Happy Fable III day, and yes, before I subject you to a bunch of rambling on the way to a point on the way to a link to our review, Fable III constitutes a solidly good, more than competent, if not exactly great second installment in the Fable series.
Second? Aren’t those three i’s in the game’s title? Sure, but the original Fable, which came out for the original Xbox, has so little to do with the what the franchise became when Fable II arrived two years ago it hardly warrant mention. Fable was a hugely overblown, timidly experimental, and yet in the end, entirely competent linear roleplaying game. The moral choices you made subtly adjusted how your character developed–into something haloed or horned, radiant or sickly–but that’s about it.
Then Fable II came along and threw Fable’s gameplay under the bus, obliterating player death, ditching fail states in general, and adding dozens of mini-games and activities, including bounty hunting, cult worshipping, thieving, real estate maneuvering, merchandizing, woodcutting, blacksmithing, bartending, modeling, chicken-kicking, rabbit-shooting, treasure-hunting, and over a dozen types of criminal activity, from drunk and disorderly conduct to violating parole. I called the gameplay “devotional” at the time, as in devoted to entertaining you at a per moment rate equal to “every one.”
And now Fable III, a sequel that preserves most of Fable II’s gameplay and adds several clever refinements alongside a few not-so-clever ones. You can still marry dozens of people and play the gigolo with trifling consequences. Your kids still don’t grow up or threaten to go Oedipal on you. The central gameplay tenet, earning guild seals to advance along a “road to rule,” amounts to tallying points by completing quests–quests that too often resemble pony express ops. Grab this thing. Take it to that person. Return to someone for a cursory thanks and a handful of glittering guild points.
In fact Fable III feels like Peter Molyneux (the series’ celebrity designer) only had a partial hand in designing the game, possibly contributing a few new ideas then handling promotion at press events, while turning the lion’s share over to a team that basically cranked out a game amounting less to a proper standalone third entry than Fable II-point-five.
That’s not exactly bad news if you’re a Fable II fan (I certainly was). But it does suggest something about Lionhead’s willingness (or ability, under Microsoft’s sponsorship) to push design initiatives in the kinds of directions we’ve come to expect from luminaries like Molyneux.