Review: Fable III (PC)

Peter Molyneux is a well-known video game designer, and his credits include Dungeon Keeper, Populous, and Black & White. Not too long after the release and success of Black & White, there was a lot of hype coming from him about his next role-playing game, Fable.

Unfortunately, the first Fable game was fraught with broken promises. The second came with fewer broken promises but was a far better game. The third one was promised to improve upon the things that were praised in the previous games. Will this be the diamond Peter envisioned or just another broken promise? We’ll find out here.

Fable III
Systems: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360
System Specs: Intel i7 950, Mushkin Enhanced Radioactive 12 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI with Nvidia Surround Enabled, wired Xbox 360 controller for Windows
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: May 17, 2011 (PC) and October 26, 2010 (360)
MSRP: Standard Edition $50 (PC) and $30 (360)

The game begins fifty years after the end of Fable II. The first choice you need to make is if you’ll be a prince or princess. I chose the former and was then awakened by my butler, Jasper. He tells you and that there’s a friend waiting for you in the garden. However, first you need to get dressed because pajamas aren’t appropriate for royalty.

 

This friend is a love interest for you at this point. When you two meet up, you talk about what’s going on in the realm of Albion. The two of you then go to see Sir Walter Beck, who’s your sword master trainer. Once your training is complete, all of you hear that your brother, King Logan, has just executed a worker for being the ring leader of a protest.

This news obviously upsets Walter, your friend, and yourself. Walter proceeds to talk to the King in great haste. The King becomes angry at him and even angrier at you after he finds you and your friend were eavesdropping on their conversation. This is where you speak out against your brother for his actions because he’s acting more like a tyrant than how a ruler should act. King Logan then proclaims you have to decide the fate of the protesters by either killing them or your love interest.

The choice you make here is the first of many moral choices you’ll face throughout the game. With your decision made, Walter, Jasper, and you all believe that it’s time to leave and rebel against King Logan as it’s the only way to free the people of Albion from his tyrannical rule. The first time you encounter magic is when you enter the castle’s catacombs and find out that you’re similar to your father—that you’re a hero. Heroes have the ability to shape the world as they see fit, and your moral choices will affect how the world sees you from this point onwards.

The catacombs also introduce you to firearms, so this is the first time you’ll have access to all three styles of combat (firearms, melee, and magic). The end of the road leads you to your father’s sanctuary, a place where you can go to at any time. The sanctuary serves as a nexus of actions for you, such as joining multiplayer games, changing your weapons, customizing your appearance, and much more.

From here, you begin your quest to overthrow your tyrannical brother and where you’ll make promises to those who pledge their loyalties to you. These promises are what help you achieve your ultimate goal and saving your kingdom from a greater evil spreading across Albion. It’s up to you to decide how you’re going to save your people, and you can do so through either sacrificing those promises as a tyrant would or keeping them and working harder to save the kingdom.

The story is by far the most intriguing of the Fable series, but I would say the ending for this one isn’t as memorable for me. Without treading too far into spoiler territory, when someone close to your character died, I felt very little for that person. The reason was because this person was never part of my adventure; we shared no personal connection like marriage, and this person was a tag along who showed up only when the story demanded it. I felt more for my dog dying in Fable II than I did with this character in Fable III, and that’s pretty damn sad. This isn’t to say the game’s story is horrible, of course. It’s just that the characterization and the ending are weak.

The reason the story is generally more intriguing than its predecessors is because, when I made those promises in the beginning, I knew I would have to either honor them or do what I pleased like Logan did. That alone made me think about how I wanted to play my character. This led to my making many positive moral choices based on these promises because I wanted to be able to say when I reached a certain point, “This is who I am” without making a choice that was totally out of character. This was a very simple but far reaching storytelling mechanic; however, near the end of the game, the choices felt too black and white. At some point, I realized that I really didn’t care about the reasons for the choice, only that I wasn’t trying to break a promise and not be a tyrant. They felt hollow as a result, so I felt less intrigued by these story events as time went on.

The most limiting part of the game is the exploration because it’s very linear and annoying, especially when I’m used to more open-ended role-playing games. There were many times I would try to jump off of a ledge as a shortcut, only to find out that wasn’t an option. The only places where such an action was possible had been predetermined by the developer. This added many more hours to my game because the simplest actions to perform were now the hardest.

The combat is balanced as well as any game could be with three completely different combat styles. The problem with the keyboard-and-mouse setup is that it’s very clunky in combat. This got to the point where I had to grab my wired 360 controller because it was impossible to properly select a target in real time without it. The collision detection for the sword can be very iffy, too: there were times when an enemy was just barely outside the range of my swing or too close to it, and while my arm would pass through them, my sword wouldn’t make contact so nothing happened.

