As a Peter Molyneux project, Fable III is immediately the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or so Mr. Molyneux would have you think. The master of hyperbole has once again set expectations incredibly high for his latest tale of adventure and morality. While never quite living up to Peter's word-weaving (that would be impossible), the series has always been a solid adventure, and an enjoyable RPG-lite. Does Fable III build upon its predecessors and become the wise, prosperous king? Or does it sour the townsfolk, leading to its untimely overthrow and execution?
Set approximately 50 years after the events of Fable II, in an unsettled world that has lost its monarch, the protagonist of the preceding title. His eldest son has inherited the throne, and since becoming the ruler of the lands, he's taken a turn for the tyrannical. It is up to you, the youngest son of the king, to usurp your brother, pacify the increasingly agitated people of Albion, and protect all you love from an unseen danger which threatens to destroy the world.
One of the parts of Fable II I enjoyed so much was the seamless flow of the battle system, and for the most part, that system carries over. One button for your magic, one for your ranged weapon, and one for melee. Tapping executes a quick strike, while holding charges up a powerful flourish to be unleashed. I'm pretty sure a 6 year old could get the hang of combat quick enough, it's that simple. Yet it's so effective and smooth that you'll never feel crippled by its ease of use. Unfortunately, the spell selection of Fable II is gone, replaced instead with a spell combination aspect. With 7 total spells in the game, you can mix any two to create combined effects, or just be a boring old fart and stick with one.
Hate to say it, but that's about where the good ends. In battle, you have no HUD aside from your potions, which flash red when you're low on health. It's easy to miss in the thick of battle, especially if you're low on potions and you're trying to stretch your resources. It's one of many ways Lionhead Studios tries to make a unique, trailblazing experience and fails.
The menu system, one of the most integral parts of an RPG is tossed to the wayside in favor of your Sanctuary. So, every time you want to change outfits, check your gold, equip a new weapon or save your game, you hit the start button, and magically zone into your safe house, where everything you need isn't even readily accessible. You need to zone into different rooms to access different sections of your character upkeep; one for weapons and spells, one for clothing and hair styles, and one for your finances. Swing and a miss! Thankfully the loading between Sanctuary zones is swift, had it not been I probably would've given up on the game completely. I'll take the ease of typical menu navigation over the appearance and interactivity of this Sanctuary jazz any day of the week.
The morality aspect of Fable III doesn't seem very well thought out. Your decisions are always either mercifully good or mercilessly evil, with no shade of grey between. It feels almost impossible to play as an evil character, since your main role is to rally the world under your benevolence and vision of hope to oppose your brother's unsolicited malice. Thus stealing, murdering, pillaging and plundering seems wrong when your whole modus operandi is to be the good guy. And relating to the story's integral characters, you're forced to "promise" them your help, regardless of if you're playing goody-two-shoes or not. It's like the game is not-so-subtly trying to coax you to the light path of a hero.
The final culmination of the invisible shoulder-angel's influencing whisper is such a disappointing turn, suffering from both a lack of thought and a disregard for pace. It's like the boys at Lionhead spent all their time getting to know each other better by slow-dancing and playing Pat-a-Cake, when they should have been thinking of a legitimate way to cap their trilogy.
For the game to really get it's $60 worth, I'd say play as a completely evil bastard. If you play the game as a good guy, following the rules and basically doing what the developers want you to do, though they say they're giving you a choice, you won't want to play through it again. Eight hours and done. Play evil, kill townies, have sex with multiple partners, buy all the real estate, raise all the rent, explore the world and vaporize anyone who gets in your way. That'll probably stretch your game time out to 12-14 hours, and keep you amused while the otherwise scattered story sputters on to it's ho-hum plot twist.
The Fable series generally has always had a great style, and it's more of the same in III. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and leans toward the cartoony side of the fence. If not for all the blood, I could mistake this for a kids game. I appreciate the art as one of the game's strongest facets, especially the work put into the character designs. There is something unique and endearing about each supporting role that plays a relevant part in the story. Clothes, hair styles, right down to the accessories, each character has his own great personality. It's a shame the facial animations are poorly done, and their stories are thrown together so haphazardly, with no real care paid to their development.
None of the music really caught my attention, at its best it just seemed like token place holders to keep your ears occupied, as opposed to paralleling the story and intensifying battle scenes. The voice acting is incredibly well done however, employing the talents of English skillionaires such as Sir Ben Kinglsey and John Cleese to name a few. The voice overs, with the character design, make me wish these characters were a little more fleshed out. Seems like the two strongest assets of the game go to waste.
In the end, I think Fable finally trips over it's own delusions of grandeur. Peter Molyneux once again set the standards too high, and instead of delivering a solid game, such as Fable II, to help minimize the backlash of unfulfilled promises, he ends the series with the sub par finale. While some components of the game are greatly improved over the previous incarnation, such as co-op, the most vital aspects are no where to be found; a strong story, and a strong ending. Mr. Molyneux has already teased us about the series' fourth installment, but seeing how Fable III concluded, Peter is going to have to start a revolution in order to overthrow the shadow of doubt.
Buy it if: You really liked the first two Fables, you aspire to be a real estate magnate
Don't buy it if: You haven't played Fable II, you want a challenge, you need a strong story
The Score: 6 outta 10 blasters!