The Problem with “Fable 3″
Over the summer, I came into possession (through slightly illicit means) of a mostly new copy of Fable 3 (okay, I got it from Goozex).
I’d never been “into” the series in general. The humor was just north of being functionally retarded, the “moral” choices in it seemed insignificant, and by Fable 2 the combat and RPG systems seemed almost non-existent. But that didn’t stop Fable 3 from coming out, and I’ll be honest, the draw for me was the latter half of the game. “Be a king!” the ads proclaimed. “I want to be a king,” I thought. “I want to make choices.” So I sought out the game… and didn’t play it for a while, because I thought I had made a huge mistake. Yes, like Gob.
Mostly, though, I had other games to play, and I was in the middle of a prolonged Halo: Reach binge that lasted way too long (and not long enough, if you ask one or two of my friends). Lionhead’s newest just wasn’t interesting enough to be worth my time.
That’s too bad, because I found some really cool stuff contained in Fable 3, once I got past the bad voice acting, even worse writing and piss-poor characterizations. (This is supposed to be British humor? Because I’ve watched BBC shows, and they’re funnier than this ever was. I mean, I’m supposed to laugh at a bird taking a shit right in the opening video. That’s not funny. That’s peddling to the lowest common denominator in gamers, and that’s the last thing this industry needs right now.) The problem with Fable 3, however, is the reason that it’ll never be a good game, or even a great game. It’s a simple problem, and one that plagues more games than I think most would care to realize: the problem with Fable 3 is that it’s half a game, and things end just when they’re starting to get interesting.
Let me explain.
The beginning of Fable 3 is fairly typical for a Fable game. It’s actually pretty typical for most Western RPGs. A standard setup, with this chick or whatever getting killed (or whatever) because you took a silent but moral “stand,” and suddenly you are outcast! wanderer! adventurer! self-proclaimed-and-silent-but-reluctant-savior! It all seems very cliche, right from the beginning, and that doesn’t help much when the game only runs about 12 hours total.
That feeling of the cliche – of been there, done that; a feeling that seems so well suited for the Fable series as a whole – changes about six to eight hours in, when the hero falls into a cave. It is in this place that an evil is brewing, something unnerving and foul. Something that vows to eat both the hero’s soul, and envelope the world. It is here that the real plot of the game begins to take shape.
Slowly, the relevance of your actions preceding this point begin to appear. This world – generic though it may be – is one that you are dedicated to saving. Your choices here lead up to the endgame, which at this point is approaching all too quickly, with little lead up, little preparation, only the promise of a battle that must be won.
Yet there is the problem with Fable 3.
Where most games might spend their narratives preparing the player for some world-devastating cataclysm, as was the case with Mass Effect 2 (and that game was content to spread things out, to make the experience last), Fable 3 condenses that story into a little less than half that time. It’s the length of a condensed action game, quick and brutal, with none of the focused trappings of similar titles.
Are the choices that you make worth making? Not when they’re presented in such a good-or-evil way, and the ramifications simply boil down to “can my coffers take this?” Are the characters ones that stay with you? Hardly, though that’s not surprising for any of Lionhead’s titles. Is the gameplay engrossing or captivating? Featuring a stripped-down combat system from even the woefully-inadequate system behind Fable 2… in a word, no. These vital questions aren’t even worth asking in light of a title that does far less than it could, than it should, because its creators were too busy playing with an as-yet-unreleased Kinect tech demo.
I wanted desperately to love the Fable series, from the first game to the newest. There’s something about it that appeals to me, even now. Yet Fable as a whole has been consistently disappointing. The series has never made good on its promise, instead presenting a multitude of systems and freedoms that somehow detract from the experience as a whole. For my money, Lionhead is the single most disappointing active British developer today, apart from Rare.
And none of that is to say that Fable 3 didn’t do a lot of things right. It did. There are consistently impressive and interesting things done in the gameworld, such as the bizarrely meta Dungeons and Dragons sendup, or a sequence where you entertain ghosts. These are the flashes of brilliance that Lionhead games consistently have, and yet the developer is never able to deliver on the promise that each of their games flirts with.
I suppose what I’m saying is this: inventiveness and creativity in games is all well and good, and should be encouraged, but when the underlying gameplay systems aren’t solid (and are persistently not solid three games on), there’s a problem with the series, and its goals may need to be reevaluated.
I’d sincerely hope that Lionhead holds off on creating another game in this flawed series until they can start resolving some of the issues that Fable has had since the first game, instead of adding to the problems. I hope that would be the case, but I doubt it will. We all love to see bad games fail, after all.