While Lionhead Studios may be at the forefront of Microsoft Game Studios’ research and development initiatives, the number of retail products delivered by the studio is surprisingly low. On the current-generation the entire output of the UK studio results in just one series: Fable. 2008’s critically acclaimed Fable II pushed forward the boundaries of modern videogame adventuring in a number of ways, but since then the experiences offered by story-driven videogames have received a number of contemporary overhauls. In order to prove the validity of their pioneering reputation, Fable III would need to deliver more than just an enjoyable romp through the world of Albion and a handful of British celebrity cameos.
Of course, Fable III has been available on Xbox 360 for some seven odd months now, and so much of its audience will have already experienced the revolution taking place in the land of Albion. The PC edition of Fable III does add to the experience, but only a little, so it’s unlikely that anyone who has already invested twenty-or-more hours into the Xbox 360 release will adopt the PC version also, especially when the downloadable content (DLC) already available on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace is yet to be dated for Games for Windows – LIVE or Steam. Those experiencing Albion for the first time however, would surely be best to opt for the PC version of the game should they have a system capable enough to run it at high specification, as the additional options for stereoscopic 3D capability and an increased difficulty setting are certainly welcome.
When beginning Fable III’s tutorial is taught to the player as the plot is established. Within minutes, players are cast as a young prince in a believably eccentric world, conducting their days free of responsibility and pressure. However, things take a sudden change for the worse when confronting your brother, currently ruling the land with an iron fist. A choice that would push anyone to the brink of their sanity begins you on a path to a new future, a path to revolution.
From this point on the player is set from task-to-task, meeting new cast members and questing to new locations with increasing regularity. Many times throughout the game the player will find themselves faced with a decision before being able to complete their objective, and the result of that decision may not always be clear cut. This is Fable III’s greatest strength: it’s a game that revels in keeping secrets from the player, only revealing them when the timing is perfect.
It’s not a game in which you can hope to achieve everything. Unlike The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy games, Fable III is designed for the player to only be able to take one course of action often unbeknownst to them as to whether that action is the right one until after the event. There is right and wrong here, and it’s up to the player which path they choose to follow, however, it’s not as straight-cut as the likes of Dragon Age: Origins or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. There’s often very few clues as to which of the paths presented is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or indeed if any available choice will benefit you as the player or the people you’re trying to aid/dominate.
There’s plenty of refinement in the basic Fable mechanics as would be expected, most notable the speech system has undergone a significant overhaul. No longer does the player simply focus on a character and begin to perform, instead the player must lock-in to an interaction sequence. The available interactions float about the character and the player must click/hold the button depicted on their chosen action until committed. Where Fable III’s speech system is similar to that of Fable II is in that of its extended actions. Requiring correct timing just as they did previously, the window of opportunity is much greater this time around.
Fable III is a gentler game than that of its inspiration, offering a closer guiding hand than any The Legend of Zelda title and a much easier combat arrangement than Alone in the Dark. It’s a game that is designed to be completed, and even with the newly devised tougher difficulty setting, it’s still no more challenging than The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was back in it’s day. There is vastly more intrigue than the average competitor and more than enough alternate activities to distract you from the main quest line, but those wanting to face-off against challenging, intelligent fantasy creatures will find few truly rewarding moments.
The PC version of Fable III, when run at its highest specification, is superior to the Xbox 360 version to a certain degree. Largely unnoticeable to the untrained-eye, the higher resolution backdrops and action-figure like character models do present a slightly crisper portrait of the world of Albion. The few changes are merely cosmetic, the game and characters within appear just as they did on Xbox 360, but that doesn’t mean that Fable III is a slouch. It’s still a unique and inviting world in which the player’s actions within have a tangible effect on the environment: love and you will be loved; hate and you will be feared.
Fable III’s eventual arrival on PC may not be greeted with the fanfare it once would have been due to the extensive delay, however it’s still a very welcome release. It’s an adventure game that sits well within the top tier of the genre thanks to both its budget and direction, though it doesn’t claim new ground as its predecessor did. Perhaps due to the familiarity with the hardware or the demands placed upon modern adventure game design, whatever the reason is Fable III simply doesn’t innovate to the same degree as its predecessor. A unique and inviting experience, Fable III proves that Lionhead Studios has still got what it takes to compete with the best.