That’s two runs through Fable III in the can. I was naughty the first time through and nice the second, which basically means I traded flickering red body tattoos for a bunch of glimmering white ones. What do they mean? Who knows. They look like cool, mysterious tattoos should, and I guess that’s the point.
I switched genders too. The prince looked snooty with that half-cocked eyebrow, sort of like Ben Affleck if he ever played Spock without the pointy ears. The princess, less so. The game makes a modest attempt to acknowledge gender differences, but it’s mostly just slipping in different pronouns, or providing opposite sex characters for quests that involve romantic shenanigans. The game clearly acknowledges homosexuality, but only superficially. You can hunt around for citizens labeled as ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ and push the same romance buttons, but that’s about it.
If you’re wondering whether Fable III plays differently if you choose to behave better or worse, the answer’s not really. Sure, there’s a difference between your subjects screaming and cringing or applauding and crooning when you wander past, but in the end, they all put out the same. Guild points, I mean. Walk up to someone at either extreme on the game’s morality meter and, whether out of fear or love, they’ll toss up the same piles of sparkling guild swag.
During my second run, I went for a few out of the way achievements. Remodeling five homes. The real estate empire. The extra friends. Adopting a kid. Unlocking all the chests on The Road to Rule. Maxing my stats. The last two involved talking to nearly everyone and some guards–or at least guards with the same names–twice, belching, clucking, or flexing my princess-ly biceps. (Anyone care to venture why princely’s a word and not ‘princessly’?)
And I didn’t get knocked down once in combat. That’s worth 50 points alone. It’s also ridiculously easy to pull off. Health potions cost nothing, and you can tote dozens (I had around 30 toward the end). The only reason I missed this achievement the first play-through was a reluctance to use them. That, and I got carried away with flourish moves in Silverpines, stupidly letting a white balverine (the game’s codename for ‘werewolf’) in too close. The second time through, I kept at least a dozen potions handy. According to the stats wall in my sanctuary, I quaffed 83 decanters during my second tenure as the game’s spell-slinging superhero.
After pushing the morality slider both ways, I’m a little disappointed the game’s ethical dilemmas were just window dressing. The game ends the same, whatever you do. Even the journey’s identical, with a few cursory nods to your behavior fed back by characters, but nothing that changes the way the game actually plays. Was I expecting more? No, but yes. No, because that’s how it’s always been in roleplaying games. For the good action, turn to this page. For the bad action, turn to the other. Sometimes the game world shifts slightly, but mostly you’re given one of two tacked on endings. And who cares about endings. They’re not rewards. How the game plays is. Endings usually disappoint. Great as its gameplay was, BioShock’s was legendarily awful.
But yes, I really was expecting more, because Peter Molyneux knows all that stuff. And knowing it, I can’t help but feel he’s tried to dumb down Fable III anyway, presumably to access a broader audience. Like the mashy one-button combat, shorn of Fable II’s elegant combo chains and counterattacks, which at least made spamming the button thousands of times interesting. Or your “hammers or swords” arsenal, missing Fable II’s katanas, cleavers, cutlasses, axes, and maces (if there’s too much overlap, make them unique somehow, don’t just cut them out and emasculate the entire world’s armory). Or the simplified expressions, just two or three at a time, with zero chance of failure, unlike Fable II’s at least modestly challenging timed-button mini-game. If Lionhead makes Fable IV any more casual, they’ll have to switch to Flash and start pimping it through a browser.
Sure, that stuff can be tedious in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age if you’re not into it, but come on. Two weapons? One attack? Performing the same expression hundreds of times to get the same reaction from the same cardboard citizens?
I enjoyed both my runs through Fable III, the second less than the first, but then it’s kind of like Diablo where you know it’s dumb but you can’t help yourself. That’s the mark of clever game design–it keeps you clicking. If the story and game world’s third rate, well, just ask any World of Warcraft or StarCraft player how much they’re playing those games for the complex characterization and sophisticated narrative.