Fable III Reader Review
Fable 3 is probably the best example of a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one in the gaming industry - you are given the power to rule over a land, a project to idle your time on. Do you invest the money, take your time and do the right thing - delivering on your promises, knowing that it will cost you in the long-term? Or do you rush through, taking the easy options? This way, you have to renege on those promises but the people will see results sooner... ahh, the mind of Peter Molyneux. Such fascinating insight into your mind your games give to us.
I suppose its fairly evident from that you can see which way this Reader Review is headed. Which is a pity, because there really is plenty to love about Fable 3. It's a shame that there is also so much to hate about it too.
Fable 3 takes us back to Albion, where the kingdom is under the rule of King Logan - the child of a Hero. You are the younger sibling, the Prince or Princess, who has been sheltered in the confines of the castle since birth. You hear stories of the oppression and subjugation of the people of Albion, but it isn't until you are forced to decide the fate of your beloved that it directly affects you. A revolution is needed, a new ruler a necessity - and you, the child of a Hero, have the power to lead Albion to glory, or to ruin...
Well, that is the idea anyway. In truth, Fable 3 is even more linear than its predecessors - the exploration is a little forced. That said, kudos must be given that the main story has direction and drive and even a sense of urgency to it - something that the previous titles did lack. It also has personality, a word I love to use to describe games - and it does. It's a charmingly whimsical world of poverty, greed, ruthless ambition and selfless courage. It looks the part, has an ensemble mostly British voice cast that most movies could only dream of having, and plenty of good old-fashioned British humour. On the surface, it sparkles. But all lakes have murky depths and Fable 3 is if nothing else a rather deep lake...
Oh well, I suppose I've been putting this off long enough so its time to get out the paddle and give this game a thorough spanking. What Fable 3 is, in my opinion, is unfinished. In so many ways that this may take some time, so those of you who bore easily should probably just scroll down a few paragraphs now. I'll let you know when we can meet up again.
Technically, I would be ashamed of this game if I was a Lionhead employee. Or Peter Molyneux. Or anyone at Microsoft. Or anyone who was involved in making promotions for this. The game engine so often struggles to manage what its doing that I got bored stiff of the chugging frame-rates, the textural glitches, the sound files that seemingly disappear off into the night to enjoy a night at Big Bessie's leaving you without important dialogue and the lack of proper management for resources. When it works, it is a pretty world but the game engine so often decides it doesn't want to work, that it would rather put its feet up and enjoy a cup of tea and a sticky bun whilst you tap your foot impatiently for it to get done with that and remember you are playing a game, a game you paid for. I had mysterious controller issues too - so much so I had to check it out. I got new batteries, brand new ones only ten minutes beforehand purchased from my nearest shop - still problems. Okay, so maybe my controller is on the blink... one trip to Argos later, still problems. Thanks Fable 3 for that. Why does a game seemingly disconnect controllers for no reason? Oh right because I'm playing it with a controller and not the almighty Kinect, I am so ashamed that I would dare enjoy a game the traditional way... no wait, I lie.
As a game, there is plenty to be ashamed of as well. Whilst there is plenty of content there, it's over far too soon. The game poses no real challenge to anything really, preferring instead to be carried on the strength of its charm, humour and narrative - which is admirable, to a point. But eventually you expect some game to kick in and the brief glimpses of brilliance that sparkle from time to time are over far too soon. The rest is simply nothing the Fable series hasn't done before and done to death - you run around, you kill things (although this time around you can clear areas of all enemies and they don't respawn. Like, ever. Whose genius idea was that? I go to Mourningwood and I expect, no scratch that, I DEMAND HOLLOWMEN! The Mortar game not included in this.) and level up your weapons this time around - a charming notion, but for your base weapons, little more than a cosmetic kick in the pants. No, for the main meat of the game you'll need to get some more interesting Legendary Weapons... which is all the more frustrating when you realise to get some decent ones you have to trade them over from someone a little more fortunate than you... and to be brutally honest, if you're lucky enough to get something like Avo's Lamentation, why the hell would you give it away?! This game of chance, and the lottery-like nature of the treasure chests, is kind of depressing. If you're not fortunate enough to get a half-decent legendary or two, then you're largely going to be stuck with your Hero Weapons - which are servicable, but the visual changes as you level them are random and bring no real benefits other than making things look pretty.
I am also curious as to why the HUD was taken away, I know this game was intended for Kinect and all but I kind of like having a visual indication of my health bar. I miss it, and when it tells me to coif a potion - is it because I've got a gaping chest wound or because I picked up a splinter from a stray piece of wood? What do I do with that information? Can I wait for the fight to be over or am I about to find out what my insides look like? Without context, telling me to drink a potion is rather silly, especially when you heal over time... oh yes, our favourite love-to-hate FPS mechanic is finally teabagging the adventure RPG genre with reckless abandon for its own welfare...
