Fable III: Fantasy, romance and chicken suits
Fable III is often considered the ugly duckling of Lionhead Studios’ iconic trilogy. IGN called it a “royal disappointment” and my brother only ever described it as “serviceable”. Ever the contrarian, I have to disagree. This was my first experience of character alignment and of gameplay that required me to make ethical choices with consequences. We play as the younger sibling of a corrupt king and must travel the kingdom of Albion, rounding up support, to stage a royal coup, all while a bigger threat lurks in the darkness. The planned outcome of the game is that a character who insists on pleasing their subjects would eventually bring the kingdom to ruin and those who were cruel would be doing so for the greater good. Like any people-pleaser, I insisted on doing it all.
The game has many positive features. A star studded cast, including Stephen Fry, Simon Pegg, and John Cleese, voice a loveable and memorable collection of characters. The landscape is beautiful, with a gorgeous eighteenth-century steampunk vibe and the map is varied and fun to explore. The game also has a particularly innovative pause menu; an atemporal set of rooms called ‘The Sanctuary’, where outfits, weapons, and money are stored, along with a war table that functions as the map. The internet is full of people complaining about this apparent travesty but I really appreciated being able to manage the ‘admin’ of the game while remaining immersed in the story.
“This was my first experience of character alignment and of gameplay that required me to make ethical choices with consequences”
The gameplay suffers, however, from the same long-game-lull that many RPG’s do. You find yourself procrastinating and short on cash, running through the mountains delivering letters, or busking outside taverns for hours on end. However, there are more fun things to get up to while you’re wandering around between major plot points. The game is full of quirky features, with a weapon that morphs depending on how you use it, and silly joke outfits. I had several wolverine battles while wearing a chicken suit and, after a particularly gruelling trip through a crypt, my axe was suddenly made of bones.
There is also, of course, the romancing. The primary love option is unbearably bland and will have you running through the kingdom looking for better options. Fortunately, the citizens of Albion are more than happy to oblige. Unlike games that limit your options to major characters, Fable III allows you to romance almost any NPC attracted to your gender and effectively gives you license to ride your way through the map if that’s what appeals to you. Frankly, with location names like Mourningwood, it seems to expect it. Tragically the two most eligible bachelors, byronic aristocrat Reaver and heroic soldier Benn Finn, are immune to your charms but almost anyone else can be won over. There is the option of marrying and having children but my character wasn’t one to be tied down, she had a kingdom to save.
“I had several wolverine battle while wearing a chicken suit”
Fable III isn’t all fun however, there can be really difficult moments when you have to face letting down characters who trusted you. It’s just a game but I was squirming with guilt while ordering the closing of an orphanage. There’s also an unavoidable character death towards the end that had me walking around in a grief stricken haze for two days. That balance of humour and high stakes is probably Fable III’s strongest trait and sets it apart from a lot of other fantasy games. It’s a game that was clearly made with love and joy.
The game doesn’t end when you’ve saved the kingdom either, there are still quests to be done. You can finally go back and marry that hunky priest in Aurora and settle down to a quiet life in the desert, or blow whatever money you have left, betting on chicken races and buying expensive hairstyles. Or you can do what I did, which is pretend that the game wasn’t almost over and let my character explore every crevice of the beautifully created kingdom for hours on end, swimming in the idyllic lake around Driftwood and busking in the village of Brightwall; all while wearing a chicken suit, and sporting an axe made of bones.
Audio / Visual