Microsoft Game Studios
From: Microsoft Game Studios
For: Xbox 360
Genre: Action, Adventure, Role-Playing
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)
'Jumping the shark' is a term that gets thrown around all too often nowadays, but sometimes it's simply the best way to explain what's happened to a once successful entertainment franchise. And if Fable III is not quite there yet, it's certainly eying the ramp. There's just no denying that the latest entry in this popular adventure series has made some surprisingly poor decisions in its execution.
Picking up 50 years after the end of Fable II, players control the now-adult offspring of the game's previous hero. Whether you choose prince or princess, the story remains the same: Your brother the king has gone mad with power and seeks to rule all of Albion. Dude doesn't care who stands in the way - least of all peasants. Once the king realizes that his sibling - that be you - is sympathetic to the plight of the huddled masses, your character becomes an enemy of the state and, consequently, a hero in the rebellion against the king.
Throughout the course of the game, you'll travel the kingdom amassing allies and fighting bad guys in preparation and primer for the inevitable final confrontation. While much of the game is spent exploring the world around you - completing quests, reaching objectives, yadda yadda - Fable III offers a surprisingly linear experience. Quite literally, in fact. Players will follow a glowing line on the ground that will guide them to their next goal, and all along the path they'll need to fight off enemies using magic, might, and guns - typical of "action/adventure" games, with the core emphasis on the "action" bit.
Much of what is on offer here will feel instantly familiar to players of previous games in the series. Combat remains largely the same, with melee, ranged, and magical attacks invoked by the same button configuration as before. You still have a pet pooch following you around, eager to help you dig up treasure and do battle with the bad guys as man's-best-sidekicks are wont to do. You'll even have the option to buy properties and curry favor with the locals as before, assuming you're looking to do more in Fable III than just stick with the main campaign.
Despite the similarities to its predecessor, though, Fable III is a far more shallow experience than Fable II. Gone are the deep skill customization options based on which style of combat you favor. In its place is a simplified system that has less to do with the choices you make and more to do with the number of kills you accrue. The available skill upgrades you can purchase are far more limited in scope as well.
If there's one complaint to be had with Fable III, it's that the deep role playing elements of its predecessors have been trimmed down to the point of anemic. Too much has been changed that didn't need fixing, and none of it for the better. Until now, the Fable games have always been about choice and the game-changing ramifications of each, yet Fable III insists on limiting the choices you can make. Whether it's the shaping of your character through different combat choices or the choices available when talking to the townsfolk, there just aren't as many options here as has come before.
Ironically, in sharp contrast to the changes in actual gameplay, the story in Fable III is easily the deepest and most rewarding the series has seen to date. With great voice acting, frequent plot turns, and a structure that admirably captures the industrial age frustrations of the rich and the poor, Fable III might just offer the best narrative in gaming all year. Besides - how can you not love a game where John Cleese is your butler?
Fable III really feels a lot more like Fable 2.5 than a proper sequel. Due to the oversimplification of certain gameplay elements, some might even argue it's less than that. A step back for the series rather than a step forward, it's hard to not feel a little disappointed by what developer Lionhead has done with its once-stellar franchise.
Yet thanks to a deeply engaging story, some decent combat, and a campaign that will take you a few dozen hours to complete, Fable III should still be an easy purchase for fans of the series. For those new to the series, meanwhile, you'd be well advised to check out this first two Fable games, now available in a bargain-bin near you, and Fable III should be kicking around that same bargain bin by the time you're done.
It may not be the leap forward that gamers tend to expect out of a sequel, but Fable III is still an enjoyable game in its own right.