Fable III Review
Fable III box art
System: X360 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Lionhead Studios 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Microsoft Game Studios 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Oct. 26, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 (2 Online) 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Fighting for Albion
by Robert VerBruggen

Fable III does a lot right. Its storytelling is superb, and it introduces a number of worthwhile new features. Unfortunately, though, its unsatisfying combat and lackluster second half make it at least as much of a disappointment as it is a success.

Fable III screenshot

The game opens with a moment of sheer genius. It’s a cutscene about a chicken who escapes the man planning to slaughter him. As the chicken runs through town trying to avoid death, injury, and captivity, the narrator explains what’s going on in Albion today, fifty years after the events of Fable II. It’s an artistic and poignant way to introduce the theme of freedom that runs through the title.

Then you step into the shoes of your hero, a son of Fable II’s protagonist. (If you have a Fable II save on your hard drive, you can import your old hero’s attributes.) Unfortunately, you’re the younger son, and your older brother is ruling the land as a tyrant. It’s a scene straight out of Charles Dickens, with massive poverty, child labor, and a ruling class that can turn from exploitative to hostile at the drop of a hat. When you and a friend try to stop your brother from executing some innocent citizens, he offers to execute your friend instead. After making this choice, you flee the castle and plot to overthrow the king. This entails approaching Albion’s various unsatisfied factions and winning their support. You do them a lot of favors and make them a lot of promises.

Your struggle to become king—the first half of the game—showcases the series’ amazing storytelling. There’s a lot of gross-out, slapstick, and one-liner humor, but there’s also a tale about the fight against oppressive government. Your missions involve everything from putting on ridiculous costumes and performing in plays, to digging up a grave, to seducing a woman at the behest of her fed-up husband, to taking down a captain of industry who shoots his employees for not working hard enough. Anyone who doubts that video games can tell real stories should experience this.

Fable III screenshot

The gameplay, unfortunately, is a mixed bag. The developers succeeded in their goal of making Fable III not feel like an RPG; there are virtually no menus here. Even the pause menu isn’t a menu, but rather a “sanctuary” room in which you can change clothes and weapons, adjust the game settings, view your statistics, and save. You don’t level up in the traditional manner, but rather by opening treasure chests on the “Road to Rule” that improve your skills. Opening chests requires “guild seals,” which you earn by killing enemies and completing quests. While you’re on a quest, a sparkling line directs you to your next goal. This system works for the most part, though it got confused a few times during our time with the game.

The developers also succeeded in expanding upon the series’ trademark character dynamics. Performing good deeds makes your character traditionally handsome or beautiful, while performing evil deeds makes your character ugly. Your body also adjusts to your play style; shooting makes you tall, and melee combat makes you strong. Your weapons improve, becoming better at blocking and attacking as you use those skills. What’s amazing is that these processes don’t interrupt the game—they make you “level up” in a way, but you don’t have to distribute points or deal with long lists of attributes. Even the world around you transforms to reflect your decisions.

Fable III screenshot

The problem is that the combat isn’t even a little bit satisfying. For starters, it’s way too easy. You can’t die. You can only be “knocked out,” the penalty for which is that you lose whatever progress you’ve made toward your next guild seal. And even that doesn’t happen very often; we were knocked out only three times in our entire first playthrough. Fable III is an M-rated RPG with blood, profanity, and sex, but when it comes to difficulty, it takes its cues from the Lego franchise.

Perhaps the developers made the combat so easy because the controls are clunky, and anything more difficult would just be frustrating. Melee fighting in particular is a pain; your character takes too long to execute moves, including dodging, which leaves him open to attack for too long. Attacking with guns and magic is much more effective, but ranged attacks can be difficult to aim, thanks to the fact that there are always tons of enemies on the screen at once. In a nod to third-person shooters, the game allows you to aim guns manually, but it’s not practical to do so in the heat of combat. Overall, the developers could have learned a lot from Bayonetta, a game that combined melee and ranged combat, felt easy to control, and challenged the player.

Screenshots / Images
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