Fable III (XBOX 360) Review

Just two years after the return of the Fable franchise in Fable 2 comes Fable 3, Lionhead Studio’s exceptional realization of the original game's promise.  For most of its 20-plus-hour playthrough (including the hefty number of sidequests, plus there's still plenty more to do post-game), Fable 3 maintains the reckless charm of its predecessors. Beyond just delivering the best Fable game to date, Fable 3 also delivers one of the most enjoyable action/adventure RPGs of the year.

Set 50 years after the previous game, Fable 3 introduces a host of physical and technological changes in Albion, but overpowering the existing leadership remains the same.  Fable 3 does, however, break the mold of previous outings by having the player begin not as an infant or toddler, but as a 20-something prince or princess who, although he/she is the child of Fable 2's Hero, is living in the tyrannical shadows of the older brother, King Logan.  Logan is driven by ego, quick to kill citizens for non-compliance and by his own admission says his actions will either destroy the world of Albion or bring it under his unyielding control. All of this is to say that it's time for you, as the new Hero/Heroine, to step in and do something. That sort of overthrow requires a revolution, a feat you can only accomplish if you earn the trust of the outlying people and their citizens and build a silent army powerful enough to overthrow the king.

Fable 3 is, like its predecessors, built around the odd mixture of a relatively linear story and world with a free and open task structure that exists within those confines.  It remains, at its core, a supremely accessible action-RPG. You still use a world map to zip around from area to area, you still roam the wildnerness/tomb/town with your trusty dog at your side and combat still consists of hitting X for melee attacks, Y for guns, and B for magic.  It certainly isn't Oblivion or Fallout in terms of scope, but it's definitely more than we've come to expect from the Fable franchise.

Talking with the citizens of Albion, completing tasks and finishing key plot points all lead to the hero accumulating Guild Seals.  After completing each plot-point mission, players are transported into a section of the Road to Rule, a path on which they can spend their Guild Seals to upgrade melee, magic or ranged powers; to gain the ability to own stores and houses; to learn new Expressions; to unlock the ability for people to love you; and to learn new magic skills altogether, among other things.

This upgrade strategy lets players spend as they wish, or decide to save all their Seals until the next section of Road to Rule opens up. This is a nice strategy as the game progresses, because you can always revisit previous sections of the Road to Rule if you decide you want to buy one of the upgrades you previously skipped. The only unfortunate component with this mechanic is that it can leave you with only two or three expressions to use, and you often have to decide between skill upgrades and social upgrades.

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As mentioned before, combat is simple enough and consists of the same controls as before. The A button lets you sprint, duck/roll, open doors and treasure chests and jump off/over anything that allows it. That's not to say there's no depth to the combat though, as players can combine magic to create new effects, hold down the B button to charge-up magic attacks or even flip quickly between attack types to spice up their style. Again, the spicing-up isn't necessarily an upgrade thing anymore, but the AI in Fable 3 is smart enough to adapt to repetitive attacks, and certain enemies are impervious to certain attacks.

Another thing that keeps the combat fresh is the ability to upgrade certain legendary weapons with new abilities/powers based on whether you meet certain criteria while using it. For instance, killing a set number of enemies at night will give you a 40-point modifier to nighttime combat with that weapon, killing a certain number of specific enemies or doing a certain number of flourish kills with that weapon will unlock additional modifiers. These weapon upgrades are sort of a game within the game, and they’re certainly worth taking advantage of.

The one area where Fable 3 hasn't improved upon its predecessor and, in fact, takes a large, awkward, and clumsy step back, is polish. Get used to texture pop-in, clipping, frame rate issues, laggy mini games, slow co-op load times and collision detection that will frequently have you impaling your loyal dog with a shovel.  In addition, the graphics are a mixed bag and probably could've used some more refinement as well.  However, the architecture and vibe are diverse and fun – particularly when you see some of the later towns and levels – and add a great touch to an already great game. While it's easy to complain about the presentation, it's tough to get caught up on it when there's so much else to appreciate.

The co-op components are improved from Fable 2, with players actually able to enter another player’s world to do battle, become business partners, exchange gifts, get married and even have kids.  Co-op play also provides a window into other player's worlds and their choices. Did they keep their promises as revolutionaries or surrender to the pressure of being a leader? Is the orphanage rebuilt in their Bowerstone? If your partner finished the game, do they have angel wings? Those choices make up the heart of Fable 3 and the opportunity to see the effects in another player's world are truly exciting, especially for those of you who are uninterested in a second play through.

Fable 3 feels like Lionhead finally delivered on the gameplay aspirations and creativity they first envisioned. Fable 3 doesn't strive to introduce new mechanics but is instead pre-occupied with fixing and streamlining existing ones. If Fable 2's unwieldy menus kept you from much of the amazing content that game had to offer, you're going to like what Lionhead's built for you now.