Preview: Fable 3

Susan Arendt | 3 Sep 2010 09:00
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Some time from now, after Fable 3 has been released, played, praised, and dismissed, Lionhead will probably end up apologizing for its imperfections. Because that's what happens with Fable games. Despite the franchises' many strengths - or perhaps because of anticipation those strengths create - its weaknesses seem to amplify in players' minds, swirling into a maelstrom of disappointment and frustration that the development team itself ends up echoing. All of that is coming, I'm sure, but before it happens, I'd like us all to take a moment and thank Lionhead for getting rid of the damn menus.

Not exactly the first feature you'd normally think of tweaking in a game that has issues with its combat, economics, and morality, granted. But until you sample Fable 3's ingenious new interface, you don't realize how aggravating and ham-fisted the system from the old games was. It suddenly dawns on you that part of your dissatisfaction with the experience stemmed from how the game constantly kept you at arm's length, actively doing its best to prevent you from feeling any kind of connection to your character, her gear, or the quests she was completing. Because the menus in Fable, be they for checking your quests, dying your hair, or sorting your weapons, weren't that different from any other RPG you've ever played. They weren't particularly inspiring, but they worked and were navigable and we carried on with the rescuing of Albion, not fully realizing just how shitty they really were. Five minutes after you start playing Fable 3, you'll wonder how you ever suffered through anything so archaic as a menu-based inventory.

For those who need a brief refresher on the next chapter in the Fable saga, here's the shorthand: You, as the son or daughter of the hero from the previous Fables, are one of a pair of royal siblings. As the prince or princess, you one day realize that your brother, Logan, is a homicidal tool and the world would be a far better place if his ass wasn't occupying the throne. The setup for your departure from the castle isn't exactly subtle - Logan does everything but twirl his moustache to remind you that he is Evil, capital E - but your quest to raise an army to overthrow him is an engaging departure from the lone adventurer formula of the first two Fables. It also provides a handy excuse for all the heroics you're about to commit - after all, what better way to gain followers than to inspire the populace with acts of selfless bravery?

The gameplay doesn't veer terribly far from the template laid down by the first two games. Once again, you'll use magic, melee, and ranged attacks in whatever combination you fancy to complete the many quests you'll face on the path to your rightful place as ruler. Buy real estate, get married, visit shops, make friends with townsfolk, train your dog - this is well-worn, well-crafted territory for Fable. This time, though, it's been streamlined and refined to keep you involved in the actual game as much as possible.

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