It’s been two years since I last reviewed a _Fable_ game for the Boar. Back then, when I hadn’t heard of ‘Smack’ or even considered venturing out of campus, the world seemed a simpler place. Bush was on the way out and Obama was going in. Students were worrying about the TES, instead of tuition fees. How times have changed. Now, when I look at the news, students are smashing down the front of Millbank Tower, tuition fees are rising to £9000, the Liberal Democrats have teamed up with the Conservatives and Obama took a beating in the mid-terms. Can _Fable III_ take me back to those happier times?
I loved _Fable II_; it was an awesome game that I enjoyed playing for months. One thing I didn’t quite understand, however, was the way Peter Molyneux (the lead designer for Lionhead) sold the game. He described to the press in lavish terms how the game would wrangle the player’s emotions and how they would, in no uncertain terms, fall in love with their in game pet. For me, I never cared for my canine companion. In fact, I gladly let him die without so much as a second glance.
So, when the hype for _Fable III_ began to start, I took everything he said with a pinch of salt. One thing, however, caught my attention. Whilst talking about emotional attachment, Molyneux described how your companion for the adventure, Walter, is suddenly blinded. The choice then falls to the player to either leave him behind, or guide him through the desert yourself. It sounded a simple choice, until Molyneux declared that ‘if I said it’s going to take 25 minutes to cross that bit of desert with Walter, that’s a real choice you’re making.’
25 minutes in a game is a lot of time. That sort of decision would certainly test the boundaries of a gamer’s patience. As I read the article I began to develop the thought that maybe, just maybe, this game would tug on the heartstrings more than Fable II.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. In reality, when approached with the decision, I immediately decided to take Walter’s hand and guide him across the desert. It was here that, after 20 seconds, I was interrupted by a cut-scene that blew my previous decision completely out of the water. The entire game is similar. Lionhead pride themselves on making games that respond to players’ choices, but in reality, the player is disappointingly forced down certain paths that they themselves might not want to take. For a game about ‘revolution’ it feels awfully like a dictatorship.
Take the final quarter of the game as an example. At this point, the promises you made on the ‘Road to Rule’ (which you had no control over), will have to be fulfilled or ignored. On top of these difficult choices, Theresa (your mystical guide) suddenly drops a massive bombshell on you. Dark times face the kingdom of Albion. Can you keep your guarantees and have enough resources to defend your people?
It sounds exciting. Difficult choices will have to be made, as friends you have met on your journey might have to be let down for the good of your country. However, it simply boils down to money. If you don’t have enough cash in the treasury, your kingdom will be completely wiped out. The game turns into a balancing act of such ridiculous amounts that you lose any ounce of care you had for the kingdom of Albion. If you want Albion’s residents to love you and save every last soul in the kingdom, you should have at least 10,000,000 gold pieces saved before sailing to Aurora (which is a lot of money).
As king, the choices that you make are forced upon you and are, to be frank, boring. You sit on the throne, listen to two sides of an argument and press A or X to decide. Before your subjects begin speaking you already know which button to press, as the choices are such polar opposites of each other that your decision is made in a split second. The only thing that keeps this section mildly entertaining is Reaver, the devil’s advocate, voiced by the brilliant Stephen Fry.
In fact, the greatest strength of _Fable III_ is its script. Quests are entertaining simply for the dialogue held within them. The voice-overs, by famous actors such as John Cleese, Ben Kingsley and Bernard Hill, are a delight to listen to. It’s just a shame that the game mechanics can’t live up to the same high standard. Everything from _Fable II_ has been simplified to appeal to a wider audience, and as a result the game’s freedom has been taken away from the player. Interactions with Albion residents are now limited to two options and combat has been reduced to simple button mashing with the occasional charging attack.
In short, the end of _Fable III_ is so broken that it negates the enjoyment had before. Your efforts to become a better king seem in vain when the final outcome is only affected by the funds in the treasury. For me, this disappointment stopped me from starting the game again, as I knew how little my choices really meant. _Fable III_ is a good, entertaining game. It just feels that Lionhead didn’t take a step back to look at the wider picture. If they had, this game could have been the pinnacle of the series. Instead, it’s as disappointing as the stark reality of your final year at university. To be a fresher again!