‘Fable 3′ Review — Is It Really Good To Be The King?

The original “Fable” promised a heck of a lot of depth and character development, but failed to deliver on enormous expectations. In 2008, though “Fable 2″ managed the follow-through on a lot of the promises Lionhead Studios made about the franchise, and the title was one of the strongest releases of that year. Now we have “Fable 3,” another game with grand promises and expectations. But can it deliver?

The Basics

You play the son/daughter of the hero king/queen from “Fable 2.” Unfortunately, you’ve been mysteriously orphaned, and your brother has taken up the mantle to rule the kingdom. He’s, well, not tremendously popular with the people. Enormous taxes, citizens on the brink of starvation, children toiling in factories. And to top it all off, he’s killing anyone that opposes him. He’s got to be brought down, and you’re the person to do it.

Much of “Fable 3″ focuses on the revolution to bring down the reigning king. This involves completing story missions and side-missions which add followers to your side, eventually leading to your all-out raid on the castle. Once you become king or queen, though, the challenge is not over, as the welfare of the kingdom falls to you. Are you a just ruler or are you greedy? Can you make the tough decisions, even if they’re unpopular? These are the questions posed to you at towards the end of the game.

The Highs

The Power Of The Throne
The vast majority of “Fable 3″ plays out much like “Fable 2,” but when you take control of the kingdom, you’re forced to make really tricky decisions. The developers were clever. It’s really not about being good to evil. “Evil” decisions might be the best thing for your nation. For example, are you willing to spoil a beautiful lake and turn it into a mining facility? It’s a horrible environmental blow, but the resources from the mining could help you to better protect your borders. “Fable 3″ does a better job at asking you to make tough decisions than most any game I’ve played, because it’s not just a matter of “good vs. evil” in the end. It’s a matter of what’s better for your nation as a whole.

The Sanctuary, Your Living Menu
One of the most innovative things about “Fable 3″ is that there’s really not a traditional start button. Hitting start automatically transports you (no load times) to your sanctuary, a small series of rooms where you can see all your equipment, gold and trophies. From here you can pick and choose what you want to equip just by walking up to it. It’s an ingenious way to make you feel like your inventory is a living, breathing thing and gives real weight to your collectibles. Genius idea and extremely well executed.

Writing And Voice Acting
I’ve never been super fond of the whole “farts are funny” aspects of British humor. It’s something that the “Fable” franchise has relied on since the beginning, but in “Fable 3,” the writing feels a lot more clever. More…Monty Python-esque, if you will. This is best evidenced by a side mission where you’re shrunken down to play a game-within-a-game, with the huge faces of nerdy dungeon masters bickering above you. The side missions usually have a creative twist like this thrown in.

And, as an added bonus, Lionhead snagged some tremendous voice talent for the game. It’s basically a who’s-who of big-name British actors, from Stephen Fry to Simon Pegg to a brilliant performance from Ben Kingsley as a pyromaniac little person.

The Lows

It’s “Fable 2,” And At Times Less Than
Apart from the ability to equip two different kinds of spells at once, the combat is identical to what we saw in “Fable 2.” The same goes for most of missions, which are simplistic, point A to point B affairs, wrapped in enjoyable writing. The gameplay is fine…but far from perfect and really could’ve used some tightening up, especially on the combat side, where things feel clunkier than they should.

And then there’s random NPC interaction. In “Fable 2″ you were offered a wealth of ways to interact with people. In “Fable 3,” the game basically picks actions at random from your collection and forces you to do odd things to build relationships with NPCs. If I really don’t want to dance with this factory worker, and yet I still want to be nice to him, I don’t have the choice to just shake his hand. You can, however, drag people around, but that doesn’t really make much of an impact either.

Serious End-Game Problems
As much as I enjoyed being a ruler, and as much as it’s been promoted as the new feature of this game, the ruler-centric gameplay amounts to 1 to 2 hours of gameplay in total. It’s maybe 10% of the main story, which is a big disappointment.

Also a disappointment is the way the developers don’t warn you that a huge, world-impacting event is almost here. Without spoiling anything, you’re supposed to be preparing for some big event, saving money in your treasury (which is where those decisions come in). Unfortunately the game skips from 118 days before the event to 1 day before the event. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there, preparing to save more money as the date gets closer. But no, suddenly the date is here without any warning and things just go south from there. The impact of this date and your preparation for it sets the tone for the entire game, and with no warning, there’s no way to adequately plan your time and decisions.

Forgettable Co-Op
Although co-op works fine, lag-wise, the simplistic nature of the game’s missions means you’re really just doing it as a time-killer. Apart from having sex and children with other players (handled in a non-interactive cutscene, by the way) and sharing total income, there aren’t specific gameplay components to playing co-op. Even basic interactions with other players (like hugging or dancing) can be a pain because the game has difficult recognizing when two players are next to one another and simply doesn’t give you the button prompts. In the end, co-op feels like a tack-on to what was really designed to be a solo experience.

On the bright side, you do get messages like this one every once in a while:

The Verdict

“Fable 3″ is far from a bad game, but it simply doesn’t try hard enough to set itself apart from its predecessor and never feels like a full sequel. It also fails to meet the expectations set by preview events and marketing, which implied that being a king or queen would be the major focus of the game, whereas it ends up being a very small portion of it. But, in the end, if you’re a fan of the “Fable” series, you probably won’t be disappointed. While it’s not as memorable or innovative an experience as “Fable 2,” it’s still an enjoyable romp through the valleys and streams of Albion and your short reign as king or queen will definitely leave its mark on the world.