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Review updated: 29/03/11 – Traitors Keep DLC added

Peter Molyneux has promised many things in his previous games to the gaming community and on the most part has delivered a fair representation of what he has described as “the new innovation”. So it is all the more disappointing when those dreams he so carefully marked out are shattered without much of a trace to speak of. With Black & White, he promised that we would have the power to adapt the world based on our decisions. The only thing that really changed was your pet. Fable promised us a fully realised world. What we got was a standard action RPG that was well presented, but had none of the mentioned flair. Fable 2 was his shining moment as the dog mechanic and family aspects worked wonderfully. So from God to Hero, Molyneux now wants you to be King/Queen. Is this a Royal ascension of ambitions or a tyranny of marketing potential?

Set a few years after the events of the second game, the industrial age has hit Albion like a sledgehammer to a dormant mouse. The country wasn’t ready for it, nor was it ready for their current King. Your brothers rule has brought misery to the people, and because of a dispute involving protestors you are led out of the Castle by Walter; a trustworthy officer. Determined to lead some kind of rebellion, the prince/princess must ascend the throne. The least well kept secret is that you will be King. Decisions however will reflect on your funds and promises made earlier in the game. This is a startling tactic and while his crazy ambition let the execution slide slightly, Molyneux’s team have pulled this one of brilliantly.

The focus this time around doesn’t seem to be with the combat mechanics, but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any improvements. Flourishes with your sword are now available from the get go, though guns remain relatively the same. Magic seems to be the main focus of the upgrade here though with the ability to wield two gauntlets with interchangeable spells. The result is that now you can combine the effects of the spells to produce arctic storms or a gut shattering fireball. While the mechanics now in place are simple to understand, one gets the feeling that it does play second fiddle. Enemies come in a limited amount of variety and their strength depends on what quest you have undertaken or how far on the road to be King you are. Oh and you can’t die. You just lose progress towards your next guild seal. “Cop out!” out I smear. This takes all challenge away from the game.

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What really shines is the interactions in the towns and cities, together with the quests. Relationship based quests will be the same slog as you’re used to from an MMORPG such as World of Warcraft. Your interactions are now more focused though. You may now hold hands and lead them to a secluded paradise, or their final resting place. Up to you. You can also adopt children from the streets of Bowerstone. Other than that, building relationships and your weight management remains unchanged. The other quests are a variety of dramatic story encounters and self contained ventures into a peculiar scenario. While you might have some trouble with your waypoint guide trail, you could be traversing through an underground pit battling Hobbes, or finding a lost book in Brightfall library. One particular highlight is a quest involving saving a princess from an evil Baron. It all paints the world of Albion as a quaintly English land where even the humour resonates with the British audience. Americans could potentially get some form of culture shock, especially when the Gnomes shout from the bushes; “I’m going to go round your house for tea, and then I’ll have your mum.”

Speaking of gnomes , they’re one of several collectables in Fable 3. Haven’t we gotten bored of this game extension tactic? Luckily it actually tells you how many of a certain object you need to progress. Other things you can do include upgrading weapons and opening demon doors. Same old Fable fare to be honest, and definitely the weakest point of the experience. In a complete contrast is your time on the throne. How it works is that you get a few days of your one year reign to decide a few policies. One could say that we should spare a thought for the politicians, but we wouldn’t want to make them feel too good about themselves. Instead what conclusion we should be thinking about is the importance of sourcing money. Some actions take a lot of funding, while the typically bad ones give you a substantial donation. There is an ultimatum which you must face at the end of this epilogue, and the sense of urgency about it all really pushes the morality. You do of course have the option of saving millions through the property market and taxing your people through rent, but where is the thought behind that?

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While the concepts behind what you should be doing during your time with Fable 3 are mostly brilliant, it wouldn’t be believable if the world wasn’t worth caring about. Albion is fresh and colourful, despite its now very dated visuals. The cast of main characters is of stellar quality. Why wouldn’t you wish to keep the likes of Simon Pegg, Sir Ben Kinglsey AMD the oddly parody filled voodoo shaman from two of the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies in your good books? Wouldn’t you wish instead to just go gallivanting on an industrial scaled revolution with Stephen Fry? To make things even better, your mentor is Theoden King from the Lord of the Rings films and your butler is John Cleese. Why are these name bombs important? They represent a first in the 21st century: The first all celebrity cast that got voice acting right, even if it is the comic geniuses of Pegg, Fry and Cleese steal it. The only other games that beat this in this category are the Discworld adventure games and they had a cast member from Monty Pythons Flying Circus and Blackadder too. A note to self; convince Rowan Atkinson and Michael Palin to voice over in a game as it is guaranteed to bring success.

