Before going into the review I want to warn you all that there are major spoilers ahead. Normally I do my best to avoid spoilers, however in order to properly review Fable III, I feel that fully discussing storyline and other elements is crucial. If you are considering purchasing this game, I highly suggest you read this review because odds are, I might just save you some money.
Right after I finished playing Fable II (yes II, that is not a typo), I couldn’t wait for Fable III. It had a storyline that left me wondering what was going to happen, I had left Albion in immaculate shape, and with the “See the Future” DLC, I was shown a lot of hope and promise. Even as the months went by, and even with all of the news about the changes that would be made, I still had it in my head that everything would be an improvement on what was so enjoyable.
I was sorely misled.
I am in awe of what I just played, and I honestly can’t believe what I am about to write, but it’s the truth and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Fable III had so much build-up, so much promise, so much going for it… and it fell flat on its face. Funny thing is, it takes a person to play halfway through the main story in order to realize that what they are about to step into is a mess, rapidly unraveling before them.
It’s been known for months that Albion is in a sordid state thanks to your brother, the tyrannical King Logan. The poor wander the streets begging, children are being worked to death in factories, filth is everywhere, and executions are aplenty. You play as either the Prince or Princess, and it’s obvious that you are going to be the one who has to take Logan down. With talks of starting a revolution, the main catalyst to everything is where you have to make a choice of either having a group of innocent protesters executed, or having your love interest take a bullet to the head. All of that takes place within the first few minutes of the game, and basically every decision you make after that is so cut and dry.
They say that Fable is all about the freedom to make choices, the freedom to decide… but that is a lie. You really aren’t given proper choices, and everything is either very good and benevolent, or tyrannical and evil. Other games that focused on a light/dark side aspect, like Knights of the Old Republic, at least gave you more than two choices and some wiggle room. Having to choose between such polar extremes was really tiresome, and didn’t really allow me to properly connect with the character or the story at all. I obviously wanted to save Albion and get my bastard brother as far away from the throne as possible, but there were other choices along the way that were practical, and beneficial for Albion, however they were deemed as the evil choice, and I couldn’t make them.
As you leave the castle with Sir Walter, the man who has been training you all these years and was a friend to your late mother or father, and Jasper, your personal butler wonderfully voiced by the amazing John Cleese, it first appears as if you are playing Fable II again except for some major changes: no health bar and no experience orbs. I personally didn’t mind the decision to not have experience orbs, but then I noticed something: in order to activate some basic parts of the game like purchasing a house, purchasing a business, marriage, having children, and more, I had to use my Guild Seals to unlock the chests that would enable those functions. Why should I have to unlock a basic function that should be available right from the get-go? I know some could argue that there was something similar to that in Fable II, where it was required to find books that would give you more expressions, and boost your dogs stats, but that is slightly different. In Fable II, you already had some expressions unlocked, but if you wanted anything in Fable III, even the basics, it could only be obtained through the Road to Rule and unlocking the chests. As far as the books, I was only able to “upgrade” my dog through those, so at least that didn’t change.
Regarding the lack of a health bar, I did find it to be a bit annoying. Prior to the release of the game, the health system was described, but apparently some changes were made because it was nothing like what I read. From what I gathered, the screen would start to lose color starting around the edges, and it would continue to get that way until you were finally killed. Instead, the area to the bottom left where your potions and food are displayed starts to go red. A prompt comes up at the top of the screen warning you to either heal or avoid taking anymore damage because there is a risk of you “falling in battle.” Yes, falling in battle. You don’t actually die in this game, you just get knocked out and fall in battle. The penalty? Whatever experience you were accumulating for your next Guild Seal is taken away, but since it’s so easy to fill up that bar, there really is no reason why a person should rely on health potions and food for healing. There is an achievement for making it to the end of the main story without getting knocked out, and I thought it would be something major since it’s worth 50 gamerscore points, but that was probably one of the easiest achievements I’ve ever received, but I’ll get to combat in a bit. Should you ignore the prompt, the corners of your screen do start to go red, but there is no color saturation at all, so I was always under the assumption that I was fine. It was only until after completing the main game where I was knocked down twice in separate Balverine battles.
