Sunday, August 07, 2011

Fable III

Not strictly an RPG, but very pretty and very British, with lots of quirkiness thrown in. What's not to like?
If there was a word I’d shellac to Fable III, I’d be hard pressed to choose between "shiny" and "fun". This isn’t a serious RPG-style game, and it doesn’t pretend to be, we stopped thinking of Fable as an RPG after II came out. The later instalments seem to be the bastard children of an action adventure game and The Sims. Don’t let that put you off, though. This is actually quite enjoyable! Considering the monumental leap from Fable to Fable II a couple of years ago, you could be forgiven for having high expectations of Fable III. To my mind, III is what II should have been. Graphically it’s more refined, with smoother gameplay, a few interesting innovations, some great scripting and some lovely emotional interactions. The main quest will probably rack up about 15-20 hours of game time, with a few side quests thrown in, not including all the mischief you can get up to after you become Supreme Overlord High Poobar… ahem, King or Queen.

Set 50 years after Fable II, you are the progeny of the last ruler of Albion, the Hero from Fable II. Albion is now ruled by your big bro, and he’s got crankypants (you can tell by his evil facial hair), and forces you to flee Bowerstone with your mentor, Sir Walter, and your servant, Jasper. Then, donning your trusty beret, you set out to stir the unwashed masses into Revolution (Sadly, you don’t get a Guevara style beret. Must send note to Molyneux.)! Basic gameplay hasn’t changed much. You go on quests, you fight brigands and monsters, ferret out hidden items and make yourself either a nuissance or a boon to the people of Albion, with your trusty dog by your side. 

Combat has been simplified and few of the enemies pose any real threat to you. It’s quite easy to get through the game without even being knocked out. Flourishes have had a rather dashing makeover, however. Fable II flourishes usually involved a bit of fancy sword work, whereas Fable III flourishes really make the combat. They run the gammut of fancy swordwork to impressive pistoleering, and occassionally some lethal acrobatics. You start with weapons that evolve based on how you play. For example, do you like to kick a lot of chickens? Your blade may become twisted and cruel. There are other weapons to buy/find and use, and each has advantages that can be built upon. Magical gauntlets are the latest fashion, allowing you to combine spells. To top everything off, there’s your wardrobe of course. Yes, you can indeed run around in a chicken suit smiting the undead and should-be-dead if you desire.

There are no longer any large, clunky menus to be seen. Instead, the Sanctuary is its own little interactive I-can’t-believe-its-not-a-menu inhabited by Jasper, who will tell you when there is new information to hand, and offers "helpful" comments on your wardrobe and armoury. The Sanctuary also contains two other important mechanics: The World Map and The Road to Rule. The World Map functions the same as in Fable II. You want to get somewhere, you go to the map and point. But, you can now also buy real estate and upkeep your holdings from the same spot. There are even little people wandering around on it. If you take the RPG abilities and skills menu and simplify the cahones out of it, you’ll end up with the Road to Rule. As you earn "guild seals" you get to spend them on opening chests alongside the road, to upgrade your abilities or buy new ones. Each time you complete a major plot point, another gate along the road opens, and more chests are available. It’s XP by any other name, if you didn't know that?

The graphics of Fable now define it. The distinctive style captured in Fable II is carried through Fable III and refined, with a more pronounced lean towards Steampunk. It lends continuity to the game and a certain sense of nostalgia for those who enjoyed the aesthetic of Fable II. It was pretty then, but now it’s gorgeous. Areas like Bowerstone Industrial, Aurora, The Reliquary under Brightwall Academy and The Road to Rule are stunning, to name but a few. Combat graphics, especially Flourishes, are also beautifully executed with no lag, and the physiology of main characters is well realised and unique. It’s not quite perfect. Frequently you’re digging up treasure through your dog (when he hasn’t blended into the background or gone missing altogether), or getting a touch of vertigo over a wonky animation, and there are a few frame rate issues. But overall, we’re pretty happy with the graphics, the flaws are only so glaring because everything else is so damn shiny. 

The time put into scripting, the inclusion of a meta-world, and the voice talent top this off. The dialogue frequently has non-gaming bystanders in fits of laughter as they wander past, and we were unable to complete a certain D&D inspired mini quest in a timely fashion due to giggle paralysis. It’s all incredibly British, and just so randomly quirky that it’s hard not to find it endearing. Zoe Wanamaker returns as Therese, as Stephen Fry reprises Reaver (not aged a day of course). Simon Pegg, Ben Kingsley, Bernard Hill and the indomitable John Cleese as Jasper round out a fantastic cast, and even lend a little influence to the look of their characters. Fable III: so damn shiny, and a rollicking good time!




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