Of course Mr Molyneux doesn’t just want to bring the in game people together, he wants to bring everyone together. With that in mind, he has updated the multiplayer component to allow players with the same interactions with each other as with the NPCs. So you can indeed get married, have children or indeed make a business transaction with another human being. The prospect of fathering/mothering a child with your best mate Bruce from down the road may raise a few eyebrows, especially when they find out Bruce is a girl called Doris Fairbottom on the weekends. Psychologically , the idea is a complete mess. In practice though it does provide a sensible approach to co-operative gaming with surprising depth. If online doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then having a player simply join you locally will do. One interesting thing to note is that different weapons are available in different worlds. This means that you won’t see all 50 of them in one sitting, and trading with other players might be a necessity. Other online interactions involve actually using real world money to buy some items in a special store in the pause hub, and a fully functional leaderboard. The game doesn’t really need a competitive option, so one being tacked on last minute wouldn’t have helped. Thankfully no option exists here.

Fable 3 is by no means perfect. Combat has overall been made so easy that it saps all the action away from this RPG. But that is not what Mr Molyneux wanted to try out. Instead our own decision making and morale standing is at stake. Your time on the road to rule will be a familiar experience, especially when the relationships arise. The King sections are wonderful; with a sense of urgency and morale standing that it might force tough revelations. The presentation and variety of quests cements he reputation of he franchise as a well thought out world. While the multiplayer sections could get awkward if one player gets down on one knee, having your own personal bodyguard who acts as a Bank account as well is interesting as a prospect. Fable 3 seems to have therefore lived up to the hype, but I wonder just where Peter Molyneux can go from here, except improve the difficulty. Perhaps micromanaging your family so they are raised with a frugal and vegan mind-set, or making looks important? As long as they don’t try to make other players decide what furnishings they want in their house a main focus.

DLC also available: Understone – 400MSP

 

FABLE 3: Traitors Keep – 560MSP

So you have risen from a ruthless rebel to becoming either a benevolent or malevolent King. You have driven away the impending darkness that threatened to overrun your kingdom and either celebrated victory with your people or buried the dead as a consequence of your actions beforehand. But what now? Is your rule a happily ever after scenario? Of course not. With the Traitors Keep DLC, you have an entire story arch that happens after your fight with the crawling darkness to contend with.

It is yet another boring day in your kingdom, and your event organiser is briefing you on your day to day activities when all of a sudden an assassin comes for your head. Shortly thereafter a captain from a prison guard unit arrives via ship to inform you that the assassin was a former inmate at the Keep, and requests you come along to see for yourself. There is an inevitable jailbreak, and three notorious prisoners need to be rounded up. The plot is hopelessly predictable, but an enjoyable romp while it lasts. One scene makes you fight a rather surprising enemy, who is probably more difficult than anyone I’d faced in the main game; I actually used more than one health potion.

The quests themselves consist of one of two scenarios. Either go here and kill these guys or collecting bits and pieces for some scatter-brained moron. There is also one demon door that is new, and he is a collectable in disguise. The only real moral choice at the end is largely irrelevant in context. There is more to do, but it does feel like hardly any effort went into the quest design.

Which is a shame because the environments are of a high quality despite some odd frameskip and texture loading issues. While the prison island looks okay, the clockwork town and haunted Manor are unique and in keeping with the rest of the main game. There are some Easter eggs lying around, with probably one of the more amusing ones being the gravestones in the island with the Manor. The game does include some odd variants on enemies you’ve seen before, with a couple of brand new concepts. The difficulty has been ramped up slightly and it is certainly possible to die with maximum stats, but alas the challenge is not significant enough to give you issues.

If you are the kind of person who goes for achievements, then this DLC might work in your favour. The collectable aspect of the DLC is tedious, but thankfully there are not many of each item to find. Some new costumes litter the landscape, with some arguably disturbing results; depending on your character. The price of this DLC however is a surprising figure: 560MSP. In all honesty, while there isn’t much going for everything here, at the very least it is reasonably priced.

Fable 3: Traitors Keep is a bit of a flawed gem. The price means that it isn’t going to rob you, but you don’t really get a lot worth having in this pack. The quests are nice, but they aren’t as good as other expansions generally are. The main reason for this is purely because it relies on a predictable story and collectable quests to try and liven up the games life span once the kingdom has been saved. There are some wonderful details within this pack, but at the end of the day they are purely superficial. This comes down to whether or not you want the achievements, and whether or not the prostitute outfit you obtain can be dyed green and silver just to outline your status as an achievement whore.