After having a run at the Xbox 360, Lionhead Studios has brought Fable III to the PC. Is it still good to be the king or does the translation to the Windows PC platform leave something to be desired?
Oh, so you think you’ve got a story?
The land of Albion reigns on after the hero from Fable II passed the throne on to two children. Logan, the oldest, now sits upon the throne as the land enters the Industrial Age but has shown himself to be something of a tyrant what with the child labor, high taxes and executions of complaining workers. That’s where the players jump in as the younger prince or princess and Lionhead immediately thrusts the player into a pair of life or death, good or evil decisions thanks to Logan trying to teach his younger sibling a lesson. It’s “Viva La Revolution!” from there as King Logan’s twisted lesson sends players on a quest with their faithful dog to gather followers and an army to overthrow the tyrant king.
Like the two previous Fables, the good versus, life or death decisions run throughout Fable III but have much more dire consequences for the endgame. The first three-quarters of the game are spent exploring the land of Albion and meeting with different factions who all have a beef with Logan. These factions understandably look warily upon members of the royal family so players must gain support from these factions by completing quests to show that they are trustworthy and worth following. But there are also certain promises that have to be made that will come into play.
There is plenty to get distracted with along the way from meeting and talking with the people of Albion (and possible love interests) to side quests to simply exploring the different regions and cities of Albion as they are opened up. Playing through the entire game at least once and then again turned out to be a chore for me as I simply enjoyed completing the different side-missions and ‘goofing around’.
Lionhead should be applauded for bending the rules of the fantasy RPG genre in many ways but most especially for the final quarter of the game. Instead of simply ending at the overthrow of Logan, players have to rule the Kingdom and make choices within a game year that will affect the fate of Albion. Without spoiling a major plot point, let’s just say there is a horrible evil coming and the player is put in a Kobayashi Maru (no-win) scenario. The player faces choices like whether or not to repair an orphanage at a price or turn it into a profitable brothel or keep the promises that were previously made at a price. The player can choose to be a popular ruler at the cost of his people or looked at as no better than Logan which could cost the kingdom as well.
There is no easy way out with the endgame and it makes a tough but interesting resolution that may not sit well some players. However, this Kingly portion simply felt all too brief to me with the final confrontation coming suddenly and surprisingly not all that difficult. I got the feeling that the ending was less about the final battle and more about the effects of all your previous decisions.
Bah! I bet you fight light a girl.
The gameplay of the Fable series continues to be refined with the third entry. Menus are gone almost completely as everything in the game is based on physical interactions. Need to change your clothes? Then walk up to a mannequin showing the clothes you can wear. Need to purchase items? Then walk up to spot in the shop where that item is displayed. Leveling up is likewise physically represented by the “Road to Rule”, an otherworldly path to the castle that contains chests that will increase your powers and abilities. Players earn Guild Seals (XP points) through the game that will open these chests.
At times, this physical representation of what would normally be a quick menu system feels unneeded but it does add to immersion of the game a good bit. Fortunately, the PC version includes a number of hot keys for things like game saves.
Combat from Fable II remains relatively unchanged with three keys representing Melee, Range and Magic combat options. The left-mouse button can be used for a standard attack while the right-mouse button can be used to block, aim, or cast an area of effect spell respectively. Holding the mouse buttons down charges up the attack to dish our more punishment while timing the attack well can result in gratifying slow-motion kill sequences. A game controller can be used in the game as well though players may opt for the traditional PC controls due to the quick key options available.
The conversation mechanic has been streamlined more from Fable II as the conversation tree is gone. Instead, players are presented with three random choices representing good, evil and comical responses. This can lead to awkward situations like dancing with another male instead of simply shaking his hand if that is your desire. Oddly, the citizen’s sexual orientation did not appear to matter with their responses to the player’s actions.
One thing I wasn’t a fan of was the three jobs available in the game – Lute playing, pie-making and blacksmithing. They are a good way to make money, especially at the beginning, but are identical in their execution which turns them tedious quickly.
You hear voices in your head, don’t you?
Fable III’s real strength is in its story, quests and voice acting. Lionhead not only created an interesting world of characters but filled them with the voices from John Cleese, Stephen Fry, Simon Pegg, Ben Kingsley and others that added layers of depth and quality. Hearing Fry in particular do the voice of the decadent Reaver was simply delicious.
While there are a couple of duds with the side quest, there are a number that go beyond the simple “Go hear and kill this/fetch this” mechanic found in many RPGs. Oh sure, there are some of those but nothing that can match being thrust into a miniaturized Dungeons & Dragons game by a trio of nerds that would make Monty Python proud or to get caught up in the ghostly bickering of a pair of dead brothers with serious Mommy issues. And then there are the gnomes. Those evil little foul-mouthed gnomes had me wincing with laughter every time I heard them. The British style of comedy and charm runs deep in Fable III so players will find plenty to laugh at in the game if that is up their alley.
We knew all that from the Xbox 360 you frittering dolt. What about the PC?
The port from the Xbox 360 to the PC is a smooth one for the most part but with a couple of hitches. Lionhead a number of graphical options including higher resoultions and graphical effects not available on the Xbox 360. My PC has an AMD Athlon XII 250 processor, 4GB of RAM and a Radeon HD 5750 1GB video card. Not a beastly gaming rig but one that far exceeds the game’s recommended requirements. Still, I was running into slow-downs and lock-ups frequently until I dropped the resolution down to 1280×800. Even then I would experience slow-downs when coming into cities or during intense battles.
Performance issues aside, Lionhead smartly included a number of customization options for the PC from customizeable key bindings to graphical options. This should help relieve any worried about Fable III being a straight console port.
So is it Good to be the King?
With its third try, Lionhead Studios has created a behemoth of a fantasy RPG that is easily accessible and a delight to go through while being good, evil or somewhere in between. I wish that the final quarter as King would have been drawn out a little more with additional sidequests but the game doesn’t end at the endgame as players can continue to explore Albion with sidequests or just goofing around. The journey is delightful though and I wouldn’t mind hanging out in the world of Albion some more.
Fable III is available at retail, Games for Windows Live and Steam.
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Five Stars – Excellent. May not be a perfect game but it is truly top-notch.
Four Stars – Great. An above average game that is definitely worth a look.
Three Stars – OK. Not a bad game but it doesn’t necessarily standout.
Two Stars – Below Average. Could have been a contender but something is holding it back.
One Star – Poor. You get the idea.