I’m always slightly shocked when I come across something really silly in a game with otherwise serious production values – after all, the game industry is big business, with massive budgets poured into spangly titles. Are developers really going to put budget into enabling a really good belch for your character?
Well, if the developer is Lionhead Studios, and the game in question is Fable III, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Never have I seen in a game so much joyful delight in the silly – and I’m delighted with it myself. There’s evil gnome chasing, chicken racing, bizarre ways of interacting with other characters (with extras available to be unlocked), and loads of brilliant meta-gaming, including a quest that miniaturises the character and places him or her as a figurine in a tabletop game being played by three geeky wizards.
But the world of Fable III, the land of Albion, is also quite dark and malevolent, presenting the player with a fantasy industrial revolution, complete with child labourers, smog and ruthless industrialists, as well as a mad king, starving populace, and terrible treatment of chickens.
You play the sibling (boy or girl) of the king, who establishes his nastiness pretty early on in the piece. With several trusted advisors, you skip out of the castle, and make your plans to take back the kingdom. But to achieve this, you need numbers. And so begins your journey across the land, rallying support for your cause by helping the people with their problems, through completing quests and making friends with the locals.
The basic unit of quest currency is the guild seal, which you collect when you complete said quests, glad-hand peasants, or kill baddies. In addition to Albion, there’s another realm called the Road to Rule – a series of gates, dotted with chests along the way. At one end is your green ruler-to-be; the other end is the castle, representing your readiness to kick your brother out and take the crown for yourself.
Certain plot points will allow you to open the various gates along the Road, but the guild seals are what allow you to unlock the different chests, which contain upgrades for your character’s abilities, as well as packs that enhance your interaction with the game. The landlord pack, for example, lets you purchase just about any building you come across, which you can in turn make money from. There’s also a pack that will let you woo a villager of your choice, get married, and have a child.
There’s a great selection of quests available, which are of incredibly high quality and variety; there’s everything from the ‘missing child’ quest to the wacky one with the wizards I mentioned earlier. There’s even one where you agree to help a long-suffering wife by seducing her husband to take him off her hands. Fable III also includes the only non-annoying mini games I’ve ever come across, with some activities like pie-making, blacksmithing, and playing the lute in a Guitar Hero rip-off, in order to earn some spare cash.
But it’s not all quirky role playing; there’s also some great battles to be had in Fable III. Early on in the game, you’re given a set of weapons (handed down from the last hero, from Fable II), including a sword, a pistol, rifle, and a gauntlet that can harness elemental power. These weapons develop as you develop, and the look of them changes in response to your actions. Later weapons you’ll come across also develop interesting qualities based on your game-playing style. Your character too, will improve their own skill with these weapons, the more often they use them. The battles are challenging, but not overwhelming, and there’s a good number of different types of baddies to keep things from feeling too same-y.
And once you’ve stormed the castle? Well, the game doesn’t end there. Instead it follows you through the early period of your rule, as you then use your new power to actually effect change in the land – whether for good or ill.
The game does have a few faults, the largest of which is its strange presentation of a console-styled user interface on the PC. There’s odd interaction buttons which have to be held for a period of time, and then released, as well as non-’standard’ confirmation buttons that alternate between selecting a number on the keyboard, or left-clicking your assent. Interaction options with NPCs also feel odd at times (apparently slimmed down from Fable II), in that you often have to cycle through ridiculous activities, such as whistling at people, and playing endless games of patty-cake, before you get the option to shake hands.
But while these things are annoyances, they aren’t deal-breakers. What instead stays with the player is the fantastic setting, awesome quests, cool customisation that develops as the player progresses, and unusual gameplay.