As far as healing goes, you either have a health potion (in which there is only one variety of), or there is food. Remember in Fable II how you could stock up with several kinds of food and beverage? You can’t do that in Fable III. You can only have one kind and that is it. Should you wish to have something else, you have to drop whatever your current food item is, and switch. It was really annoying because the food was scarce in Fable III and I wasn’t coming across it as often as I used to. I barely found any in my homes, the stalls rarely carried vegetables (I didn’t want to get fat, don’t judge me), and whenever I did find something out in the open it was either a nasty pie or something alcoholic. I honestly don’t see why the ability to carry more than one type of food was taken away, but that was something that really irked me.
Speaking of carrying things, you no longer have a list of items to go through. Instead you go to the Sanctuary where Jasper is forever there to aid you. There is a room for all of your weaponry, one for all of your clothing and dyes, another for your trophies and achievements, and the final one is where you can purchase additional items through the Xbox Live Marketplace and do all of that “friend” stuff. While the concept of the Sanctuary was nice, it was annoying having to always go to a different place to do everything rather than having a simple menu to sift through. I also found it annoying on how I had to always go to the Sanctuary and look at the large round map if I wanted to fast travel anywhere. It was like having to constantly go through a process in order to do something so simple. I will say that the attention to detail on the map is superb. You can go to each town, zoom in on the towns, and pin point where you’d like to go. Sometimes it fails and places you on the opposite end of where you wanted to go, but being able to look at everything with such detail was nice. I could even purchase buildings and repair the ones I owned by using the map, rather than having to travel to each individual one.
The spells are different now, and instead of being able to cast whatever, you have to wear a gauntlet. Yes, a stupid gauntlet. With only 6 gauntlets throughout the entire game, you can imagine just how ridiculously repetitive your magic gets. Sure there is a chest you can open later on that lets you weave spells together (basically allowing you to wear a gauntlet on each hand), but even then it’s so boring. The only spells to choose from are fireball, lightning, a storm cloud that drops icicles, a vortex, force push (not nearly as cool as it sounds), and the throwing blades like in Fable II. Had the game featured a system similar to Final Fantasy where each one levels up and progresses (Fira, Firaga, etc.), I would’ve been somewhat more OK with having only 6 magical abilities at my disposal. One spell that was greatly missed was the ability to slow down time. Instead of having a gauntlet for it, it was only available as a potion. I’m quite aware of how potentially complicated a slow gauntlet would’ve been, but you can change weapons and abilities in the middle of any battle by simply pressing START.
For your melee and ranged weapons, the choices are also slightly limiting. For melee you can only choose between various swords or hammers. Not really a lot of variation there. For your ranged, it’s either a pistol or a rifle. Again, not a lot of variety. A player is forced to choose between long range or short range with their gun selection, and then for melee you have to decide if you want something fast or slow and heavy. Surely something a bit more balanced could’ve been created, but no… this is not a game where you get to sit comfortably in the grey area. I will say that it was cool seeing how my actions could change my Hero weapons. Because of my monetary generosity my handle changed, and I also had another change happen when I was using a lot of my fireball spell. The downside was that the changes didn’t boost any important attributes to my weapon like speed or damage, but they did look cooler. The other weapons you find have the ability to earn new attributes, but they can only be done through certain deeds. One pistol I got, the Bonecrusher (I think Bonecruscher), increased in overall damage and the damage it did to Hollowmen by killing 300 of the bony guys. A sword of mine, Slimquick, gave me more Guild Seals when using it and all I had to do was spend $8,000 of my own money on whatever. The problem I kept running into was that a majority of the bonuses could only be achieved through evil deeds like killing people who fell in love with me and other stuff like that, so I’ve yet to fully max out one weapon.
The combat is very easy, and gets very repetitive. Once you reach a certain level in the game, you can equip the fireball or lightning gauntlet along with force push and just stand back and blast your attackers over and over. Hell, that is how I beat the final boss. That’s how dumbed down they made the game. At times the targeting system was awful. I would have about 5 people coming at me from the front, and out of nowhere my Princess would spin to a different angle and start blasting the air. There was no reason for her to change because I was looking straight at who I wanted to hurl a fireball at, but I guess that didn’t matter so I ended up being left open and defenseless. Because the combat is so basic, the game feels more like a boring hack-n-slash than an Action RPG, and you never really have to face any true challenges. I’d say that the Balverines gave me a harder time than all of the boss fights combined, and that’s sad.
