Xbox 360
Fable 3 (Xbox 360)

Posted by Phill Cameron (October 11, 2010)

The hero doesn’t die. That’s not how it goes. Heroes are the story, the lifeblood that courses through the veins of the plot, and when they go down, it’s only so that they can have a miraculous comeback and build up some drama. So what happens when you take away death, and the fear of it?

That was one of the questions that Fable 2 asked. And the answer they came up with was that they shouldn’t be threatening your life, but rather the lives of those around you. You had your dog, you might have had your family and you had the lives of everyone else in the land, all in your hands to varying degrees.

Fable 3 is taking that one step further. Peter Molyneux, the infamous Creative Director of the Fable series and general Lionhead top cat, gave a talk at the Eurogamer Expo about the genesis of Fable, and how everything that they’ve done is informing everything that they’re going to do.

“Fable 3 is undoubtedly the best Fable that’s ever been,” he said. It sounds like typical Molyneux hyperbole, but if you take a step back and actually have a look at that statement, it’s kind of obvious. Sure, Fable 3 should be the best Fable that’s been so far, because you’re constantly reiterating and improving.

And so, they’re making you the King. They’re giving you a butler, and “within the first ten minutes of Fable 3, we give you a decision of equal worth to the end of Fable 2.” They’re running in with the big guns blazing, and they’re making a big deal about it. The set up for the game has been well documented; you’re the brother (or sister) of a tyrannical leader, and for the first half of the game you’re leading a rebellion against him, enlisting the help of all the downtrodden and oppressed masses, before taking the mantle of King (or Queen) yourself.

“You are going to be King, and your land of Albion will be very much up to you, and the decisions you make.”

It’s an interesting idea, not least because Lionhead are putting a heavy emphasis on the promises and decisions you make on your path to the monarchy. Say you need the help of a village to further your campaign; they might make you promise to rebuild their library once you reach the top. Of course, whether you keep that promise or not is up to you.

Which is all interesting and exciting, but that wasn’t what was on display here. No, instead I was presented with a cookie-cutter hero, an armoury full of weapons and an army of skeletons. It seems they were trying to kill me, y’see, and so I did it to them first.

“The idea of one button combat was to make you feel heroic," Molyneux explained, "make you feel like you could do some fantastic, incredible moves. The inspiration of Kill Bill was ‘why don’t we change what you do by the context’.” The context he’s talking about here is the sudden change from slaughtering henchmen in their dozens, before a long, drawn out fight scene with a ‘boss’ character. Of course, a lot of games have attempted this, but only to varying success; could Fable 3 finally be the game to cast off the caveat of ‘Boss means tonnes, and tonnes, and tonnes, of hitpoints’?

From what I played, that’s still somewhat of an issue. Someone shouted out something along the lines of ‘Higgins! I told you to stay dead!” As a huge corpse slowly rose out of a freshly dug grave. This, evidently, was Higgins. But his half-decayed corpse and the gaping, presumably fatal hole in his midsection belie the fact that, well, he probably still is dead. Just... reluctantly so.

It’s here that the design ethos for Fable 3 starts to show its face; it began in Fable 2 with the one-button system, but they’re refining the concept of removing frustration and complication through simplifying and reinventing tried and true systems. Combat has become a 300-inspired affair, riddled with slow motion camera cuts and over-the-top flourishes. It all looks great, and it’s even kind of fun to play. For a bit.

They’re also tearing out the menu system from the previous game, and putting in an interactive map environment. Instead of having an inventory for all your weapons, you’ve got an armoury, somewhat akin to the Assassin’s Creed 2 manour, although a lot less spread out. There’s also a walk-in closet, for all your dressing up needs, not to mention a great big whopping map in the middle of it all.

I’ll be honest; in my entire time with the game, it was the map that impressed me the most. Perhaps it’s just a gimmick, and after one, two, twenty hours, the lustre will wash away. But as it stands, you have a great big magnifying glass, and you can zoom in on any settlement you like. And it’s at this point that things get interesting.

You see, this isn’t just a map, it’s more an aerial view of the game world, with people moving through the streets, conversing, and everything. You can watch them go about their daily lives, see events play out in real time, and if this is used beyond just a gimmick, I can imagine some real innovation coming around. I’m thinking of witnessing crimes, commanding armies, spying on your spouse. I mean, what’s the fun of power if you’re not going to abuse it?

It also allows you to get a good handle on which quests you want to do, and which are outstanding. Following the tried and true method of ‘Exclaimation mark over head’, any NPC that has something for you to do is clearly marked in this view, just waiting for you to teleport down to his level. It’s a touch Black and White, a touch Olympus, and it’s very fun.

It all seems to tie into the other main thing that Lionhead are trying to do with Fable 3. They want “A story that involves you the player rather than you as a character in the game.” They state “You’re a unique human being, so why shouldn’t your character be unique?”. These are the things that RPGs, particularly in the past few years, have struggled with when introducing morality. Without a vested interest in the two sides of a choice, people aren’t going to see it as a moral issue. It purely becomes about which benefits their game more.

I don’t know if Fable 3 is going to overcome that obstacle. I think that the idea of keeping promises is an interesting way to tackle it. Removing player vulnerability, and instead transferring it onto those around the player is a clever design decision, even if it means just having you constantly accompanied by walking, barking vulnerability.

One things for sure, though. Fable 3 is going to be big, and it’s not going to disappoint a lot of people. It’s building upon its predecessors, and it’s doing something new with the entire concept of a hero, putting more responsibility at your feet and trying to challenge you as a person rather than you as a player.

Oh, and guys?

“Dog’s back.”

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