With the release of Fable Anniversary looming, it seems fitting to take a look back at the series’ most recent entry and see why it makes Laura Shortridge want to both hug it and punch it in the face at the same time.
Have you ever been trapped in a love-hate relationship with a game? I’ve felt it more than once, but never as strongly as I do, to this day, with Fable III.
The first Fable was a true love of mine, of course. Entertaining, new, surprising, exciting and unexpectedly funny, I fell head over heels for it. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it was the first in the series, so I expected the sequels to be better. I was sold on the Fable idea, hook, line and sinker, and more than ready to pre-order the next installment.
Then, with one decision, Fable II cut me off from experiencing the wonders it promised. It never came to PC. I didn’t have an Xbox. Naively, I was surprised that a Microsoft game would refuse to come to PC, especially when the previous one had. I felt like Fable didn’t want me anymore. I was hurt. Not really, but I was annoyed. I let go of Fable, and while I had, in the back of my mind, the idea that “one day” I would play this game, I mostly accepted that the series was no longer for me.
Of course, then Fable III came out on PC. Nothing could describe the hope and excitement I felt at the prospect of again opening Demon Doors, kicking chickens and making decisions that would ultimately decide if I would look like an angel or a devil. First things first though, I installed the game. And discovered…
A terrible port. I’ve played this game a few times, and on more than one PC. Every time, issues arise, the most common and annoying being stuttering every few seconds, and I have to go through a long process just to get the thing to run smoothly. Of course, I’m not the only one who has experienced this problem, and it’s enough to cause many to decide that, actually, they don’t really need to play this game if it’s going to be such a pain.
My Fable love drove me through this teething problem straight into the next one. The map system. It’s not irrational to expect a basic working street map in an RPG, one that helps you navigate the towns in which you wander around, but instead, Fable III has only vaguely accurate maps that look like they were designed as part of a “build my village in match boxes” class project.
As the game progresses, more problems arise. Your dog – who is meant to help you find “dig spots” and treasure – is an idiot. You’re running through an area, and your dog barks. He’s found a dig spot. Great. That’s when you get to wait for the dog to actually find the dig spot while he wonders around in circles. Eventually he’ll locate it and allow you to dig. This seems like a small thing to find annoying, but after the first few hundred times, you’ll want to cave your dog’s head in with the shovel, and right as you start to feel that way is when he actually finds the spot. Often he gets confused and loses it.
Saving is a pain. You can quicksave if you hit F5, but there is no quickload. Autosave, which happens often, saves over any quicksave. To save your game properly, you need to go into the menu, into the “Save Room”, and choose a mannequin. Again, a seemingly small thing, but irritating after a while.
The game also plays pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with scenes it’s decided are too important to skip. Sometimes you can skip a scene, other times it just pauses. You don’t know until you try. Most of the time you can’t skip, and you’re forced to sit through a lot of pointless cut-scenes.
All this aside, Fable III can be fun as you find allies to help you overthrow your brother’s kingdom, collect things like books and keys, open Demon Doors, upgrade your abilities and mess about with swords, guns and magic.
Of course, one of the Demon Doors can’t be opened at all unless you’re playing with a friend online.
One of my favourite aspects of the game is weapons, which each have three “tasks” you need to fulfill to upgrade them. For example, Dirty Harriet, a rifle, will have a 30% damage versus humans bonus added to it if you drag 10 criminals to jail, 12 extra damage if you kill 150 human enemies with flourishes, and will cause you to earn guild seals faster in combat if you increase your moral standing.
Unfortunately, finding the exact right weapon for your character can be tricky, sometimes straight up impossible, as most of the legendary weapons you find are randomized. So if you’re playing a morally good character who favours the rifle, you might still need to go through the process of decreasing and increasing your moral standards just to get the rifle you happened to find to unlock all its best aspects.
You can get married and have children, but human interaction is a right pain. Potential spouses respond quite happily to flirtatiously playing “patty-cake” with them, which should cause worry about the entire population of Albion. While you can buy gifts for both adults and children, only children seem to request them. Adults would prefer you to run mind-numbingly boring errands for them. Once you pick a spouse, your biological children will definitely match your partner’s class (their clothes reflect that), but there’s a strong chance they won’t match your spouse’s (or your) race.
Sometimes, your child’s attitude may get stuck in a loop, refusing to go from “happy” to “love” no matter how many meaningless dolls you give them. Sometimes, your family will disappear, never to be seen again. If you have moved into the castle and your spouse has a habit of watching you make nasty royal decrees, they will die after being removed with all the other onlookers and your children will be sent to the orphanage. If something like this happens and you adopt your children back, they will occasionally talk like they are adopted children and not biological children.
Something that grates me the most is the silver keys. Due to the way the game is set up, it is literally impossible to find all 50 silver keys before the final battle in the game, as the quest that opens the area that contains the last key only activates after this battle. Inside the 50 key chest, you find a legendary weapon and 2,000,000 gold. Both of these would have come in handy just before the final battle. Both are pretty useless to you afterwards.
Fable III’s expansions are no better. Understone, while filled with awesomely decorated houses including one that resembles Sweeney Todd’s barbershop, is buggy when you try to move a family into one of them. Traitor’s Keep only activates after the game is finished completely, and it seems only possible to obtain the complete set of three out of the five new outfits after the main quest in Traitor’s Keep is finished, leaving you with three lovely outfits to don while searching for a set of books and… nothing else. Game’s over.
So why do I love this game so much? Why do I keep returning to it?
There’s the undeniable nostalgia. Fable III taps into the fact that I already love the world it’s set in, Albion. Loyalty is not enough to make me enjoy a game, but it’s enough to make me excuse flaws and play the game anyway.
There’s the cast. John Cleese plays your butler. Ben Kingsley plays Sabine, the pyromaniac king of Mistpeak. Simon Pegg is Ben Finn, a fellow revolutionary. And Stephen Fry returns as my all-time favourite character in the game: Reaver, a charmingly evil nobleman who made his first appearance in Fable II.
There’s the combat system. Magic is overpowered, but swords, hammers, pistols and guns are more fun anyway, especially as they upgrade and change in appearance.
There’s the clothes. Between outfits and dyes, it’s possible to create exactly the look you want for your character, assuming you don’t want your character to wear an outfit that you only get after the end of the game’s expansion.
There’s the detail. Every single gravestone in Mourningwood seems to have its own, unique, (amusing) inscription. The Reaver-obsessed fangirl you meet during one quest is standing near a house, which, if you enter it, is covered wall to wall in Reaver memorabilia. The game has 30 collectible books, not to mention notes here and there, from The Life and Adventures of Benjamin Finn to Dangerous Things: Industrial Machinery, all worth reading. The world is one that you can explore, and you will be rewarded if you do.
There’s the stories. Most of the side quests are unique, interesting and fun. The main quest has some great moments, especially when Reaver’s involved. As always, decisions make an impact on both you and the world, though disappointingly not nearly as much of an impact as they did in the first Fable.
There is something about the game that, despite all its flaws, is immersive and attractive. There’s something that, even though I can list many, many more faults with this game, makes it one of my all-time favourite that I’ve played over and over again.
Fable III. I love it, and I hate it.