The side quests do a reasonable job at distracting you from this, and most of them have a weird sense of humour and charm - from the collection of rare books scattered across Albion (Which includes a lesbian novel...) to the Gnomes (basically a cut and paste of the Gargoyles from Fable 2), and from wiping out legions of Hollowmen with a mortar to splitting up a married couple, they are all okay. It is of course hard to mention the side quests without referencing to the inclusion of holding hands with the denizens of Albion - a much talked about inclusion that serves little purpose than to make Escort Quests take a little bit longer than usual. And there are escort quests. Lots of them. Repeatable ones. All the time. Always there. Always. Oh god, MAKE IT STOP! TELL THEM TO LET GO OF MY HAND!!!
Economics time, and I believe we were told it was going to be harder to make gold this time around. Well, I'm sure that -was- the intention, and I assume this was also the reason why they made houses you rent out fall into disrepair - and with no Repair All function available, he'd almost have got away with it too if it wasn't for the fact I just bought businesses and made a killing that way, with up to 80k gold sinking into my pocket every ten minutes. And also, businesses don't need repairs. So whilst yes, people can claim to be getting 100k+ per tick, I'm not wasting half my time in the map screen repairing each building one by one.
Okay, those of you who were skipping the rants can rejoin us now (bet you thought I forgot about that one, eh?) because there are good things to note. The combat is so much more improved, tighter and cleaner and more user-friendly. It's a joy to behold, although it must be said the Blades and Fireball spell combination is to this game what a chainsaw is to a housefly - can anyone say overkill in a humorously high-pitched voice?
The voice cast is also glorious, although I would like to say one thing to Lionhead Studios - congratulations. No really, I applaud you. You have done what the BBC and several dumbed-down series of QI could not, and you have made me twitch uncomfortably every single time I hear Stephen Fry's voice. Bravo, I'm sure you are so VERY proud. Aside that though, Sir Ben Kingsley is hardly recognisable as the lovable explosives-fanatic Sabine, ZoŽ Wanamaker is back as Teresa (with a voice that is like honey in my ear, which after hours of Stephen Fry is actually very comforting and does help stem the bleeding somewhat!) and, of course, Jonathan Ross. Ahh, what can I say about his unfortunate character other than HOORAY! I'll spend hours and hours and hours watching that on YouTube in the coming weeks. Better yet, get a movie player in the game in a future patch so I can watch it back whenever I want! May also give me a reason to nip back into the game part of the game from time to time, who knows?! John Cleese makes an unbelievably effective butler, although perhaps also bordering the Stephen Fry problem by every single time I went to the sanctuary (the hub of the game, where you do things like change weapons etc.) he'd urge me to take a look at the paid DLC store. It's a pity, but I was terribly thankful the audio bug silenced him for good. Was nice to not have that every time I paused the game... well, sort of paused the game, there is no real "pause" button... other than the shiny X, but that's sort of the options/save menu... oh well, good enough I suppose.
And of course, there are the bugs. I touched on them, but the few I listed don't go anywhere close to the number of them that people have been reporting from this game. From game engine troubles, to controller issues and sound issues to broken quests, frozen main games (to which the helpful advice is "Start a new game"), it is hard to escape the feeling Fable 3 has been... well... rushed out. I wonder if they were trying to avoid something, hmm? Trying to avoid releasing at the same time as something... cataclysmic, perchance?
So, to the closing ceremony of this rather depressing review. I admit it, it has been depressing because I like Fable 3. I like its charm, I like its humour, I like the graphics (when they're working) and I love Albion. I love the story, I love the narrative, and I also think I've fallen in love with ZoŽ Wanamaker. It's a lovely game, and yes its short. Yes, it's not got much depth or anything that was promised to us, or demonstrated to us, or even alluded to in the past couple of years time and time again from Lionhead. But I like it. The reason I can't recommend it is that the game is, for want of a better word here, broken. It's been rushed, it's been forced through and yes, you may be one of the lucky few who could play it through without nary a whimper from the game in terms of bugs (and if you are that lucky, could you give me some lottery numbers for next week?). It's just... well. It doesn't work properly. How can I recommend a game which doesn't work properly? (This is largely the reason for a very low score by the way, when they fix these problems bump it up to a six or a seven...)
Fable has always been a bit of an Auteur project, I kind of know that. Peter Molyneux promises many things but obviously his reputation now is such that we don't expect half of them to make it into the finished product. But even then, that doesn't explain why this game has so many technical flaws, and that is before you can even touch on the flaws in the game itself, which is crying out for something new but it never comes. If it was a loved game, polished to a shine, I'd even come to love and adore Fable. But there is a degree of cynicism to it now that I'm finding increasingly hard to shake off.
Fable 3 is a game that is in need of love, care and attention - perhaps maybe away from Lionhead Studios, who I'm sorry to say cannot claim they didn't expect this. It needs some free DLC, really free, and be good DLC - the free stuff that comes with the game new is nothing short of an insult really. No seriously, it needs to compensate those who have had to endure this new game - because none of us are going to walk into Fable 4 now (and lord knows there'll be a Fable 4...). And most of all, the game inside this game needs more - its forever promising to be new and daring, but retreats to comfortable ground when it sees the big lorries of other franchises headed its way. It's fine to play it safe, but when you promise not to... well. How can we see it as anything other than plain cowardice?
The Fable franchise, in effect, needs nothing less than a Revolution. It's somewhat ironic in a game about a revolution, it really isn't in any way...