than God by the time I became King. I could easily make up for hand-outs I gave from the kingdom’s treasury by repaying the expense from my own pocket. I had no reason to even consider the “evil” choices because ...well ...why? Why turn the orphanage into a brothel if all it would do is make people hate me? The game’s system of moral consequence was defanged and declawed: I could be good, popular, personally wealthy, and rule an outrageously prosperous kingdom all at the same.
I could have it all, and all I had to do was collect rent from all the property I bought. I suppose this was supposed to be my reward for exploiting the game’s real-estate economy. It seems odd, however, that my reward was to have a major component of the game trivialized. For doing well, I was cut off from experiencing Fable III to its fullest. What?!
What all of these disparate elements amounted to was pretty tragic for me: Fable III is emotionally hollow. I don’t make this claim lightly; Fable II was probably the most emotionally rewarding game I’ve ever played. It’s the only game that faced me with a truly difficult choice -- the needs of the many versus the needs of the few (and myself) -- and got me to choose the “bad” option, despite my King Boyscout Paragon status.
Fable III never approached that level of involvement. It tried. It tried, desperately, to make me love a certain character; to make me cry when that character was lost. But it didn’t work. It didn’t work because I had no personal relationship with this character. Not like I did with my dog or my sister in Fable II. The Prince loved this character more than anything. I, however, merely kind of liked this character.
I’ve also noticed that Fable III invokes a strange phenomenon. From all the people I hear playing it, they have only negative things to say. Yet, at the same time, they all enjoy the game a lot. This review isn’t an exception. In spite of its blunders, Fable III is still a really good game. It’s just a disappointing one.
Everything about Fable II that worked brilliantly still works just as brilliantly. And some of the new additions, like the removal of menus in favor of the virtual Sanctuary or the weapon morphing/upgrading, make the already-accessible franchise even more intuitive. Albion is better realized than ever, and seeing how familiar locations have changed since Fable II is a treat for any fan.
The humor also reaches a new height. There aren’t many games that succeed at the sort of dry British wit that Fable has always excelled at, and Fable III is no exception. Sharp writing and outstanding voice performances turn dialogue that would sound ordinary on paper into something that made me laugh out loud in-game.
Fable III is a game of highs and lows. It takes a lot from the tried-and-true Fable II formula while also striving to offer something very different and new. Unfortunately, as they say, fire and ice make tepid water. 7/
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