Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Review of Fable III for the Xbox 360

One of the newest games for the Xbox 360 is Fable III, the third game in the Fable series from Lionhead Studios and my favorite in the series so far. Fable III follows the story of a young hero (and a descendant of your character from Fable II) as he or she is faced with challenges and forced to prove him or herself in order to save Albion.

Graphics and Sound
One thing Lionhead studios has always been skilled at is creating a stunning world for its players to explore and interact with and Fable III is no exception. As you have your character travel through this world you find yourself getting sucked in, almost experiencing the world with your character, rather than through them. While there is the occasional odd graphics hiccup (like your character standing on your baby’s crib while hugging another character) these are few and far between and never cause more serious problems, but rather resolve themselves after just a few seconds. Knowing that no game, no matter how amazing can be perfect, I believe this “quick-fix” ability built into the game speaks volumes for the developers over at Lionhead. Each new environment brings a rich level of detail, often times affecting the very emotional state of the player when in conjunction with the well-chosen and even better utilized soundtrack. As I played through the game I found myself dreading going to certain areas (like Silverpines) because I knew I’d be confronted with an eerie environment which was home to some pretty nasty creatures.

Character details tend to be a bit richer for the player’s character and other heroes as well as for important characters you encounter along the way. This isn’t terribly surprising as the other characters are meant to fade into the background while the hero stands out. Costuming is also very detailed and appropriate to each area helping to reinforce the feel of each local. Costume options for the hero are many and allow him or her to either blend in or stand out from the crowd. Costumes can be donned as a whole suit or mixed and matched to give it that epic feel you’re looking for and each piece (including hair options) can be dyed in a least one way with numerous different colors. Needless to say, getting your hero to look as epic as they are, is a simple feat in Fable III.

One of the new features added in Fable III and by far one of the coolest options I’ve seen in a video game to date is the way your weapons will change their appearance based upon what you do. This means even your starting weapons will be the coolest looking armaments on the block by the time you’re done and will even reflect what your character is all about.

The interface in Fable III takes a few departures from the other entries in the series that I would argue enhance the game play value considerably. The first and probably the most noticeable of these changes is the new pause menu. Whereas almost all games have a simple box that comes up with a few options on it when you hit the start button on your Xbox controller, Fable III uses this as an opportunity to transport you instantly to your sanctuary. Here, using the four ancillary rooms and the main chamber you can check the stats of yourself and your dog, open gifts, buy, sell, and repair property, select quests and instant travel to your closest unlocked fast travel point, review and select weapons, change clothing, hair styles, facial hair, makeup, and tattoos, admire your trophies, achievements, and accumulated wealth, and purchase downloadable content and interact with friends online all while enjoying amusing commentary and quips from your faithful servant who’s been with you from the very beginning.

The other major departure from the first two games is in how you use your weapons and abilities. Spells are chosen based upon the gauntlets you have equipped and are used by either tapping or holding down the b button. This creates an area effect centered on the hero. These spells can also be directed with the joystick to focus on a specific target that will be highlighted in order to distinguish it from others. The gun is accessed and fired by tapping the y button and the x button controls your melee weapon. This system is a little less complicated than those in the original games and somewhat more intuitive allowing players to switch easily between all three different types of combat to deal with different threats. You could be hacking and slashing to the front one second and shooting backwards over your shoulder at enemies coming up from the rear the very next.

Interactions work much the same as they did in the other games allowing for an easy transition from the earlier Fable games. Options include kind, funny, and mean expressions that will cycle randomly based upon what interaction packs you’ve unlocked on the Road to Rule and occasionally other options specific to certain characters like “give money” or  “propose marriage.”

Stores and jobs work a bit differently as well. Stores now have items that are for sale displayed on different pedestals or manikins throughout the store and you purchase them by interacting directly with the item. This makes browsing a store’s inventory much easier, but typically presents fewer options. Jobs, while still acquired the same way now include blacksmithing, lute playing, and pie baking and involve entering an ever faster series of button combinations to match a pattern on the screen. Pay and progression rates have been standardized to make each type of job just as lucrative and thus a matter of preference or availability.

Finally your dog, a feature introduced in Fable II and carried over to Fable III operates in much the same way it did before. You can interact with your dog in kind, mean, or funny ways and train your dog in combat, treasure finding, and charisma through the use of dog training books. These abilities start at one star and go all the way to five stars. As you travel your dog will indicate spots to dig for hidden items and point out treasure chests that you can open along the way. When in combat, your dog will attack and finish off opponents that you’ve knocked down, but who aren’t dead yet allowing you to focus on those few still standing.

Story (Warning Spoilers)
As was mentioned before, you play as the descendant of your character from Fable II who presumably had enough money to buy the castle and become ruler of Albion. They have since past away and your older brother has assumed the throne. Unfortunately the old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” hold true for him and you’re early on chased out of your comfortable life in the castle and forced to gather allies in a rebellion against your brother’s tyranny.

The story for Fable III follows a fairly typical thread of younger royal leading a rebellion against an older royal and winning to become ruler over all the land. Were this the whole story line for Fable III it would serve as a bit of a disappointment. However, this is only about half the story. In your search for allies you encounter a being of pure darkness that is bent on the destruction of all that rests in the light (that being the kingdom of Albion). Though your rebellion is successful, you now have to make the hard choice between giving your people the things they want and need, and building an army large enough to defend them from this ever approaching menace.

It’s this unusual twist that really brings life to the story and makes it real for the player and is one of my favorite video game plot twists of all time.

Fable III is both innovative and refreshingly unique in its approach to the way players interact with their environment and how they’ve added new life to a classic plotline. Though many have taken issue with the changes from previous games I find them to be helpful for streamlining gameplay and removing the need to learn a new system when starting a new video game. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who’s played its predecessors, and I eagerly await the opportunity to try out the newest entry Fable: The Journey on my Xbox 360 with Kinect. It’s for all these reasons and more that Fable III has earned the right to be in my N3rd C0rn3r.