As heroes go, I don't feel much cop at the moment. In fact I feel absolutely ridiculous. This is because I am dressed as a giant chicken. It's hard to feel heroic when you have a bloated feathery stomach, a floppy red comb and knobbly yellow knees. The fact that I have a flintlock strapped to my back and a giant hammer in my hands doesn't help.
Naturally, there's a heroic reason I'm dressed this way: I'm on a quest. I've been charged with tracking down a group of renegade chickens by a farmer. "Chickens are crafty animals," he tells me solemnly. "They won't fall for any 'Come here, chickie chickie' nonsense! You have to trick 'em!" Hence the outfit.
Of course the main reason my character is in this absurd get-up is because it's funny, and funny has been an integral part of the Fable franchise since the beginning. Lionhead's fantasy RPGs have always boasted a whimsical sense of humour, making the game's enchanted world of Albion seem like a close companion to Terry Pratchett's Discworld.
It contains its darker elements, certainly, but encounters of the absurd, silly and often hilarious variety are never too far away. Anyone who's ever broken wind as part of a social exchange in a Fable game knows this.
The series' creative director, Peter Molyneux, planned it this way. With Fable III, he's even going so far as to toss in an achievement for players who don't mind keeping the renegade chickens as travelling companions on all their adventures.
"Those chickens, by the way," he says, "you can keep them with you right up until you become king. They're at your coronation if you do."
In Fable III, however, the franchise's trademark humour arguably plays more of an essential role than ever before. The game is a far darker affair than its predecessors, as is apparent right from Fable III's loading screen - it shows a flag of Albion pock-marked with bullet-holes while sombre music plays in the background. Laughs are in short supply for the people of Albion although Molyneux says this, ironically enough, helps the writers generate funny material for players to enjoy.
"This is what British comedy is best at doing; providing moments of hilarity in particularly dark situations," he says. "The darker the situation, the blacker the comedy can be and the blacker the comedy, the funnier it is."
Set around 50 or so years after the events in the last entry in the series, Fable III opens with Albion standing on the cusp of a revolution. Its ruler, the cold, callous King Logan, is hell-bent on dragging Albion into the industrial age. If that means hardship for its people, tough.
As the game begins the player is made aware, via the chatterings of NPCs, that there Logan's harsh attitude is already breeding discontent. It's not long before there are demonstrators outside the castle gates, protesting about the execution of a factory worker. The lush, light-hearted world of Albion from the first two Fable games has changed significantly, as Molyneux explains.
"I think of the first Fable and it seems like a cross between Sleepy Hollow and the world of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table," he says. "Fable II was more inspired by the age of Robin Hood; there aren't many heroes around, they're more rare and there are bigger and nastier things happening.
"Fable III is inspired more by the world described by Charles Dickens. It's just on the edge of the industrial revolution, and like the storytelling at the time, things got darker - you look at works like Oliver Twist and Great Expectations and they're really dark.
"We actually love that world," Molyneux continues. "In that darkness there's a lot more opportunity for humour and more potential for drama and telling a story which sits firmly in the memory."
The early stages of the game see your character waking up as a pampered prince, blissfully unaware of the turmoil beyond the palace gates. You're then forced to run for your life after falling out of favour with the king.
The brief window ahead of the prince's ex-communication is a masterclass in storytelling and game design. In quick succession, the game introduces the character of Jasper (voiced by John Cleese), your loyal butler; Elise, your childhood sweetheart; and Sir Walter (voiced by Bernard Hill), your mentor and combat trainer. Each of these three characters then take the player through a bare bones tutorial.
Jasper shows you how to change your appearance. Elise introduces you to the touch mechanic – in this instance, hand-holding. Sir Walter takes you through the game's combat system - press X to hit, hold the same button to block and hold it while moving the stick in the direction of your target for a massive swipe. (That's your lot until you get magic and a gun, which are mapped to the B and Y buttons).
