Fable III [Xbox 360]

Fable III is, let’s face it, more Fable. If you played and enjoyed Fable II, with its three-button combat, property mogul side quests, and constant running back and forth, you are going to enjoy its sequel, which is more of the same, with some added bells and whistles. More surprisingly, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Fable III even if this is your first experience with the series.

If you’ve seen the beautiful Revolution trailer, set to the incredibly moving Young Men Dead, you may have already experienced the hair-raising aesthetic Lionhead are determined to channel. Although the strictures of the RPG genre with its quests and dungeons and gradually opening world frequently detract from this intention, when it works, it really works.
[img_big]center,2091,2010-11-18/combat_and_leveling_up__2_.jpg,By the power of Greyskull![/img_big]

You can, should you have the time, finish the game with full completion in a couple of days, seeing and doing everything. You will probably want to. The game pits you against a tyrannical ruler, and sets you the task of winning to your cause various factions scattered throughout the land. Witnessing the degradation of a once-proud kingdom, and building your own underground nation under your brother’s eye, is very satisfying, and taking the crown of Albion (much closer to the end of the game than you have been led to believe; be warned!) is a triumphant moment.

Nevertheless between then and now you have a lot of game to slog through, and most of it is, as mentioned above, more Fable. Once again you’ll find yourself hoarding XP and balancing the level up demands of three primary skillsets – melee, ranged, and magic – and then wondering why you bothered when almost every battle can be won by hammering one button over and over again. You’ll spend hours working at mind-numbing mini-games to save the dauntingly high amounts needed to invest in decent properties, only to find that having done so, you have more cash than you know what to do with by halfway through the game. Both of these grinding activities, which largely form the heart of the gameplay outside of following the path and listening to people talk, have been polished and refined since the last title with cool new features, and are better for it, if not startlingly so.
[img_big]center,2091,2010-11-18/combat_and_leveling_up__5_.jpg,Interesting choice of sword-stand, there.[/img_big]

One of the most interesting new additions is the Sanctuary. Responding to deserved criticisms of Fable II’s sluggish menu system, Lionhead have replaced long lists of items with a visual inventory system. This proves much more fun than scrolling through text entries but can be a little frustrating when you just want to switch weapons quickly, and instead have to load the Sanctuary, put up with a loading screen between the main room and the weapons racks, and then browse through a number of near identical weapon models – meaning you’re reduced to reading the text entries, anyway.

It’s not much faster than the old method, and while some streamlining has been implemented (players can now only carry one kind of food, for example, and vendor trash is only browsable at vendors), my biggest criticism of Fable III must be the dragging pace – not of the story or the action, but of the interface. Before you can interact with NPCs, you have to pause a moment. Before you can play a mini-game, you have to pause a moment. Before you can look at things in shops, you have to pause a moment. Before you can dig up a treasure, you have to pause for about seventeen moments while your appallingly stupid dog runs repeatedly around a tree on the other side of the level. There are loading screens everywhere. Even with a full install to the Xbox 360 hard drive I often found myself waiting for up to half a minute for the trail to my next objective to appear, or for assets to load into stores and houses. These are all small moments that add up to a near intolerable delay to getting into the actual game, and this is a particular shame when the story sucks you in so deeply that you just want to delve deeper.
[img_big]center,2091,2010-11-18/fable_iii_screenshot_cave.jpg,There very probably is treasure here.[/img_big]

And you will be sucked in – eventually. While the overarching aim of taking he kingdom is exciting, the devil is in the details and the minutiae of achieving this lofty goal are dull. For the vast majority of the game Fable III plods along with yawn-worthy predictability, stringing together a number of dungeon-delving quests in a less than subtle way. When things do start to pick up, it happens so suddenly, and so late in the game, that the whole thing feels divorced from what has come before, and somewhat tacked on.

This is a great pity, because the sequences and set pieces that deliver this twist are among the best to be found in gaming. It’s impossible to describe without major spoilers, and I mean spoilers in the most literal sense – knowing what’s ahead will spoil any chance you have of enjoying it as it should be enjoyed. A devastatingly clever mix of environmental design, character interaction, climactic action and a genuinely stunning moral decision culminate in a journey through the emotional wringer that is not to be missed. (Don’t forget to visit the Sanctuary when it all gets a bit overwhelming. Trust me.)
[img_big]center,2091,2010-11-18/Fable_III_screenshot_Hero_with_Daughter.jpg,She’s actually bait for a quest.[/img_big]

On release, the game’s bugginess was a major detraction, but some admirably quick patching has resolved many of the more frustrating issues. Still, no game is perfect, and Fable III is a particularly fine example of this rule, containing a mix of everyday humdrum, ambitious but not quite successful innovations, and a plethora of irritations. It’s the final ingredient in this heady blend – moments of breathtaking brilliance –that lift it above the pack and make it worth your time. Lionhead are to be applauded for what they’ve built with Fable III, and if you can swallow its flaws you’ll find it well worth your time. It’s solid, and it shines. What more can you ask?

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