The camera would get a bit wonky at times, and even though the right thumbstick can be used to move it, it was sometimes worthless, especially in certain battles. Often I’d be swarmed with various foes, and they would be coming at me from all angles. Since your attacks are all done using the buttons above the right thumbstick, my tiny hands were otherwise occupied. That led to some really strange camera angles, and some hellish blind spots. The voice acting is superb in Fable III, but that’s to be expected. With a cast that features many A-listers like the aforementioned Cleese, actors like Stephen Fry, who reprises his role as Reaver, Sir Ben Kingsley, and even Simon Pegg do one hell of a job. It’s just a shame about everything else. Graphically the game is gorgeous. Absolutely flawless. I have no complaints when it comes to the graphics, nor do I have any complaints about the music. Some of the same music from Fable II was used in III, but it was only in places where it was appropriate and made sense.
Your quests are pretty similar to those you experienced in Fable II, but there were a shitload of escort quests, and those can be pretty annoying. They weren’t like other escort quests where the person trails behind you. You actually have to hold their hand, and then you have to remember to let go when the baddies come out from around the corner. There are other quests like where you have to deliver a letter or a package, where you have to find 30 rare books for the Academy, and other stuff like that. You also have a quest similar to the Gargoyle one in Fable II, but this time it’s with Garden Gnomes. A massively introverted guy (and one who needs a lot of therapy), amassed a collection of 50 Garden Gnomes. Your first quest with him is to get back a gift for one of his gnomes that was lost, and it turns out to be a Gargoyle head that turns all of the gnomes alive. Of course you can pretty much guess what happens after that, so I won’t bother with filling in the blanks.
One noteworthy quest is where you meet with three cloaked men in a Bowerstone home and they need your assistance with a Princess who has been taken by an evil Baron. After you shrink down and land in their magical orb, everything plays out like a Dungeons & Dragons game. The Princess isn’t real, everything is made up by the guys, and there are times where you can see them in the background as they voice the characters and bicker amongst each other. It was one of the lighter, more enjoyable quests. There is also a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the game. A man named Arthur has left notes for various villagers and they are all insulting. You meet Arthur at one point who asks that you deliver a letter to some guy named Zachary, and that’s it.
When you interact with the villagers, it really is pretty basic. Little round icons, shaped like the buttons on your 360 controller, will drop down, offering you the choices you can make. The good actions always have a white sparkle to them whereas the evil actions have a reddish orange sparkle. With the beggars you can use the right bumper to donate them money, which is always only 10 gold at a time, but I was never able to interact with any children. One of the things I loved about Fable II was being able to give the presents to the children, having them ask for my autograph, and doing other things like making them laugh with my farts. I wasn’t able to do any of that at all, so it was rather disappointing. Once you become friendly with some of the villagers, they will ask you to go on a Relationship Quest for them. Those are typically the “deliver a package/letter” quests, and once they are completed, they become your friend. If you want to take things to the next level, you can keep doing nice things like dancing, chatting, hugging, and then you are given the option to take them on a date where they will fall in love with you after a kiss. If you want to marry them or not, that is up to you, but that is really all it takes.
Your mini-games are a bit dull and boring as well. Instead of having a variety in Fable II like working as a bartender or being a blacksmith, you can either play the Lute, make pies, or be a blacksmith to make money. What makes them boring is that they all are played the same way and use the same buttons. There is nothing to distinguish one from the other, and instead of being able to do something fun for some extra coin, you actually want to avoid doing any of them at all.
Now, with the story… this is what I really couldn’t stand the most (and it is rather short too, maybe 8-12 hours tops to complete the main story). The entire time you are going through Albion, getting factions and towns to back you so that you can eventually storm Bowerstone Castle and usurp the throne, but there was really no proper climax (Just a tip, before you leave with Ben Finn and Walter for Aurora, do everything you want/need to do and make sure you have well over 7 million gold, especially if you want to fulfill your promises and be a ruler of your word). Sure you go around getting the help of the Dwellers, those hiding out underground in Bowerstone, and the people of Aurora, but you also make promises to them too like giving the Dwellers back the rights to Mistpeak Mountains, abolishing child labor, lowering the tax rates, and making Aurora a rightful part of Albion and not a colony. Obviously the right thing to do is follow through with what you say since those people are the reason why you got the throne in the first place, but once you are crowned, it all goes to shit.
