Also available on: N/A
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Fable has always aimed to be ambitious. With its world intended to be as malleable as possible, the series has prided itself on hosting simple decisions that lead to far-reaching consequences. Up until now these moments were either too subtle or too inconsequential to be fully exploited, and so by becoming king or queen in Fable III Lionhead can show that such powerful decisions can exist, and the results are very intriguing indeed.
Of course, you need to earn the right to rule first. As the sibling of a tyrannous king that has brought the country to its knees, the bulk of the adventure is spent travelling the land to recruit allies that will help you take the seat of power and revert the industrious Albion back to a time when child labour and poverty wasn't commonplace. Not only do you have to convince leaders of your loyalty, but you must take to the streets and interact with the citizens, giving out warm hugs, handshakes and spare change to better your public image. It's a little contrived, especially since most actions are over-exaggerated, while a new hand-holding mechanic to tug or drag citizens feels remarkably intimate. You'll also find yourself embarking on sidequests to win favour, which are always superbly scripted and incredibly imaginative.
Fable II took great strides in streamlining the role-playing experience as much as possible, and things are further refined here. One of the main complaints was the lack of a proper map system, and now you can view quests and purchase properties from pretty much anywhere in the game. Experience points are no longer rewarded according to what skills are used in battle, but instead added to a pool of points shared with performing good deeds and completing quests. These are spent in the 'Road To Rule', an actual gated road lined with chests that unlock new spells, interactions and skills with accumulated experience. Similarly, the game replaces static menus with a hub kept by your butler, complete with wardrobe, trophy room and armoury. It makes all these housekeeping elements far more animated and lively, but at times can be long-winded to access, and it also feels far more game-like than anything epic and adventurous.
The combat is largely left untouched, with additions such as legendary weapons that atheistically evolve with use and spells that can be combined to create new effects. You generally don't have to worry about them, though, because overpowered magic that's easily spammable makes most battles a walkover, especially when you're largely coming up against familiar Hobbes and Hollow Men. It's so easy, in fact, that there's an Achievement for finishing the game without fainting in battle. It's unchallenging, certainly, but when dungeons remain short and sweet and continue to be aided by the golden trail and a canine assistant that give you the confidence to explore more thoroughly, it makes the game easier to get on with and always enjoyable to play.
When you finally become the ruler of the land by ousting your brother from the throne, it arrives with a remarkable tonal shift and plants you in situations more difficult than you'd imagine. Those promises you made to trusted allies and friends become incredibly hard to keep given the circumstances, and even though most choices are still binary in nature, they're drenched in grey and require remarkable resolve to go through with. Gamers who play their choice-driven RPGs with good intentions will have a tough time here, and in this regard it's an incredible achievement.
That is, while it lasts. The seat of power is short-lived, with its end arriving far sooner than expected, so much so that it comes as quite a shock. The decisions leading up to this point can be so painful to make that by not giving you the opportunity to fully carry out your duties, it feels cheap and, quite frankly, deceitful. It's an utter shame, because the game really grasps the truly world-changing moments that the series has been yearning for, having you genuinely stress over whether to drain lakes or enslave people, only to rubbish it all away by calling the credits far too early. Being a ruler is a powerful and unique experience, but it's so rushed that it leaves an incredibly sour taste, one far worse than that was left by the ending of the last game.
From there you more or less become an adventurer again, left to feel the consequences of something you didn't fully expect through little fault of your own. It's hard to shake the disappointment of the game's final moments, but as you sink into the riches of the post-game content that Albion has to offer, that feeling eventually washes away. Losing yourself in owning properties, adopting children and making pies shows that Fable continues to captivate and charm like few other role-playing games can, and does it with such ease and accessibility that you can't stay mad at it for long. It's still a magical experience, but those world-changing ambitions trip it up thanks to an uneven narrative, making the game's legacy more of a slap in the face than the masterpiece it could have so easily been.
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