Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Fable III by Microsoft/ Lionhead

Name: Fable III
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Lionhead
Release Date: October 25, 2010
Type: RPG
Version: Limited Collector's Edition

In Fable III, the latest installment of the critically acclaimed Xbox 360 exclusive franchise, fans new and returning will now embark on an epic adventure, where the race for the crown is only the beginning of your spectacular journey. Five decades have passed since the events of Fable II, and Albion has matured into an industrial revolution, but the fate of the kingdom is at peril.From

My copy arrived a few days early due to the oddities of shipping and weekend deliveries so I had the weekend to devote to the game. My wife kissed me and said she's see me in a few days.

My history with the game is that I got Fable the day it hit the streets and then spent the next 24 hours or so glued to the TV/ Xbox. I loved Fable. It was almost perfect to me. Later I got Fable II at the midnight release. I didn't warm to it immediately. It was fairly different from the Fable I knew. Albion had changed and the way the game worked changed too. I didn't care for it at first but after a few restarts I warmed up and I fell in love with Albion again.

Now it's time for the third installment and Peter Molyneux has promised some sweeping changes...and I recall my feelings about that the last time around. I pre-ordered the Limited Collector's Edition as it looked to be worth the price difference.

Upon opening the package the game case looks like a book, with a secret compartment. Nicely done. Faux leather enclosure with magnetic snaps. Inside, apart from the game itself is a deck of playing cards with the face cards tarted up with nice artwork from the game as well as a metal medallion with the guild seal on it. Very nice! Also included are some DLC items which are of fair usage. Not great, not bad. I did use the sword, though the "lodge" I visited once and never used again (was unable to put "family" there.). The clothes were ok.

I completed the main storyline and most of the side quests in about 30 hours. Most of the achievements left are for multi-player or making it through the game without getting knocked out (only knocked out twice so far) or collecting all the gnomes/ keys, weapons etc. A good full-length game with a lot of replay value!

Some of the controls are the same, so that is helpful. Gone is the need to pull the right trigger to absorb all the orbs/ XP. I occasionally pulled the right trigger for that express purpose all the way until the end out of habit. It's a nice feature. Now you don't have to worry so much about not getting all your XP. On the flipside is that you also no longer have Strength, Skill and Will divided up. You get XP in the form of "Guild Seals" which is kind of the unified "coin of the realm" for experience now. A single pool of XP. With that pool you spend points to open sections along a metaphysical "road to rule". On this road you have unlocks for everything: spells, skills, expression packs, et cetera. Gone are the days of using renown to unlock expressions (or books) all willy nilly. It's not a bad system at all. I like it because it really simplifies things. The only negative things is that it limits your options quite a bit as you only unlock the road the rule in stages, not all at once. This means you are very limited in how you play your character. No longer can you be the crude and rude bastard early on or the roguish thief (early on)...the unlocks for thievery/ stealing and being rude aren't until later in the game. (Not really a problem for me as I tend to play a goody goody at first anyhow).

As far as expressions go, you only ever have an A or B choice. Good or Bad. Nice or Rude and you have no say so over which comes up when you have several available. When you interact, it chooses a Nice or Rude pair for you and rotates through them. There is a neat sparkly effect around the good choice and flames around the evil choice. Good is ALWAYS the "A" choice for example. It's clear that someone at Lionhead loves the idea of unified mechanics.

You have your pet dog (which we always call "Dig Spot") who helps with being personable, finding buried treasure and helping dispatch downed enemies. You have no control over his expressions either. He just has a "Charisma" score that helps you be more personable. He growls a lot at everything and tends to get separated from you a LOT (collision), so his helpfulness is pretty limited. Much more limited than in Fable II. With the Collector's Edition you have the ability to have him as a Border Collie or a Bulldog (just a changed skin).

Many things are the same: silver keys are scattered all over the world (though the number of boxes they open seem fewer) and there are now a hand full of gold keys which open a few special doors. The Gargoyles are gone, replaced by Gnomes. Well...not entirely gone. They use a couple of the gargoyles as props, but they aren't the Scottish raving bastards they were in Fable II. This time you have Raving Gnomes (English). The Gnomes seem a bit easier to locate as they gain you Guild Seals and consequently tie directly to XP and completion of the main quest line (versus a secondary quest with secondary payoff). Adversaries have become much simpler: a couple types of bad guy and a boss type for each, outlaws/ mercenaries (humans), Hobbes, Balverines, Hollow Men, etc. I understand the desire to simplify things, but visually it means fewer skins/ characters/ antagonist types and a limited look. Instead of fighting waves of a wide variety of critters, you have few racial types, and a few subtypes (skins) and that is it. It makes the combat a bit boring. On the flipside of this, there are some pretty heinous waves of baddies where you get bum-rushed by a horde and are completely surrounded very quickly.