See, when you go to Aurora, you encounter this thing known as The Crawler and this “darkness” of his, and no, it’s not the same as when Rick James called Eddie and Charlie Murphy “darkness”. This is different. If you’ve played Kingdom Hearts, the darkness is just like the Heartless, except the darkness is annoying. As you are trying to get to Aurora, The Crawler won’t shut up about how he will kill the light that is in you, turn you to the darkness, and all sorts of mental mumbo jumbo. After Sir Walter is almost blinded and killed by the darkness, you assume everything is alright and that the problem is done.
During your trial with Logan, where you decide to either pardon him or have him executed (notice there is no “send your evil ass to jail” option?), he tells you that when he traveled to Aurora, he encountered the darkness, and that even though he promised the people of Aurora that he would defeat it, he broke that promise so that he could return to Albion and protect it. You see, all of his evil deeds were with the mindset of “sacrifice the few to protect the many.” Everything he did was to keep the darkness at bay because Theresa told him that it would eventually spread and take over Albion. Only problem is that it would take a true Hero (that’s you, by the way) to defeat it, which is why you had to knock Logan off of his shiny pedestal.
The kicker? Both Logan and Theresa have known that, they both hid it from you, and right after you are coronated, you have exactly one calendar year to boost your treasury to 6.5 million (see why I told you to save up a ton of money?), and you start off with only 400,000 gold. The game does give you the option of adding funds from your own personal account into the royal treasury, so don’t worry about how you’re going to transfer everything. Think of the two as real life checking and savings accounts. So, as the ruler, you then have to attend court where you are asked to make judgments on various issues, in addition to the ones you promised. Reaver is a complete dick and was Logan’s right-hand man. Everything that he proposes is the evil choice, is the complete opposite of what you promised to Sabine of the Dwellers, Page of the Bowerstone Underground, and the Aurorans. Problem is, if you follow through on what you said you were going to do, that costs money and drains your treasury, big time. The only way you can properly defend Albion and save all of the people is by being just like your brother, reneging everything, and destroying things like lakes and other natural wonders all to raise enough money for your necessary Army.
Even though the game gives you two quests where you can earn 1.2 million, if you follow through on your word, you will be severely in the hole like I was. I even donated over 200,000 of my own gold, and by the time the darkness arrived at Albion, I was about 1.4 million in debt. Needless to say almost everybody in Albion perished, those that did survived hated me for not “properly defending” them, and the game is basically unplayable. Instead of having my cities bustling with villagers, people tending the stalls, business open to trade with, and other things of that nature… my towns are desolate and I am unable to finish many of the things in the game. With all of the children dead in Bowerstone, I am unable to adopt one from the orphanage I erected. I can’t trade items, purchase items, or do anything like that because there are no villagers to run those businesses. Hell, there aren’t even enough villagers around so that I can get married and do all of that. It doesn’t pay to be good in Fable III because the game really screws you, and now I almost have to force myself to complete what loose ends I do have.
I did try out the co-op feature, even choosing to do it locally, but that was like pulling teeth. Not only does it hinder your own personal progress in the game, but it was never a smooth session. Treasure chest loot is divided, and the experience points you get are reduced as well, so the amount of Guild Seals you can earn are lowered by partnering up with somebody. In the end, it’s not really worth playing with a friend should you wish to beef up your character and properly level up. Not every game benefits from having a co-op or multiplayer option, and Fable III is one of them.
Lionhead Studios really had the chance to do something amazing with Fable III, but with a horrible short story, dumbed down combat mechanics, the inability to really decide your own fate, and then with how badly you get dicked over in the end… they dropped the ball. Even if I don’t factor in the numerous technical issues the game had (constant frame rate lags, screen staying black once I went into a different town and taking forever to fix itself), Fable III was a failure on so many counts. It honestly is a shame because the game does have flashes of brilliance and things that are fantastic, but they are meaningless when compared to everything else that is so wrong with it. Maybe they tried too hard to appeal to a wider, albeit vacuous, audience that is perfectly fine with spending $60.00 on monotony. I’m not too sure, but I do know this: save your money by either renting it or having it come to you through GameFly or another similar service. It’s not worth the price.