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First Impressions - Fable III

Fable III

Developer: Lionhead Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Release Date: October 26, 2010

Date of Play: November 4, 2010

Stated as politely as I can manage, Fable II was a game I came to rather dislike. Perhaps it was Peter Molyneux’s incessent promising of features he couldn’t deliver, perhaps it was a case of high expectations being soured by a good, not great, game, or perhaps it was simply bad timing. Fable II released a week before the magnificent Fallout 3, after all, giving me only a short time in Albion before being blown away by the openness, freedom, and expansive world to explore in Bethesda’s somewhat wonky masterpiece, leaving Molyneux's world feeling a bit lacking by comparison. 

I would call my time with Fable II enjoyable, to be clear, but I would classify it as good, not great. The ending was lousy. The game world felt small. And it had some issues mechanically that took me out of the experience, such as the absolutely stupid relationship system based on absurd repetitions of dumb animations, or the occasionally frustrating, simplistic combat. 

Still, I liked the idea and the humor of the world, and I hope that Fable III might deliver a better overall experience. I must admit to being highly skeptical of Molyneux’s ability to make this happen, but I’m going to try to keep an open mind. In an interesting twist of fate, the tables are turned from two years ago. Fallout: New Vegas released a week before Fable III and a negative first impression of Obsidian’s lazy sequel leaves the door open to a reversal of fortunes. Can Fable III take back the crown and impress a hardened skeptic who wrties off Fable II as a loss and never even played the original Fable?

Let’s find out.

