- Nov 16, 2008
- Reaction score
I'm just going to come right out and say it. As far as I'm concerned, Fable III is a step backwards from Fable II and a big disappointment. Both games have huge flaws, but unlike Fable II which was able to overcome its issues, leaving an experience where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, I think Fable III is defined by its failings because the experience doesn't come together into a unified whole nearly as well. Let's break it down.
A good starting point for talking about Fable III is the fact that there's less emphasis on the choice of being good or evil. This makes sense because the game is structured around the player leading an uprising against his despotic brother and becoming king. Being evil is basically at odds with the journey Lionhead is trying to take the player on, as the player is defined by being in opposition to an evil character.
Being good or evil is still technically a choice, but whereas there were plenty of incentives to be evil in Fable II, that path simply doesn't feel as fleshed out or integrated into this title. And as mentioned, taking it wouldn't make a great deal of sense either.
Now, it's fine for Fable III to step a little away from that dichotomous choice. After all, we've had two games built around it already, and to some extent the most powerful moments in Fable II weren't necessarily when players were faced with a simple choice of good or evil, but when they were asked what they were prepared to sacrifice to do the right thing, or to do the selfish thing.
The ending of the game was the ultimate example of this. Do you choose to sacrifice your dog and your family in order to bring back all those that were killed, or do you resurrect the few you love at the expense of the many? Or do you simply let everyone stay dead but become ridiculously wealthy?
That was a choice that really got to the heart of role-playing in a relatively complex, nuanced world, because choosing to help the many is genuinely at great personal expense. The choice will have a significant impact on your game. Same with the choice earlier in the game to save the sacrifice that will leave the player hideously scarred if they choose to do so.
The end game of Fable III is clearly an attempt to pose more of those questions to the player. The set-up – as you no doubt know – is that by the time you've become king, you've made a number of promises to different people and factions. You want to honour those promises and be a noble leader, but what will you do if you can't keep them all? How will you choose?
Great idea, but here's where Fable III falls apart.
Why? Because the team has made the choices economic in nature. It's not "you can build an orphanage and a school for Bowerstone OR you can honour your promise to that far-flung nation who helped you out". Instead, it's "you can build an orphanage, which will cost you 300,000 gold, or you can turn it into a brothel, which will earn you 500,000 gold". This whole section of the game operates on the supposition that the player won't have enough money to do everything and will have to make hard choices in order to try and keep the coffers full. (I won't go into why the coffers need to be full, but let's just say that it's crucial that they are.)
The problem is that with some smart early investments, the player will have enough money to do everything. Like Fable II, you see, Fable III has a full economic system that allows the player to buy shops and houses. Prices at the former can be adjusted, while the latter can be rented out. Any investments like these that the player has brings in income every five minutes in the game.Now, that's fine, and for the first couple of hours the player has very little money so can't really start buying up property. It's not long, however, before players who like to explore will have a serious windfall and the game balance starts to spiral out of control. Specifically, once you've found ten silver keys you'll be able to open the chests that require said number. And what's inside? 50,000 gold. Within half an hour of finding my tenth silver key I had 100,000 gold – way more money than I'd had in the game until that point.
What did I do with it? Well, I didn't buy weaponry, because the weapons you start with are fine (in fact, I only changed swords and guns once in the entire game). Nor did I buy items or clothes, because I had no need for them. Nope, I invested the whole lot into a couple of businesses. Doing this means your income goes up markedly, and if you re-invest all the money that's coming in on more businesses and rental properties (again, it's worth stressing that there's very little of genuine value to actually spend it on outside of property), you again raise your income and can invest more.
In Fable III money begets more money, and the more time you spend playing, the more money you have. By the time I became king I owned every business and residence I was – at that point – able to buy. And if you want to really sure things up, you can simply plug in a wired controller so that the game never pauses, position your player somewhere safe and leave the machine on overnight. In the morning you'll have millions in gold.
This is not cheating, it's simply using the tools the game gives you to try to find a solution to the overarching 'paradox' the game poses. And yet it negates the entire point of the endgame. You can afford to do EVERYTHING. You never have to make the 'difficult' choice. You can honour ALL your promises and still have the money required.
In the end the only real choice you have is: "do I want to be nice or do I want to be an utter ***?" and given the game pushes you to be noble from the off, it's unlikely that it's a real choice by the time you become king. Oh, there's also the choice: "when I've finished the main game, do I want the world to be full of brothels, quarries and disgruntled people, or would I prefer universities, lakes and adoring subjects?"
I'd imagine that most people who spent much time with Fable II will be familiar with the power of investing, but it's not even necessarily something you have to do at the start of the game. There's a Demon Door that rewards the player with 1,000,000 gold when they become king. Spend that on houses and businesses and if you take your time getting to the end of the game you can build up a huge sum of money.
