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Lionhead's quintessentially British RPG returns, urging gamers to plot a revolution in the lands of Albion...
We don't really do revolutions in England. Despite having a history that goes back millennia, we've never really had a bona fide revolution in the way that countries like Russia, France, or indeed America have. Sure, we've been invaded and conquered more times than you can shake a stick at, and there was a Civil War 350 years ago that mixed things up a bit (basically, our Queen now has to ask our government nicely for power, rather than being made all-powerful through some kind of God-given birthright). So, despite the fact that Lionhead's Fable is arguably the most British game series in existence - with its quaint land of Albion, the sense of propriety running through it, and of course that famously stiff upper-lip - there's something quite un-British about the revolutionary themes of Fable III.
Rise to power and usurp our elder brother's place on the throne? No thanks, we'd much rather have tea and crumpets or form a nice orderly queue somewhere please. Ultimately though, our constant grumbling about the ills of modern British society (be they gravy train riding politicians or hand-in-the-cookie-jar bankers) are symptomatic of a larger urge to get a revolution out of our system. Like a 50-year old who's never experienced a moment of hedonism in their whole life, we'd perhaps just like to see what all the fuss is about before it's too late. This will never happen of course (the British public are ultimately a bit too sensible) and so Lionhead offers us that fantasy in a nice shiny box of RPG loveliness.
Yet again, Fable III's cast of voice actors has more in common with a blockbuster movie (albeit a British one) than it does a videogame. John Cleese, Simon Pegg, Ben Kingsley, and Stephen Fry all voice lead characters, not to mention a brief few words from Jonathan Ross. But, similarly to its predecessors, Fable III isn't just another videogame that's trying desperately to be a movie. It's not telling a story through the tricks bestowed to it by cinema - instead, Lionhead is using its trademark take on RPG gameplay to shape the game world, characters, and plot that you ultimately follow. Fable III then delves deeper into the realms of player choices and repercussions than the series has managed previously, despite its impressive track record in that area.
Exploration, a cornerstone to any RPG, is perhaps more evident in these player choices than conventional environment rummages. It's not that there isn't traditional exploration - each section of Albion's map has its nooks and crannies where various treasures can be found - just that the experience doesn't open up in quite the same way that a Bethesda game might, for example. Instead, the classic line of Fable marketing spiel, 'who will you become?', takes on a whole other lease of life in this third instalment. It's no longer just about becoming a 'Hero'; now you have to take on the grey and murky morals of a bloody revolution and its repercussions. Effectively it's these decisions, rather than environmental exploration, that guide you through the world of Albion.
As Obi-Wan Kenobi once said, "Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." To use another well known phrase or saying (albeit a decidedly less profound one), if you want to make an omelette, you've got to break some eggs. It's a sentiment Che Guevara would've been all too aware of in his time and it's one you'll get to know well in Fable III. Leading a revolution means striking deals and making promises that you may not necessarily be able to fulfil when the time comes for you to seize power. Precisely how successful you are in these aims is ultimately what decides the kind of leader you'll become. To use yet another common idiom in the interests of not revealing plot spoilers, you can please some people sometimes but you can't please all the people all the time.
The right decision isn't always the most popular one with the people of Albion, while spending money on improving their quality of life can come back to bite you (and them) in the arse later. Despite the fact that you're doing everything you can to be a good and noble leader, you can ultimately turn out to be an evil one nonetheless. All of this is the result of a quite ingeniously woven plot, while the writing and characters are hard to beat anywhere else in gaming. Fable III offers a truly absorbing story and it does this by being a game first and a film later - the lush cinematics and big name actors are merely icing on the cake. It's a beautifully imagined world too, Dickensian in its overtones and riddled with the enchanting touches that we've come to know and love of Lionhead's Fable universe.
What's perhaps surprising is that there is so little stodge to Fable III's gameplay. In terms of traditional RPG mechanics such as combat, upgrading, and dialogue, Fable III is incredibly simplistic - we can very easily imagine Dragon Age fans balking at it for precisely that reason. Melee combat is a one button affair, which is similarly the case with ranged weapons (guns in this case), although magic does offer a little depth by allowing players to combine two spells at once. Upgrading is catered for but it's a relatively flat process, while there isn't any semblance of a traditional dialogue tree in the game at all. Instead, interacting with other players by quite literally dancing like a chicken or farting on their face seems to be the preferred form of communication.
This will come as no big surprise to Fable veterans who'll know the drill from Fable II a couple of years back, but it may seem a touch weird to newcomers (we'd like to think that it's the good type of weird though). That said, newcomers are precisely who Fable III is aimed at. It's designed as a game that anyone can pick up and play and it succeeds in that remit. Dying is nigh-on impossible (you'll simply lose 'Guild Seals' instead) and, while some of the combat can still be a slog, it's only ever there to break up the missions rather than become the sole focus of the action. Ultimately though, as with its predecessors, Fable III puts its key decisions at centre-stage by scaling back on all the other complications of a traditional RPG and, when it comes down to it, it's this that helps to make the game such an original proposition.
Through a main campaign that's not far short of 10 hours, Fable III then offers oodles of replay value with the compulsion to go back and see how you could do it all differently in hindsight. It's an exceptionally well balanced campaign too, with a 'Road to Rule' section that constitutes much of the standard RPG questing followed by a post-revolution epoch that forms a sumptuous climax to the story and almost plays-out like a different game altogether. There's a whole life to have away from the campaign as well, from buying properties and running businesses to getting married and having kids, not to mention the odd-job mini-games and a good helping of secondary quests too. Then, once you're bored of all that, you can go online and explore other Fable players' worlds and even marry them. Good times.
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