It's also at this stage you're faced with your first duel with morality. The choice is very simplistic: either act like a sugary goodie-two-shoes or a pantomime villain. But the next decision pulls the rug right out from under you, as you're forced to make a decision that pushes the needle on that moral compass into decidedly grey territory. It's a no win situation with no clear cut right or wrong answer.
It's also an important indication that Fable III's darker and slightly more modern setting has allowed the team at Lionhead to expand on the Fable franchise's other key aspect, moral choice. This both adds a new dimension in the game's moral choice gameplay, and, as Molyneux is keen to stress, keeps the mechanic feeling fresh throughout.
"The choice between good and evil, for most players, isn't much of a choice at all," says Molyneux. "They want to be good. That mechanic of giving you choices kind of lost its power really. If 90 per cent of the players decide to be good, it's not very dramatic."
Making the player king of Albion seems like the most logical progression for the Fable franchise. It's also a way to lend depth to the game's moral choices, which in turn distance Fable III from a the huge number of titles featuring the same mechanic.
"We needed was a way to make the moral choices have power," says Molyneux. "The choices you make on the way to becoming a ruler and the choices you make as king give the moral choice mechanic some gravitas.
"As you go through the game, you know you're going to affect the entire kingdom. After all, we tell you right at the start of the game, 'You're going to be king.' Now it's all about what you think is just and what you think is unjust," he adds. "There's this big moral choice in how much you want to sacrifice and which promises you decide to keep."
Of course, the road to the throne room isn't an easy one. (For one thing it involves dressing up as a chicken at some stage.) Once you escape from the palace you're taken to The Sanctuary, a room which will act as a central hub for your adventures in Albion. With Jasper on hand to guide you through the different functions of the hub, it almost feels like you have your own version of the Bat Cave.
From the Sanctuary you can change clothes, select weapons, toggle the gaming settings and use a map to fast-travel to any areas you've already visited. You can also use the map to seek out people in Albion in need of a hero to complete tasks for you such as playing a female part in a play, delivering a message to a friend in dangerous terrain and, yes, rounding up crafty chickens.
While a lot of Albion has received a visual overhaul in terms of the style of buildings, weapon types (trading pistols and rifles for a blunderbuss) and the clothes its citizens wear, long time fans of the Fable franchise will feel right home. The atmosphere, in spite of the darker plot, still feels almost fairytale like and everything looks absolutely gorgeous. From cavernous catacombs and the snow-capped rustic village of The Dwellers to the lush rolling hills of BrightWall, Albion is as beautiful as you remember it.
More on Fable III
Interview: Making a Better Fable III for PC
Lionhead on Xbox 360 version criticism.
Illegal Fable III copies left unplayable.
Review: Fable III
The difficult third Albion.
DLC missions available now.
Still, there is a sense that events in the real world have started to seep into Fable III's magical kingdom. Albion's brutal drive towards progress at the cost of human suffering offers some interesting parallels with modern current affairs.
In a way, Molyneux says, the story arc involving the player's ascension to the throne will probably resonate all the more for players who have one eye on the global economic meltdown and the unpopular policy decisions certain politicians have made to remedy the situation.
"I think is unbelievably relevant to what's going on with our Government and the current budget cuts," says Molyneux. "What sacrifices are you prepared to make with your own popularity? You make these promises, and when you finally become king, you then have to deliver on them.
"The reason this resonates with Fable III is because in a world where we have credit crunches and various tragedies going on, it's rare to find a politician who actually keeps their promises."
By shifting the tone of Fable III's story to more mature territory and reflecting current events, Lionhead seems to have upped the stakes. The game's moral choice mechanic has been both enriched and deepened, and promises to deliver a far more engrossing experience this time round. If players are likely to walk away from Fable III having learned only thing, it's that being the boss isn't always fun - and it's certainly not easy.
Fable III is due out for Xbox 360 on 26th October, with a PC version to follow.