  • Fable II sucked if you were being good. It clearly wasn’t anywhere near as much fun as the delightful things you could do as an evil bastard. With that in mind, I think I might try going down the evil route my first (and probably only) time through, which is seriously out of character for me. Since I don’t much care about the story after being horribly disappointed by Fable II’s tale, I wonder how much it will even matter.
  • Prince or Princess? Gotta be the one wearing the dress. It’s just the way I roll.
  • I like that the loading icon is a chicken for no discernible reason. Amusing.
  • There is a reason the icon is a chicken! I’ll be damned. Very nice.
  • This opening cutscene is great. A wonderful mix of serious and very much not serious. Kinda what Fable does best when things are actually working right.
  • I love the mix of industrialism with fantasy. I hope they capitalize on this.
  • If the game can actually manage to continue the epicness of the great intro I’ll be sold. I haven’t touched a controller, but I do have a smile on my face. 
  • John Cleese! Yay!
  • Terrible facial animations! Not as yay!
  • I don’t really look much like a princess, if I do say so.
  • I won’t hold this against Fable III in particular, but I cannot wait for when games are advanced enough that we don’t have to see ugly clipping of hands or arms through clothing anymore. Yuck. So distracting.
  • Graphical issues abound already. A pretty game, but not a stunning one. So far at least. Lots of little visual issues though. Pop-in, poor animations, clipping and the like. Nothing terrible, but a bit distracting.
  • Awkward gesture-based interactions with people are back. Not a fan. Feels so phony.
  • I will reluctantly admit that being a princess and loudly belching in the face of a man wearing a fancy top hat is entertaining, however briefly.
  • Wait, the game shows me an icon telling me to press the right trigger, and that icon is large, round, yellow, and very much reminiscent of the Y button? That’s a bit weird.
  • Well, there’s my first lesson in being a coldheardted bitch. Can’t say I like it much. Not sure yet if I’m going to regret this path.
  • Ok. This game is already clearly demonstrating I’m not supposed to take anything seriously. I just took a petition from a poor peasant aiming to get the king to care about the downtrodden, and I rubbed it all over my royal ass and gave it back to him. I must admit that it’s kind of entertaining, but it’s this rather bizarre mix of serious and humorous, coated with a thick glaze of exaggeration, that always makes it hard for me to get into this series for some reason.
  • The game has adopted a mechanic of forcing you to hold down a particular button to commit to certain decisions or perform certain actions. I find it a little awkward. Why wouldn’t a simple button press have sufficed?
  • My mother, “the great hero queen” eh? A reference to the first game I assume. I wonder how it knew I played as a female in the first game. I didn’t think it read the save file. Interesting.
  • Oh wow. Purple outfit with a miniature cape and a goatee. They’re really trying to paint my brother as evil, aren’t they?
  • My character is going awfully far out of her way to stand up for the protesters outside the castle gates right now for someone who just rubbed a petition to help the poor all over her ass. I sense a bit of disconnect between story intention and available actions here.
  • Die peasants! I’m selfish and stuff! Ha ha!
  • And loading screen chicken. Kills a bit of the tension.
  • I’m actually more hooked by the beginning of this game than I was in Fable II. It seems more involving, somehow. I’m actually kind of impressed. My niggles above show it’s not perfect, but those aside I think it’s a strong beginning. I’m starting to wonder if I should have gone the good route instead so as to take the story more seriously. I did go evil pretty much out of spite. Hmm.
  • Ah, the mysterious hooded lady from the last game. I remember her.
  • “The fate of Albion rests on your shoulders.” Surprise!
  • I’ve never seen the concept of “the road to rule” represented so literally. It is, in point of fact, a winding road that leads to the castle you’re seeking to rule. As you gain more followers by… doing stuff in the game, I suppose, you open gates and get rewards. Interesting. I like it.
  • Ah the good old fireball spell. It’s all coming back to me now.
  • I like the frequent dialog with people as you’re walking around. I can’t imagine this will keep up past this very guided beginning section of the game, but it does serve to make the “follow the golden line from point A to point B” bits a lot more interesting.
  • The game’s combat is definitely button masher friendly, just like the last game’s, but that’s not necessarily bad. I’m especially a fan of the magic system, which doesn’t make me deal with any pesky mana bars or energy meters or number crunching. That stuff is never fun. I’m happy to see it gone in this series. Refreshing.
  • I was hoping the guiding line would have gotten less wonky and more able to accurately tell you where to go at all times. Not so, it would seem. This thing can barely keep up a few feet in front of me and this is only the beginning of the game.
  • The voice acting seems to be well-done on the whole. I am pleased by this. John Cleese’s presence is especially awesome and welcome.
  • I’m now glad I picked the fancy dress when they asked me to choose my clothing at the beginning of the game. Traipsing around in the sewers in this frilly thing is quite amusing.
  • The camera seems to do at least a slightly better job of not making me baby it than most games of this ilk. Odds are I’ll end up doing exactly that anyway, but I appreciate that it’s not terrible.
  • I’ve gotten my first small glimpse at the new menu-replacement system the game uses via the map I use to teleport everywhere. I must say, I think it’s a bit unnecessary. I appreciate the attempt at immersion, don’t get me wrong, but I feel it just adds steps between decision and action and makes doing everything clunkier, rather than the other way around. We’ll see whether this changes once I can truly get my hands on more parts of it.
  • Never before have I seen someone so utterly impressed by shaking someone’s hand. Yeah, I still hate this gesture-based interaction system. 
  • I suppose the idea of this “sanctuary” room that handles all of what would otherwise be the menu is to make things more realistic and less disconnected. I can’t help but feel it might do kind of the opposite though. I mean, I can randomly teleport to and from this room from anywhere on the planet. That’s not exactly realistic immersion at its finest.
  • Plus, it drives me nuts to no end that there’s no traditional pause function. That’s bizarre. 
  • You know, it also strikes me that there were a lot of complaints in the last game about menu lag. They decided to replace that sluggish menu with one that takes a full second or two to even appear, much less walk to anyplace in the large room so as to actually interact with it and do what you want? That seems sort of backwards. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
  • Somewhere between starting this game and finishing this first hour, I seem to have grown to like the graphical presentation quite a bit more. It's got a charming art style to it. Not stellar technically, but it's pleasing and colorful.

Conclusion: I realize that I’ve spent quite a lot of time badmouthing this game in my initial impressions. I must once again stress the fact that Fable II really managed to get on my bad side for a number of reasons, so I’m intensely skeptical. Plus, there’s just the general fact that it’s easier to nitpick than to praise.

On the whole, though, I must say that I’m impressed. I’m more hooked by this game than I thought I would be. Enough that I’m seriously rethinking my spiteful decision to be evil at the expense of story immersion. It now seems unfair not to even give it a shot. 

It’s still clearly not a perfect experience, but I thought it would be one that I barely even wanted to play and that’s obviously selling it short. I think the menu operations, or lack of them to be more precise, are going to be an annoyance, but hardly a game-ending one. The real test will be the actual missions and combat, which I haven’t seen yet. And of course the ending, since that’s what truly sealed Fable II’s fate as disappointing for me.

In the meantime though, I must admit that Fable III at least makes a good first impression. Whether or not this will last I don’t know, and I still have my doubts, but out of the gate it’s a lot stronger than I would have given it credit for. Fallout: New Vegas got better as it went and some of my initial concerns began to fade somewhat as I played. I can only hope the same will be true here. If so, I’ll have finally gotten a Fable game I can really enjoy. 

I'm going to maintain a healthy air of skepticism for a while though. The curse of Molyneux is not one easily forgotten. 

Result: Success! For now….

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