Since the first Fable game, Peter Molyneux has over projected expectations of his now trademark series; from the far reaching promises of epic make-your-own-adventures to gloating about the tears of emotion running down his face upon his first playthrough. All of it, as you probably know, has come off as a bit obnoxious and delusional, since, with the series bogged down by lazy combat and fart jokes, the fabled Fable has never really stood up to its own concocted legacy. Fable isn’t bad, the games have always maintained a certain level of being ‘okay’, but the pond feels even shallower when games like Fallout effortlessly accomplish what Molyneux promised the games would be. Now on to its third entry and, strangely enough, least hyped one, Fable III does what neither of the previous games did, using an aggressively different formula to try to mix things up a little bit. Does this revolution-based revolution offer a glimpse into Peter’s long-winded fantasies or will you just be absorbing more troll-related toilet humour?
The world of Albion has experienced its Industrial Revolution-type era, and while that means an age of commodity will soon be underway, it also means the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and the city will be lined with a thick skin of sewage. You are the prince/princess of this land, and sadly your older brother and king, Logan, hasn’t exactly made the transition into the new age very comfortable for his subjects. His taxation is without representation, his militia keep the locals down and those who stand against them are made examples of with a crude bullet. Things come to a peak when Logan forces you to choose between two sets of lives and soon after, Sir Walter, an ally of your father (your father being the protagonist of the previous game) helps you escape from the palace to begin building the foundations for a revolution. Which, by the way is only half the game.
Like the previous entries, you are on an odyssey to recruit mighty warriors for an amazing crusade, but every ally comes with a price: a promise you make will need to be repaid when the crown becomes your burden instead of your brotherly tyrant’s. This quest will take you to the high peaks of snowy mountains to the sandy deserts to a whole lot of caves as you squash imps who aren’t called imps, werewolves who aren’t called werewolves, zombies who aren’t called zombies and shoot gnomes who… well, okay the gnomes are actually still called gnomes. Also, like the previous entries, sprinkled about the sidewalks of your quest path are side-objectives (the best of which have you explore new dungeon-y worlds exclusive to the task, the most of which are fetch quests), houses to buy and relationships, marriages and children to never bother with. And the dog that barks at treasure, he’s back. What is different than the previous games is that you are now royal blue blood, one who’s even expected to develop super powers shortly after puberty. Once you bear the crown, and you do (spoiler!), you then have to make some power fatiguing decisions.
Your brother reveals that the reason he was such a dick to his subjects and let his rich dickish subjects also be huge dicks was all a means to an end. He needed to build an army to fight against an evil omnipotent entity that had been prophesized to attack in exactly one year. That responsibility then becomes your responsibility, but amassing a fortune to train a militia worthy of combating this sort of evil is directly at odds with all those promises you so carelessly made to usurp the crown. Now, even with the context of staving off a nameless dark god in the near future, many of your subjects and allies expect you to drop mad gold on bureaucratic and cosmetic fixations around the kingdom, praising you and hissing at you based on those decisions alone, as if completely unfazed by the impending apocalypse. Though to be fair, spending a fifth of your wealth to make the orphanage a little cleaner makes a lot of sense under the assumption that they would soon be receiving many, many more orphans.
Choices are broken down between good and evil, with very few opportunities for a plausible middle ground. Spending money makes the people happy, saving money makes the people angry, spending a full hour baking pies in a minigame yields indifference. Of course there is a third, slightly unofficial option. Like Fable II, playing the real estate game is all too kind for the player, and with the option of submitting your personal fortune to the treasury it’s very easy to amass the wealth needed to pay off all the needs of the people, your super soldier army, and have enough left over to do it all again. You can be the land’s greatest hero simply by being a run-of-the-mill landlord. And just like that, any gravity the game had pinned to your pining conscience vanishes faster than it appeared.
I’ll be honest, I was totally expecting a third act full of terrible war, for the game to suddenly grow some strategy elements and have the decisions you had made up until that point heavily influence the outcome of the conflict. But no, all your choices come down to faceless numbers living or dying as you clash steel on copper in the easiest final conflict ever. Raging against enemies you’ve already whupped in other stages, now with even stronger weapons to call your own. There are a lot of missed opportunities going down in the world of Albion, most of which come from assuming you get a better kick out of caves and sewers than open and inspired areas. One of my favourite locations in the game is Driftwood, a small collection of inlets you get to develop a community on through a variety of quests. I had hoped that discovering the desert world of Aurora would also bear the same depth but alas, not quite or even close. The gnome hunt is easily the best of the ongoing side-quests you experience, a one-up from the extravagant treasure hunts that the game is otherwise drenched with.
My biggest problem with Fable III as a followup is that it seems more determined to add more twists than fixes. Interactions with stock characters feel as frivolous as they are encouraged, combat is still incredibly boring despite the game acting as if it’s worth the wait through the tedious loading screens. As for the writing, humour and atmosphere, they still come off as Pete Molyneux’s nervous Terry Pratchett tribute, this time amplified by the wedged in steampunk elements. Nothing is better, but there’s certainly more, so if you had no arguments before go ahead and enjoy another meal. But I like something with a little more meat and a lot less starch in my epic journeys of virtual self discovery.
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