Adding the the swarm effect is that there are no status bars on the Heads UP Display (HUD). You can't see how beaten up the bad guys are and your own health is shown in the same way many other games are showing it, a red halo effect on the screen when you're taking damage. This adds to the stress of the fights which helps distract you from the limited palate of adversaries.

You have only 6 or so spells available, though these can all be combined with each other for fun effects. For the first half of the game I used Fireball + Force Push so I could do damage and keep from getting swarmed. Later I switched to Fireball + Shock for damage dealing bad-assery. You advance in melee, ranged and spell skills by type (melee, ranged, spell) rather than per spell, which is awfully nice. When you amp up your spell ability, ALL your spells go up in power. Same with ranged skills, and melee, it is shared between all weapons.

Summon Creature, Slow Time, and Health Potion are it as far as potions go. There are no Resurrection Phials. You get knocked out, you come back with a bit of a blast to knock everyone back and a scar.

Digging and Diving for treasure...the same.

There's no access to a list of your inventory. No rotary wheels or dig-down menus. Instead, everything is handled through a Matrix-like "Construct" called The Sanctuary. Takes a bit of getting used to, it's a bit slow at first, but like the menus, you get used to it. I think a lot of folks will prefer this to dig-down menus.

Flourishes are more varied and looks awesome. A flourish that results in a kill, gives a kind of "finishing move" or "Fatality" where the character does some pretty nifty stuff like kicking a Hobbe in the face, then jumping on it's chest and driving the sword through it's head. Yeah, brutal, and AWESOME! (Same as Dragon Age when a Critical Hit results in a kill).

There seems to be a bit of collision issues going on occasionally, but I think this is due to tightening up of models and improving the visuals of the game. It's a trade off.

Again they have created a beautiful glimpse of Albion. Great detail has gone in to this and it shows. From the models to scenics to posters, it all looks great. The water alone is breathtaking.

Audio (Voice):
They went all out on voice actors this time. I won't spoil it, you can dig that up yourself. It's cool to hear the voice of Theresa and recognize it as well as hear the butler or Walter and recognize who the voice actor is. That said, I don't know if it necessarily helps the game or not. As long as the voice acting is believable I don't care who plays the part. I worry that money spent on voice talent could have been better spent on coding/ testing.

Audio (Music):
This is something Fable has always scored a critical hit on and this is no exception. Fantastic musical score. Even some nice reused bits to fit a retro theme.

Plot/ Story:
Again, another good one. This is a beautifully crafted direct sequel to Fable II. The Next Generation...literally. It is clear that a new installment is planned: there are some nicely clear holes in the plot. Stuff that you would think should be addressed...totally not. Bastards you want to put in a cage...several. Ohhh, we're not done with Albion by any stretch of the imagination. Nicely played Lionhead!

One thing they did which was excellent was with any achievement that requires you to do something X number of times, it gives a little pop-up that shows how many you have done so far. "Flower Child" Collected 18 of 30 Unique Flowers in Aurora. That is awfully nice.

While it is certainly different from Fable II (and very different from Fable) in how the system/ mechanics work out, it's entirely all Albion. The flavor remains the same and I do love it. I do feel that in many cases options, "breadth" has been seriously constrained. It several points it feels railroaded. (Note: It almost always IS a railroad, but usually effort is shown to give the illusion of freedom of choice.) On a few quests you have to go with a compatriot and really, you are just taking the guided tour of the game with little room for deviation (though it unlocks areas that you can go back through later. On one hand it rewards (as Fable always has) wandering off the beaten path by placement of lots of goodies away from the "sparkly path". On the other, often you are limited in being able to go any other way. Missions are neatly divided in to specific types: Fetch missions, Deliver missions, Escort missions, etc. and it's not transparent at all. It seems that immersion was the plan for part of the game (the HUD, simpler XP, etc.) that immersion is lost when you have to do really gamey stuff to progress (shake hands with everyone, dance with everyone to gain friends and get relationship quests of the above types.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I also realize that the game is evolving and I tend to be a bit slow to accept that evolution. Like Fable II it'll take me a bit to warm up to this a bit more.

Coming from the perspective of a fan of the series and seeing the changes and comparing to previous editions I would grade this with 3 stars. I think for folks who have nothing to compare it to (haven't played Fable or Fable II) they will enjoy it more and would likely give it a 4 of 5.

I'll split the difference and give it a 3.5 of 5.

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