Written by Chris Boots-Faubert for SuperCheats.com
You can say a lot about Fable series creator Peter Molyneux, but you cannot say he makes bad games. The release of the newest game in the series Fable III published by Microsoft Game Studios and developed by Lionhead Studios, numbers among the top ten of the year in anticipation, and if the small parts of the game shown at its E3 preview are any indication (they are) fans are not going to be disappointed.
The series began with the game from which it gets its name, Fable (2004), which released on the original Xbox as well as Windows, with a Mac OS X version arriving two years later. The game world consists of a fictional kingdom called Albion, a Keatonesque land in which what you see is pretty much what you get. Rendered in an engaging style that quickly draws the player in, and featuring a depth of play that quickly catapulted the game into the best-selling game that year, despite the fact that many of the features promised by Molyneux were not actually in the final version, it gained an impressive following.
Fast forward to 2008, and the release of Fable II, and 500 years after the events of the first game, where you find yourself playing the role of a young orphaned street urchin who happens to have the magic code in their genetics, and due to circumstances beyond their control embarks upon an epic adventure that includes the struggle between good and evil, lots of swords and combat, and more than a few surprises, including an eclectic group if very interesting NPC companions. The game came a bit late, having been repeatedly delayed in hitting its shipping date, but was well-received by a grateful fan base who could not wait to jump back into Albion.
The secret to the success of the first two games may well be that they include a dynamic relationship between the players actions, and how they appear in the world or it could just be that this is a really good video game with a compelling and well-made story line that is fun to play... Either way, between the 2008 release of Fable II and the October 2010 release of Fable III, the folks at Lionhead did not lose touch with what the series is about!
Fable III presents the player with another deep adventure in Albion. The world is much the same as in the previous game, but it is now 50-years in the future, and the kingdom is under the rule of the hated and tyrannical King Logan, who may have committed patricide to gain that throne. In comes the player as protagonist, taking on the role of the King's younger sibling, who is suspicious of many of the bits that Logan cannot easily explain, plus there is his whole evil-ruler business as well.
The only logical answer to this conundrum? Why, organize a rebellion, become the rebel leader, and de-throne your brother and take the reigns to lead Albion and its people as a just and caring ruler, of course! Sounds easy enough, right? But then there are a few minor matters to be attended to, such as keeping the promises that you made to gain the support of the people during your rebellion, maintaining your good (you are good are you not?) alignment, and... Oh yes! The war that is brewing with the neighboring kingdom! But you can handle that, right?
While Microsoft down-played the position that Fable III holds in its 2010 lineup in favor of creating buzz about the new Kinect hardware and games that are due out this Christmas Season, the folks at the Lionhead booth on the show floor apparently never got the memo. They put out a high-voltage enthusiastic presentation of the game, expounding upon its details and features to any media hound willing to listen, and then treated us to some hands-on time at the stick, allowing us to explore the Village of Brightfall.
After some intense play-time in which I snarled at the host for suggesting that I had my play time, I am left in awe of this game. Rather than follow the traditional path for third-game sequels and make a continuation of the previous story line, Lionhead had the smarts to come up with a different take on their responsibilities to the fans. An even bigger surprise is that this one goes beyond way beyond where most games traditionally end, because there are more problems to solve than just a corrupt king, and after you finally do remove him from the throne, you still have quite a bit left to do!
Another surprise feature in the game is that it is loosely tied to the previous game, Fable II, or rather your character is. If you have a game save from the previous title, you can import that save into Fable III, and when you create your new character the game will use some of the game save data to structure your stats, personality, and alignment, as well as choose the sex of your character. How cool is that?
The often annoying and hard to navigate menu-filled HUD is gone from the game, and in its place is a matrix-style GUI environment in which the player selects the items that they want from visualizations of those items, not from a list. The GUI contains a map and rooms specific to the item class being manipulated, and is used throughout the game, not just as your inventory manager!
Step into a store to buy an item and in place of the text menu from previous games you are presented with a visualization of the items on their shelves. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you manage the shallow learning curve, the new GUI system is much faster and easier to use than the old text menu system.
The Co-Op system of play in the game has been given a huge polishing, and while most of these improvements were not part of the preview, we are told that in the new game, your Co-Op partner has a much wider and more equal role to play. The words plays as an equal were actually used, and it was hinted that you can not only play as partner, but be one as well: Co-Op includes the option of marrying and living together, and unlike most of the world, that includes same-sex partners without the phrase Domestic Agreement tacked on.
