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Fable III hopes to make good on old promises. And, as Albion moves from steam powered optimism to industrial strife it manages to build on all that made Fable II such a strong experience, while ratcheting the moral maze up a few notches.
Fable III 360 is a very rare beast - whilst Peter Molyneux isn't adverse to sequels, this will be the first time Lionhead have produced a trilogy. At a recent games conference he gave an insight into why Fable has been such a compelling project, delving into the books and films that inspired it. This and the opportunity to play the latest build of Fable III developed some exciting and intriguing thoughts for me.
Fable came from a love of role playing games and the classic stories that most of us will be familiar with. I was fascinated to hear about the influences that not only enabled Lionhead's unique take on Role Play Game (RPG) dress-up, but even extends to your appearance based on your choices.
All of the Fable games are very British tales stemming from influences such as the Legend of King Arthur and its medieval imagery and the magic of Merlin and Excalibur. As well as that obvious link, Peter explained how the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray led him to the visible morphing of the player character - reflecting your deeds in your looks. This theme continues in Fable III, but now your weapons will grow to resemble your character too, providing a much needed alternative to the RPG crafting mechanic.
Molyneux was obviously aware of his past reputation - proclaiming the original Fable to be the "best role playing game ever made", which unfortunately it wasn't. Whilst he described this as "the worst thing I ever said", he still reminded us with a twinkle in his eye that, "great oak trees grow from tiny acorns" - which was of course one of the promised features that never materialised.
It's impressive that each iteration of Fable is taken by Lionhead as a chance to analyse every standard mechanic and if necessary rebuilt them around a new narrative that takes advantage of those changes.
Moving forward 200 years, came Fable II, which saw the arrival of guns and steam power to Albion. The great innovation though was the dog, which is possibly one of the greatest additions to any game in respect to how it affects your decision making. The dog came about because of the film Mad Max 2, which "starred" a mangy mutt full of courage and loyalty.
Your reaction to these events will prove pivotal in the unfolding story and something I find intriguing as you seek to gain your own power base.
The existence of the dog is a genius shortcut for hours of character development and makes the key decisions late in the game both impossible and heartbreaking. The dog remains in Fable III and isn't involved in the game's first critical decision, but will probably again provide you with a companion that you will fight for with greater vigour than any human.
Moving on to combat, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, with its dazzling sword play inspired the team to evolve Fable's fighting system. Molyneux loves fighting games but the required dexterity prevented him enjoying the spectacular moves the mechanics allowed. Fable's one button approach aimed to bring this excitement to everyone, which was something they largely succeeded with. This is expanded in Fable III allowing fast attacks with a quick press, but also a charged attack by holding the button down. A new multi button system even allows you to strike a quick sword blow, whilst charging a spell.
Fable III takes the stage 50 years later as we're thrust into a world teetering on social and industrial revolution with smoky towns offering some refuge to the poor and afflicted. It's the gritty realism of Robin Hood, dispensing with much of Albion's magic and Dickensian sensibilities, that determine the aesthetic now.
Albion is now ruled by the descendents of the hero from Fable II, but this isn't a story of happy ever after. Playing as the sister of the king for instance has you witness his uncaring nature as he lets his people starve, whilst living in luxury. Your reaction to these events will prove pivotal in the unfolding story and something I find intriguing as you seek to gain your own power base.
Answering the question of power driving corruption regardless of my initial intention is something I'm looking forward to exploring both alone and with a friend.
Ico was cited as another influence, with Molyneux even calling it, "the greatest game design ever". A new touch mechanic promises to provide new ways to build connections within the game. Molyneux enjoyed explaining how touching people elicit surprising reactions, but other than the ability to hold people's hands to guide them, I've yet to see how this plays out in full.
From half an hour with Fable III it's clear there are significant technical improvements. The world looks better than ever and the controls feel more in tune with expectations for a third person action game. The cut scenes and dialogue are also a step-up in terms of quality with the voice acting sounding less cliched and more believable. I welcome that change, always struggling to take the world seriously, when the voice actors obviously didn't.
Much of the talked about mechanics and the improvements to co-operative play are yet to be demonstrated, but from what I've seen it certainly looks like there will be an interesting role on offer here. Answering the question of power driving corruption regardless of my initial intention is something I'm looking forward to exploring both alone and with a friend.
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