Version tested: Xbox 360
It must be a tricky business for developers, this downloadable content lark. Release a pack too soon after a game's launch and you get people accusing you of deliberately slicing content out of the original to repurpose for profit at a later stage. Wait too long, however, and your fickle audience may well have moved on. And do you assume everyone's completed the game, or do you make it accessible to anyone, no matter how far they've progressed through the campaign?
It's a bit of a minefield, and it's one that thus far Lionhead has clumsily blundered through – emerging deaf in one ear and with some nasty-looking shrapnel wounds, but with limbs just about intact. Fable II's Knothole Island wasn't bad, while the subsequent See The Future was practically a paid trailer teasing this year's follow-up. Understone Quest Pack falls somewhere in between the two in terms of quality and content, offering three new quests, two of which are high-score challenges, with the third being a more substantial story-led mission.
It gets off to a good start, with two new weapons provided as gifts before you even start the quests proper. The Full Monty pistol is a little more powerful than your average gun, while The Marksman 500, a rifle used by Reaver's guards, was my weapon of choice for the DLC pack – partly because completing one of the challenges instantly makes your character 25 per cent more attractive. It does, however, have the side-effect of making the main DLC quest embarrassingly easy.
The Voice takes place in a new location hidden underneath the grimy streets of Bowerstone Industrial. It begins when you meet a new owner of one of Reaver's factories, who is perturbed to hear a mysterious voice rumbling enigmatically around the clanking machinery. He leads you to a cellar which ultimately leads to a small village – the Understone of the pack's title, which basically looks like some old Bowerstone assets chucked into a cave – built beneath the surface. Along the way, you're constantly warned that your intrusion will result in your demise, as Understone's security system is gradually activated the closer you get to your destination.
Rather than facing off against steam-powered gun emplacements or anything interesting like that, you're instead confronted by skeletal wolves and reanimated Hobbes. If you've finished the game, they shouldn't present any challenge whatsoever: my five-star skills with ranged weaponry allowed me to take any one of them out in a single shot, while even a three-star hammer or sword should comfortably get you through to the dingy hamlet itself.
Once there, you meet a few of the downtrodden inhabitants, all of whom believe that the above world has been destroyed. A mechanical lift takes you closer to the source of the voice, via a series of further encounters with enemies appearing in slightly larger numbers, electric fences blocking your escape until you've finished them all off. Finally, you face a brand new enemy – brand new if you've not already purchased the Industrial Knight costume from the Sanctuary Shop, anyway – who is about as tough to beat as the white Balverine in the main game (which is to say, not very).
There's a minor twist followed by a moral choice, which is hardly a tough decision – especially so if you've completed Fable III's story. It's perhaps more meaningful if you've ascended to the throne but not yet finished your kingly duties, though that probably won't apply to the majority of buyers. Anyway, after about 20 minutes or so, and with a few more Guild Seals tucked in your back pocket, it's time to try the Crucib– er, rather, Reaver's Wheel of Misfortune.
Here you get a nice bit of new dialogue from Stephen Fry – "we ask that losers decompose quickly" - while Jonathan Ross's character, Jonathan Ross, introduces six rounds of combat, featuring wolves, mercenaries, Hobbes, Hollow Men, Sand Furies (in that order) and a final "Cweature Bundle" featuring a mix of those five and a small handful of Balverines thrown in for good measure.
Two additional weapons are your impetus to earn a high score, with a multiplier building the more enemies you kill without being hit. I perhaps should have paid more attention to the scores required to earn these prizes (90,000 and 150,000 sounds about right) but I wrongly assumed I wouldn't do well enough on my first go to win either. Walking away with a score of over 200,000, described as "godlike" by Ross, I celebrated the easiest 40 Guild Seals I'd ever earned by returning for another bash. This time I earned over 400,000 on the Sand Furies stage alone by standing at the back of the room and firing my rifle into the middle.
The shooting gallery at the mercenary camp is a little trickier, taking me three goes before I'd unlocked the mythical Black Dragon revolver. The slightly sluggish aiming makes it tougher than the Wheel of Misfortune, though helpfully your crosshair sticks to the targets on each of the wooden cut-outs that glide past when you're close enough. It was only on my third play-through that I realised you could blast the rabbits and ravens in the background, rewarding me with a substantial score boost that took me over the 450-point barrier to top the leaderboard.
After a total of 45 minutes, I'd unlocked everything, though that's not quite your lot: there are additional houses to buy in both the mercenary camp and Understone should you wish to further expand your property empire. Disappointingly, there's no way to directly access Understone from the map, meaning that if you want to adjust the rent, repair or sell any of your subterranean properties, you'll have to visit the area and do it manually rather than the safety of your Sanctuary. Admittedly, some will relish the chance to escape Jasper and his constant whining about the new items in the bloody shop, but it seems a slightly thoughtless exclusion nonetheless.
So that's 400 Microsoft Points (£3.40 / €4.80) for a mission that certainly wouldn't make it into the game's ten best quests, and two other additions that are essentially little more than variations on ideas from Fable II. It's hardly a king's ransom, but the brevity of the quests and the lack of anything particularly new will still cause most Fable fans to feel royally ripped-off.
4 / 10