Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fable III

Fable II had problems, but the first half of the game was fun enough for me that I played it twice and would like to play it again.  Some things I liked about it:
  • buying and fixing up properties,
  • making money by trading in goods,
  • making choices that affected how my character looked,
  • interacting with npcs
Of these, I think only the first was not harmed by changes made in Fable III (though, a case could be made that they messed up the balance on this too; I quickly earned 1.5 million gold, where in the last game buying property was pleasantly challenging).

The Two-Item Store
I have never seen a video game regress as much as this did with its stores.  They went from stores with inventories that you could buy and sell items of a particular type, to stores with 2 or 3 items on pedestals that you walk up and buy or not.  You can only sell things at pawn shops.  Why?  Was this designed for use on tiny phone screens?  Are people so simple that they had trouble buying things from a list?  I had a fun time buying low from one merchant and selling high to another in the last game.  This game, I didn't even bother buying things for my own use.

You Are What You Do
I liked that you would change appearance if you did evil or lazy things, if you ate a lot of meat pies, or if you used big hammers in combat.  I made choices to avoid looking certain ways in the last game.  This is a very good way to make players care about choices.  This was pretty much neutered in Fable III.  Sure, your avatar changes, but minimally.  I maxed out magic-use and by the end of the game the only difference I could tell was that it looked like I had bad makeup on.

But more than that, the last game let you make choices as you went up in level about what to get better at.  This game dumbs that down as much as they did stores.  At certain points in the plot you go to the "Road To Rule."  In that location are a certain number of chests you can open to give you better abilities.  But that means you open a chest for better melee, no choice of melee moves.  It also means you can't buy properties, businesses or have kids until certain levels. Its hard for me to put into words all the things I didn't like about this set up.  I'll try:
  • I could only guess at when I would "go up in level." This meant if I wanted one of the abilities (like, hello, buying businesses) I had to plow on into the plot rather than exploring the world at my own pace.
  • When I did go up in level-- well, you didn't really go up in abilities unless you'd earned enough XP (guild badges) so you probably won't get all the abilities unlocked that first try.  Why?  Did I go up in level or not?  If you don't want me to get melee level 5 when I hit that level of the Road to Rule, why are you linking them?  Why not let me level up like the last game?
  • Some things like the emotes, should have been available far sooner in the game (it actually didn't matter much because they broke the emote system so badly).
Basically the level up screen, like pause screen, was made a real, physical place in the game.  I like that they were trying something new, but here the abstraction of a screen rather than a real place is much simpler, easier to understand, and easier to use.  Again, were people having so much trouble with the concept of leveling up that they needed leveling up to be physically represented as a road?  I don't buy it.

There are other regressions-- why can't I tell the how clothing or food will affect my appearance, why were the job mini-games all boringly homogenized- but I'll move on to my biggest disappointment.

NPCs Make the Imagined World Go Round
One of the things I liked most about Fable II was that NPCs had a few simple character traits that, added together as a system, lent the world a sense of verisimilitude.  Want to get to know the blacksmith so you get cheaper weapons?  Don't joke around with him because he's a serious dude.  Want to start a family with that attractive vendor?  She likes the lake and chocolate.  So, take her out to the lake and then give her the chocolate as a gift for the best results.  And, when you start a new game, the NPCs are randomly generated.  You may have one game where everyone in town is trying to jump your bones (men and women) and the next game everyone's a prude.  Is there any other game that has anything even close to this?  Because they killed it in Fable III.

In Fable III you can't emote.  You can only interact with an NPC and then you are given a random choice of emote to do or not.  (I keep wondering if I've made a mistake, the new system is so utterly stupid that it can't be intended.  Is there a way to emote and I missed it?)  What that means is that I was doing sexy tangos and playing pattycake with all the men in the world.  Look, I like that the game allows for same sex relationships and crossdressing, I think it's cool, but do I have to sexy tango with every man?  Did anyone play test this?  Is this supposed to be funny and I'm missing it?
So many difficult choices, if only I could just dance with everyone!
Okay, forget about how appropriate tickling grown men is, because the emotes are an abstraction and were silly in Fable II as well.  They still crippled the system though, because what used to be mini-games for the different emotes turned into just holding down a button until the controller vibrates.  Were the mini-games too difficult for people?  I like that they meant you had to pay attention, it was an abstracted sense of working on a relationship.  With the Fable III version it is boring, boring grinding.  I went from happily talking to every NPC in the first village, to not caring, to dreading having to interact with NPCs at all.  Dear game designers, was player dread a goal of yours?  Because I was quite happy with the last system.

I don't think the change had to do with having more cities and thus more NPCs, because the emote engine is still there, you just can't choose how to use them.  So I can only hypothesize that this change was meant to simplify the game in order to reach a wider audience-- but the old system wasn't difficult to begin with.

Unless . . . that bane of my existence, multiplayer mode has something to do with it.  I have no desire to play video games on my console online with random strangers, hell, even with friends.  If I want to play with friends give me a coop mode where we can be in the same room and play together.  But it seems I am in the minority in this.  Designers and players seem to want capture the flag modes with every freakin' game that comes out.  Is that why the NPC interaction system was regressed?  Because of problems with online multiplayer or coop play?

My recommendation is, if you liked Fable II for any of the reasons I mentioned, skip this game and play that one again.


  1. Thanks much for that helpful review. I have been wanting one of the Fable games (I am a sucker for this type of game) and now I know which one, the cheaper Fable 2 it is. saved me a bundle you did...

    As for the multiplayer version, outside team shooters (which I essentially never play) I couldn't agree more.

  2. All I wanted from Fable 3 (because, Fable 2 was magnificent) was the two things I missed from Fable 1 and more of the cool stuff from both. The two things I missed:

    The ability to enter my home and close the damn door so that every tom dick and local wasn't wandering around my home.

    Lock-picking. You know. The skill that made it worth playing a skill character? Yeah. That.

    And I wanted more tattoos and clothes and stuff to make my character distinct.

    Fable 3 failed in spades on all counts, PLUS the anti-climactic ending, AND the railroad plot that really wasn't necessary "Say, bro ain't no hero, let's just walk into his office and cap him. No? Really? Uhmmm... OK. Seems like open war in the streets of the capital is going to do more harm than good, but alright."

    Sure, there is the whole Ancient Evil revealed on the quest for allies, but you could have gotten all those allies against the Ancient Evil from the power of the throne. And, don't even start with how disappointing the much hyped post rebellion game was.

    Yeah. 5stone, Fable 2. If you have even a silver xbox live account and the HD space down load fable lost chapters and play through that, too. Fable 3 is a significantly different game.

  3. @5stonegames: my pleasure.

    @drcheckmate: Ha, the doors! Yes, many a romantic evening was ruined by the throngs of adoring fans crushing into my house. I had to cast spells to try to scare them away. Again, did anyone playtest these?

    I've never played the first Fable, would you recommend it?