The rifle and magic aiming is very straightforward: point the left analog stick in the direction you want to go, wait for the target to light up, and release. As you increase your abilities in combat, you can charge up any of your attacks for more damage. The only combat element that was painful to use was the manual aim for the gun because it would appear super fast without a way to slow it down. Fortunately, this was only needed to make precision hits on certain non-combative objects. Thank goodness for that because otherwise, I would’ve given up on the gun at the beginning.

There are two main ways to earn money in Albion. The easiest but most time consuming way is by performing jobs that have quick time events like playing a lute, making a pie, or blacksmithing; however, these jobs give you only short-term benefits. The other way is to become a land owner. This requires that you maintain the upkeep on the homes you rent out, though the stores you purchase don’t have any upkeep. This has long-term benefits because this will generate income for you continuously, which plays a major part in your story later on. I chose to become a land owner like I did in Fable II, and while I became rich fast, I didn’t do so as quickly as I had done before. In other words, it’s much more balanced this time around.

The worlds graphics in general are beautiful, and what stood out to me the most were the effects on water and smoke. The towns and outdoor areas have their own distinct looks, none of which feel too similar beyond the appearances of the trees or the bricks of buildings. There’s no feeling like you’re looking at a cookie-cutter layout, either; it was all done individually and it shows. The only things that seemed generic were the bookshelves, mainly because they have only two or three of each type in the big rooms of the game.

The in-game graphic options don’t offer any resolutions beyond 1920 x 1080, but there’s a utility in the game’s directory that allows me to take advantage of the 5760 x 1080 resolution I use. This was a minor inconvenience because, if I needed to make a change to anything in the game, I would have to then exit the game and change my resolution again. The HUD was also centered on my middle screen, and unfortunately, it was the only thing that was centered. The world map was stretched across all three of my screens, and because of that, the frames per second would drop drastically in some situations. The load screens and pre-rendered videos suffered the same stretching, but that had no impact on performance. I’m actually happy with how it turned out, though, because honestly, I’ll live with these problems just to have the HUD centered.

The sound effects are crisp, but I can’t quite say the same about the dialogue. At first, Walter and Jasper gave excellent banter, and then a few other primary characters performed well, too. Then came the regular townsfolk, whose performances were just horrible in general. There’s not as much emotion being given by these characters; many lines of begging and other interactions sound more like whining rather than earnest requests for a savior, and even the fake gratitude felt forced. I heard my first major bug in the audio department, too: whenever any new dialogue queued up, I would hear a low crackle or a loud pop, and that’s hard on speakers. On the plus side, I never had problem listening to the music over and over again mainly because it was easy listening. Nothing stuck out like a sore thumb to make me want any other music.

The game has many hidden objects for you to find, making them long-term quests that consume a lot of time to gather them all. Despite the game having a very serious tone from the earliest parts, many jokes and puns pop up throughout that can either be read or heard. Some of them are adult orientated, but they’re not too vulgar. The multiplayer component is new to the Fable series, and it allows you to join a friend’s game and help them out or vice versa. You keep the rewards from these excursions, and they’re explained reasonably well by Jasper as being alternate universes, which I thought was a nice touch. You also gain certain rewards only by playing with others, so if you’re a perfectionist but not social, this might be a little more difficult.

The game menu was a major pain to reach because the start button doubled as the button to transport you in and out of your sanctuary. I could see why the start button was used on the 360, but for the PC, they should’ve remapped the game menu or sanctuary button. The best solution I found was to go to the sanctuary first and interact with a gear on the wall to bring the game menu up every time. The leveling system is easy, and by the end of the road, you’ll feel like it’s an uphill battle to get every level maxed. However, you’ll be able to max them with no problem so long as you don’t stick to just the core story. The load times between the sanctuary and the world were very quick despite their being two different areas.

In the end, Fable III has a fairly well-written story, but the game feels confined in its implementation of exploration and the black-and-white choices you have to make. I’ll admit the story kept me wanting to see what would happen next in the beginning, but as things moved forward, nothing about it was too surprising. At around the end, the story became hollow for me, and I never really thought about my choices at all. All I did was choose whichever option didn’t make me evil and moved on, so while they did succeed in keeping my attention, it wasn’t a memorable experience. Over all, this isn’t a game you’ll be talking about much to your friends. However, it’s a good distraction if you’re looking for a role-playing game that doesn’t require you to think that much.

PROS
* Smoke and water graphics
* Story is told well
* Far-reaching consequences for choices
* Primary characters’ dialogue is voiced well

CONS
* Linear choices
* Audio bugs
* Controls not made for PC keyboard and mouse
* Voice acting in general is boring
* Hard to become attached to primary characters

FINAL SCORE: C

Disclosure: The writer purchased the game through Steam. At the time of press, the writer had completed 100% of the game’s material on Normal difficulty.

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About Brandon Mietzner