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Fable III addresses all walks of life and dodges no bullets. Once you've got through the opening hours it's a place that's hard to stay away from. But I wonder how many casual gamers will make it that far and get to the good stuff.
Fable III takes the previous game's successes and looks to broaden them into a tale about human relationships and commitments. In doing so Lionhead have pulled in many Hollywood glitterati to voice their characters - Michael Fassbender, Ben Kingsley, ZoŽ Wanamaker, Bernard Hill, John Cleese, Simon Pegg, and Stephen Fry all add their dulcet tones and knowing winks to the fabric of the game.
It's a move to further ingratiate the Fable experience to a wider audience, drawing in curious onlookers as well as friends and families placed in front of the game by excited enthusiasts.
It feels similar to Halo's adoption of worthy TV shorts that addressed the bloody issues of war and the traumatic after effects. It undoubtedly adds weight and gravitas to how Fable III is perceived, but for me it muddies the water of what is an engaging experience in its own right.
Fable III is a tale that leads the player on a dance through themes of taxation, monarchy, politics and rebellion - each laced with personal concerns and commitments. What becomes quickly evident is that this is a journey to ruling rather than winning.
On the surface things proceed along traditional videogame lines and because of this you make quick decisions as you go. But underneath the workings of this action adventure ticks another engine, silently noting each decision, each commitment and each action you take.
Fable III has the same undercurrent of consequence as the previous game, only now it has created a setting to play them out at large. The first portion of the game can seem slow going, and is a substantial ask of any player - never mind the casual first-timer. But this road to kingship is merely the setup for the game proper.
Now you feel the burn of commitments made, or betrayals too easily forgotten as they come back to haunt you.
It's only once you get to reign that the full extent of your decisions really start to hit home. Like Fable II, your moral and ethical actions are depicted through your appearance - but now you feel the burn of commitments made, or betrayals too easily forgotten as they come back to haunt you.
For players coming from Fable II, the familiarity of the world of Albion only adds to the ease with which they initially move through it. At first it seems that not much has changed but side by side they would see that Fable III offers a cleaner sharper rendition of the fantasy than before.
As well as visual improvements, the place is more alive with humanity. From your doggy companion to the characters you meet everyone is an individual. Returning on a quest from another land, I instantly recognised the recipient from just the way they walked. Running through villages, you start to pick out particular individuals as much from their movements and expressions as the clothes they are wearing or icons above their heads.
The interface as a whole is also less in your face. Any stats and readouts tuck themselves away until needed, and the whole menu system has been replaced by a central Sanctuary where players enter rooms rather than pick items on lists. This works as much for the speed with which it pops up as for the more intuitive interactions it offers.
As the gamey-ness of the experience recedes what you are left with is a world you want to spend time in.
As the gamey-ness of the experience recedes what you are left with is a world you want to spend time in. That was true of the previous game too, but here you are aware that greater care is needed in the choices you make - the connection between decisions and consequences is now part of the fabric of the place.
For me this was a double edged sword though. The rich world, engaging interactions and all star cast made it feel frustrating to be so hamstrung in the opening hours. I know I should be used to this as a gamer, but I had hoped for more brevity in Fable III when in fact I found game play dragging its feet as I strained to get to the good stuff.
For all their dressing it up for casual players, this is still very much a hardcore videogame and I couldn't imagine many non-gamer grownups I know really get past the opening hours. At the same time though, any that do invest themselves even a little in Albion will find an experience as surprising as any film or book.
Lionhead still has a trump card to play though in the shape of their enhanced co-operative game play. Rather than simply taking someone along for a ride as in Fable II, players can now genuinely adventure side by side - earning experience, interacting with locals and completing missions. Co-op team mates can share quests where the loot is split two ways, or even get married with full cinematic weddings, and share bank accounts with each other.
This experience enables friends and family to try the game for themselves without the daunting task of sitting in front of the console alone.
This experience enables friends and family to try the game for themselves without the daunting task of sitting in front of the console alone. For those that try this it will eradicate many of the barriers to entry and incentivise their own adventure.
I've still a whole lot more of Fable III to get through, and in some ways feel like I've only just scratched the surface. But this is perhaps the genius of the game - there is simply so much to do.
While the best bits are likely only to be fully appreciated by the more committed gamers of this world, there are enough roads into the experience now for many more people to sample its delights.
An ambitiously realised world that lives and breathes even when you aren't there.
I've so far managed to resist my Fable III pursuits falling into the spreadsheet like game play - I admittedly enjoyed - of the previous game. But I still can't quite escape the glee at the heart of all this fun that is an ambitiously realised world that lives and breathes even when you aren't there. And this, more than Hollywood stars, improved visuals or action sequences, is what I keep coming back for.
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