Life in Albion has been given a re-thinking, and many of its aspects both big and small have been tweaked and tuned to provide a much more fascinating and immersion experience, so do not be surprised if you end up feeling sad when you have to stop playing, or eager to get home and play the game some more.
You cannot begin any assessment of game play in this title without first giving some grudging respect to the morality system in the game world, because its influence on game play is nearly absolute. For example, acquiring wealth in the game is much easier to do when you don't actually care what people think of you, or how just your desires are. If you want piles and piles of gold, the fast track to that is playing as a selfish hard-ass, but when you do that, there are other consequences.
Too many selfish decisions and the desire to strip away at the public funds to upgrade and improve your castle will cause you to look pretty much like what you are evil. Conversely if you play with an absolute good alignment, the people will love you but you will be constantly low on funds and unable to expand the capabilities of your castle, and thus to some extent, your options in the game. Like nearly every aspect of personal interaction in this game, it requires a balancing act in which you weigh the likely outcome, and decide whether you can live with it.
In addition to the decisions that you must make about your own life, you also have to make decisions that have a direct impact upon your subjects you are the King after all! The laws that you enact to address issues like crime, taxes, and improving the over-all standard of living can have unforeseen consequences of their own, so care and thought must be taken.
One aspect of game play from the previous game that was both liked and hated was the character morphing process that takes place related to your moral alignment if you are a good person you grow up to be handsome or beautiful, but if you are bad or selfish, you grow up to be quite grotesque. In the new game, this system has been broadly applied to the world as well, so that the places also morph in their appearance, depending upon the choices you have made! Tax a village too heavily and that village morphs into an appearance that shows this neglect poor people and disrepair. Of course the opposite is also true, and when you balance your decisions to bring prosperity, that is what is seen on the streets of the village!
As part of expanding the immersion process in the game, a new system called Dynamic touch has been employed, which increases the physical aspects of your character's interaction with others. Instead of waving as in the previous game, you can actually shake hands. Comforting a distraught child is as simple as offering a hug or pat on the back and a few kind words, and showing your contempt can include thrusting their head next to your bum and cutting the cheese in their face! Remember, when Molyneux sets out to improve an aspect of the game, you get both sides improved the good and the bad.
A huge difference in the new game and a major improvement, is the multi-player and online modes and elements that are built into it. We've previously touched upon the co-op aspects, and the ability for partners to play, marry with cohabitation, and even share their property and wealth, but the game goes way deeper into complex interaction than just that. Rather than introduce a set weapon's table in the game, developers created a system by which the player creates and designs weapons in the game and what is even more interesting is that they can, once they devise a weapon that they think is exceptional, sell that weapon online for in-game money to other players! This simple gesture extends the game economy from your Xbox to the world, and should have some interesting results.
Another element of co-op play centers around the improvements of the drop-in/drop-out system that though popular in Fable II, had limitations that were strongly disliked. When a co-op partner dropped into your game, everything took place on the same screen, using the same camera, whereas with the new game, each player will have their own view of the world, using their own camera if you like. That being so, co-op play in Albion just took a huge leap forward, and one should not be surprised if more friends are now willing to entertain the notion of spending an evening co-adventuring!
Fable III has a worldwide street date of 26 October, 2010, and includes several editions, including:
Fable III Xbox 360 Retail Edition: Includes the game disc and manual with an MSRP of $59.99 US / £49.99 UK.
Fable III Windows PC Retail Edition: Includes the game disc and manual with an MSRP of $49.99 US / £39.99 UK.
Fable III Xbox 360/ Windows PC Collector's Edition: Includes a commemorative Guild Seal Coin, pack of playing cards, and exclusive in-game content not included in the retail edition consisting of a new breed of companion dog, an exclusive weapon quest, and an exclusive region in which to live and adventure. The Collector's Edition has an MSRP of $79.99 US / £59.99 UK.
Pre-Order Bonus Package
Gamers who pre-order the Xbox 360 version of Fable III through retailers Amazon, Best Buy, Gamestop, Newegg will receive a pre-order bonus token that can be redeemed on the Live service for a a special mini-game app called the Villager Maker that will, among other things, permit the player to create their own custom NPC villager, who will lead them on an exclusive adventure and provide access to some starting gold for the game.
Street Date: 26 October 2010
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Focus: Single-Player RPG
Platforms: Xbox 360 / MS Windows
Genre: Action / Shooter / RPG
Official Content Ratings: ESRB Rated M for Mature (Contains content that might be considered unsuitable for people under 17 years of age.); BBFC Rated 18 (No-one younger than 18 can rent or buy an 18 rated game.).
Posted: 2nd Nov 2010
Tags: Fable III,