Review: “Fable III”

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It's a revolution, baby. (Well, sort of).

Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆

Fifty years after saving the land of Albion from the madman Lucien Fairfax, the Hero of Bowerstone from “Fable II” has passed on, leaving his eldest son Logan to rule the land with a tyrannical fist. This is where the player steps in, taking on the role of the late Hero’s youngest son (or daughter), spurred on by recent injustices committed by the throne to overthrow his/her brutish brother. Central to the game then is the concept of revolution:  The Prince/Princess must gather allies throughout Albion to help oust the sitting monarch. But once in power, the player must decide whether or not to keep any promises s/he may have made to those allies, a reality that manifests itself as the country balances limited treasury funds with the many needs of its people. It’s an intriguing premise for a game that makes for enjoyable gameplay. Unfortunately for a game about revolution, “Fable III” feels less like a revolution and more like a devolution.

The “Fable” franchise has never been about complex storylines; it’s always been about good, cheeky fun, paired with great gallows humor. Though simplicity has its charm (what might be construed as shallowness can keep things light and the storyline from getting overwrought), unfortunately simplicity here does a number on “Fable III.” On a technical level, the game is a bit of a throwback compared to “Fable 2.” Though made more easily accessible, the weapon/spell mechanics come across as not so much streamlined as dumbed down. Even in terms of morality, which the “Fable” series has leveraged so well (that is, the choice given the player to align him/herself with the good, the bad, or neutral), everything is cut and dried. There’s a certain predictability to everything:  Hold the green “A” button on your 360 controller and you’ll always be doing the “right” thing. Pretty soon you’ll be sprouting angel wings (literally; the player will “morph” angel or devil wings during battle, depending on his or her past actions). Though the answers may be transparent, the questions “Fable III” throws at its players are very topical. I became king of Albion on Election Day (that is, I overthrew Logan the same night the Repubs turned the electoral map red through the massacre of so many Dems), and I was thrown into the fray straightaway. I had to figure out whether to bail out financial institutions (ha!), and elevate spending for the good of the people. Also at several points, I was afforded the choice to transfer my own funds (that is, my avatar’s personal gold claimed in-game) to the kingdom’s treasury to compensate for shortfalls. Made me feel like Meg Whitman, haha. I’m just glad I didn’t have a bicameral Congress to spar with–as king after all, all my decisions became the law of the land just like that!

You can dress up your Hero...or not.

The voice work, though not the most excellent, is still very good. John Cleese’s Jasper has a certain innocuousness to him, which is just right given his role as your guide throughout the game; but also, he provides often pleasantly random comic relief throughout. Stephen Fry as the morally challenged immortal Reaver is sinister but not too. Simon Pegg as Ben Finn is lovably gruff. Ben Kingsley’s Sabine is somewhat throw-away, but still good. Zoe Wanamaker’s Theresa remains intriguing as the mysterious and morally ambiguous soothsayer, but more for what we know of her in the past games (though her role here is limited, I still can’t wait to find out what her ultimate role is in the whole series, i.e. is she good or bad?). But most importantly, I love that the playable character finally has a voice (much like with the main character Hawke in Bioware’s upcoming “Dragon Age 2,” though probably much less prominent). Though it can work (such as with “Final Fantasy VIII” and “Dragon Quest VIII”), having the main character not utter a word throughout a game can often render him/her hollow. It’s the unfortunate and ironic trade-off for allowing an open-ended interactive experience for the player. Still, the Prince’s dialogue here is maintained at a minimum so his words don’t override the agency of the player.

It does feel like “Fable 3” is a regression, which is ironic given the progression of time in the game series (we’ve come from the Middle Ages [or something] to the Industrial Age in the span of three games). Still it’s good, cheeky fun. I found myself laughing throughout at the game’s constant self-deprecating humor. (One of my favorite quests involves helping three wizards [aka “nerds”] with their role-playing game; the quest manages to be both meta and poke fun at role-playing geeks and the conventions of the RPG genre, i.e. the buxom damsel of distress, the necessity of story in a video game, etc.). It also provides great escapism:  It’s nice to be able to buy houses relatively easily and get same-sex hitched and have kids, when in real life I can hardly get any of my home buying offers accepted and it’s illegal for me to marry the man of my dreams and/or adopt, ha! (I’ve always loved “Fable” and Peter Molyneux for being gaymer-friendly). It may not have the greatest story and it would be nice if future installments of the series truly felt more like a revolution, but “Fable III” can still provide a very enjoyable and meaningful experience.

Have you played the game? I invite you to share your thoughts!

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