When it comes down to it, in spite of a slew of broken promises and a slightly unhealthy disregard for his own public image, Peter Molyneux has made some great games, and chief amongst them is 2008’s Fable 2. Perhaps it didn’t sparkle quite as brightly as Mr. Molyneux had suggested, but it was still a funny, charming, third person action RPG, that was a cut above the rest in terms of polish, acting quality and, most importantly, fun. Which is why Fable 3 has been greeted with such anticipation. Perhaps, finally, the third try will slot everything we’ve been promised into place, build on the fine foundations that Fable 2 laid and create the masterpiece that Molyneux has always been dangerously close to completing. Unfortunately though, that promise remains unfulfilled.
Fable 3 is set 50 years after the events of its prequel, in the land of Albion, and casts you in the role of the son or daughter of the hero of the previous game. A lot has happened in the half a century since we last saw Albion; an industrial revolution for one thing. There are still fields of green and twee villages to explore, but the capital city, Bowerstone, is now a soot stained, red brick port, replete with cranes, steamers, orphanages and a grimy, Steam Punk art style. The other major change is that your brother is now king, and isn’t doing a particularly good job of it. The peasants, as they say, are revolting. Queue an epic story of revenge and revolution, as you escape your brother’s iron fist in order to drum up enough support to stage a coup.
Around two thirds of the game is spent building your revolutionary army, with the final third taken up with ruling the country. There are other plot developments and twisty turny twists along the way, but spoiling them would spoil the game; suffice to say, everything may not be as it seems. The mechanics of the game will be instantly familiar to anyone who played Fable 2; a three pronged combat system, a glowing trail of breadcrumbs to follow and a faithful dog yapping along by your side. There are plenty of sidequests to divert you from the main story, and plenty of villagers and townsfolk to make friends with, if you see fit.
What might not be so familiar is the new gesture system, which his been changed dramatically. Making people like you is now as simple as interacting with them, then holding down A until they ask you to go do a quest for them. The system feels far less fluid and intuitive than it did in Fable 2, and at times seems like a step back for the series; the gesture wheel of Fable 2 is a more refined and elegant way of dealing with the problem and offered the player a greater choice and variety of interactions. This is also the case with the much vaunted ‘touch’ system that was heralded as a startling new development in video game technology. What it in fact equates to is a slightly broken follow system, and plays such a minor part in proceedings that it’s strange they even mentioned it at all.
Fable 3 was also championed as a game with a solid moral centre; choices would be difficult and would have dramatic effects on the outcome of the game. This is sort of true, but after games like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age, the morality on show here is childish in the extreme. To use an example from the game itself, at one point you’re given the choice between refurbishing an orphanage at cost to your treasury, or turning it into a brothel and reaping the reward. There’s no third option, no – don’t refurbish the orphanage but let the orphans stay there anyway – it’s as black and white as black and white can be. This sort of egregiously polarised decision making might have been acceptable in the past, but now it’s almost insulting to us as players.
This is not to say that Fable 3 is a bad game; far from it in fact. There’s buckets of fun to be had, but all the while you can’t help thinking that something has gone missing. Fable 2 was a whimsical game, that played on ideas of heroism and story telling; Fable 3 is more like a colour by numbers copy. There are parts of the game where it feels just as good as Fable 2, if not better; the revised levelling up system, which basically disregards levelling up, is a solid step toward more accessible RPG gaming and the voice acting is truly superlative, what’s lacking is the heart of its elder brethren.
Fable 2 was such a British game that it was a breath of fresh air in the gruff, testosterone fuelled world of video gaming, but Fable 3 falls down because it tries too hard to recapture what was effortless before. Everything feels ever so slightly forced, as though the development team were desperate to make the game that little bit more twee, that little bit more whimsical, that little bit more (god forbid) quirky, and in doing so have missed out on exactly what made Fable 2 so great.
Fable 3 still has its moments, but at times it feels like you’re playing a demo version, a basic broth that’s waiting to have all of its flavour added. When it emulates its prequel it’s a joy, but when it tries to stride out on its own, it falls flat, lacking the innovative flair that made its prequel so eminently enjoyable. If you view Fable 3 as sort of a stop gap, a 2.5 redux of the original, then its faults are easier to bear. It’s not as funny, but it’s still funny. The quests aren’t as clever, but they’re still clever. It looks like we’re going to have to wait another two years or so to see if Peter Molyneux and Lionhead can finally come up with the goods they keep claiming they’re able to make.
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