As mentioned earlier, it plays out this way because the questions are economic in nature. Not basing the endgame on money could have been far more powerful and could still have led to meaningful ramifications for the game's climax. At the very least the game shouldn't hand out heaping piles of gold too early, or perhaps the option to buy property should be locked until much later in the game.
That's probably the biggest disappointment in game design terms in Fable III, but it's by no means the only one. Let's go through a few. The conversation system has taken a big step back and is now – frankly – laborious and clunky. You must actually enter into conversation now, instead of just performing emotes in front of people, and the timing system from the last game has been replaced by a very plain mechanic that requires no skill. There's less choice, it's less interesting, it's not as well designed and it actually feels far less social. Dealing with people in general has been dumbed down too. Sure, you can still get basic stats on each person, but the more involved information from the last game are nowhere to be seen.The series still doesn't have a map system that works for adventuring. No mini-map, only a pause menu map that's fine for buying property, setting quests and seeing where Demon Doors are, but not for actually exploring the world. Instead, you'll once again be forced to blindly follow the bread crumb trail, and you'll still only have a nebulous idea how different regions join one another. Oh, and as players of the Fable games have come to expect, there are numerous bugs and areas lacking in polish, including the bread crumb trail's habit of disappearing semi-regularly.
Next one. The menu system. Fable II's menu system was a disaster – players couldn't tell whether they had an item in their inventory while shopping; they couldn't even tell if a weapon they wanted to buy had better stats than their currently equipped weapon. The books and documents section of the menu in particular was awful. Players could have dozens of items in this inventory, and they'd be presented in one big jumbled list. One would imagine the solution would be to build a better menu that puts everything the player needs at their fingertips for fast, effective, intuitive access. Lionhead's solution was to put the menu in a physical space – the Sanctuary, meaning that everything had to be simplified and essentially removing the player by another degree from the menu. It actually works okay, but it's in no way the most efficient solution.
That's not the only system that's represented as a physical space. So too is leveling up. The Road to Rule charts the major achievements of the player on his or her journey to becoming king, and with each significant step forward a gate is unlocked. Completing quests and making friends earn the player guild seals which are used to unlock chests on the Road to Rule. These can net you new magic gauntlets, up your powers in combat or unlock expressions and other game features. It's actually quite an alluring way to present the player's journey and the presentation is great.
What I don't like is how bare bones the choices are. This was really an opportunity to give the player a wealth of options, but again, there are no hard choices here, and very few interesting ones. Quite a few of the chests, in fact, pertain to upgrading the money earned from jobs in the game, but given the ability to earn an income from investing – and the general stinkiness of the jobs themselves - these are basically crossed off the list from the start. You'll likely spend 5-10 minutes doing jobs in the entire game, and being able to ignore those chests mean you can focus on the ones that will have quantifiable gameplay benefits.
Finally, there's the issue of difficulty. Fable II was incredibly easy, but the combat was still fun and satisfying, and the magic system gave players some cool strategic options. Fable III is easier still, and while the combat operates on the same core mechanic of dynamically switching between melee, ranged and magic, the latter – while solid – just isn't as cleverly designed. It allows the player to combine any two of the powers he's earned by wearing different gauntlets. One may be fire and the other may rain down blades, so your attacks will be a combination of those two.
It's a cool idea, but not as interesting as the system in the last game. Plus, the fact that you have to enter the Sanctuary, then enter the armoury, then go up to the wall with the gauntlets and physically stand next to the ones you want to equip means that you'll switch combinations less. The magic system would have been far more entertaining if players could set and switch combinations on the fly. Oh, and old staples like slow time and raising the dead? Yeah, they're potions now, accessible on the D-pad while in combat. There's plenty to be found in chests and at dig spots, and if you're anything like me you'll just save them for the boss encounters or big fights where you really need them.
The combat also discourages experimentation with your melee and ranged weapons. The fact that you've got 'living weapons' which change appearance based on how you use them, simply encourages players to stick with the same weapons instead of switching it up. And when you do buy/earn weapons, you'll discover that augments have been ditched in favour of an experience system that gives weapons bonuses after fulfilling certain objectives (i.e. kill 500 Hollowmen and you'll get +7 to damage). Cool idea, but again, it discourages experimenting with different weapons and almost negates the purpose of having blacksmiths in the game. And let's not forget that it's not like you need to upgrade your weapons to deal with the combat.
The upshot is a game that I was able to finish without dying once. It's not like I died many times in Fable II mind you, but in the end this is less interesting and engaging.
I think that's enough for now. It's not that I hate Fable III. There's still plenty to like. The writing in particular is uniformly excellent and hugely entertaining, and the overarching story and concept of making choices about a kingdom is conceptually very cool, but it's hard not to be disappointed when a sequel not only fails to move forward, but actually goes backwards.
So, what do you guys think? I loved Fable III, but this guy raises A LOT of good points...