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Fable III Preview

I know what you’re expecting: very little. You’re thinking that a Fable III preview will consist of pages of disappointment. Perhaps it’ll contain lines like “Peter Molyneux has once again bitten off more than he could chew,” right? And, well, you’re forgiven for thinking so – the ideas behind a Molyneux game have usually been more exciting than the game itself.
At first glance, though, everything is looking good. Admittedly, the three hours I spent adventuring through Albion was barely scratching the surface – the rest could be average despite how enjoyable the opening sections are. There is, however, one wonderful thing that we know will make it to retail: a voice for your Hero. Yes, okay, that sounds minor, but believe me: it lifts the protagonist onto a new level, giving him or her a spark of personality we previously had to imagine. It’s simple, certainly – in itself it only adds lines like “I don’t want to do that,” and there aren’t any selectable lines of dialogue – but it’s undeniably a nice touch.
As you probably know if you’ve paid any attention to Fable III so far, the game kicks off in Bowerstone Castle 50 years after the events of Fable II. This time around, our hero is a descendant of Fable II’s hero (and yes, your Fable II save file can be imported) and he or she just happens to be the sibling of Albion’s king, Logan.
Logan’s reign is one of terror. Through his actions Albion has undergone an industrial revolution, and there is growing resentment from the population. The familiar city of Bowerstone has changed into something akin to a steampunk monster, with the oppressed populace crammed into labor camps, overworked and underpaid. Naturally, as the saint I am, I couldn’t simply stand idly by and tried to organise a better food supply.
Once again, it’s all about choices and consequences; action and reaction. “Poo poo,” I hear you cry. “They’ve claimed this before.” I can’t argue with that, and it’s uncertain from these first few hours whether choice is something that’s a cute gimmick or whether it really will have a wide-ranging impact, but just between us, there’s a rather memorable scene very early on. Microsoft has made me promise not to tell you and I fully expect that if I even began to tap out a description Molyneux would burst through my window in a black ninja turtleneck and strangle me, so you’ll have to wait and see for yourself, but I’ll tell you this: this particular decision is one of the most intense I’ve seen in the entire series. This decision managed to be the first thing in a Fable game to make me feel reflective. Better yet, though, despite how (or perhaps I should say “for whom”) I decided, I’m still mulling ny decision over. Yes, I’m being cryptic, and no, I can’t clarify, but if you’re a Mass Effect fan, think along the lines of the Ashley/Kaiden decision on Virmire. I have high hopes that there’ll be similar scenes throughout the rest of the game.
This time around, your enemy appears to be considerably different from the archtypical fantasy villains that acted as antagonists in the first two games. Again, it’s obviously impossible to say for sure, but a vision that takes place after a few hours play certainly seems to indicate we’re dealing with shades of grey rather than moustache-twirling examples of cartoon evil. The vision in question depicts Logan brooding over a miniature version of Albion. “This is my Albion,” he growls, “I would rather destroy it than see it surrender.” This time around, is our primary antagonist a king who’s trying to protect his realm but is managing to turn it into something far worse? Considering we know the player will be crowned king long before the closing credits there’s likely something else waiting in the wings, but one thing is certain: the road to that crown is only possible with a retinue of loyal followers.
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You see, before you can even rise to role of good/bad/silly ruler, you need followers. I got my first when stumbling through a snowy mountain village which pretty much epitomised misery and starvation. A little girl – Debbie – ran up to me, tugging on the leg of my trousers, begging me for food, even going so far as to offer her doll in exchange. My heart thoroughly melted, I passed over a few coins and suddenly had my first “follower.” The little one is happy, and I am too, because followers take the place of experience points. Those meaningless numbers are outdated and silly, reckons Molyneux.
Levelling up is instead handled by the Road to Rule, which is quite literally a street containing both closed gates and treasure chests that symbolises your path to the throne. With enough followers you can unlock more gates and more chests, gaining new abilities and becoming more powerful as you do so. The more followers needed, the more valuable the upgrade.
Why isn’t this on a menu, you ask? Because there aren’t any menus. Hitting the start button transports you to the Sanctuary, your own personal hideaway with various chambers acting as your submenus. Here you can store up to three individual armour sets, in addition to weapons and other equipment, and change between them at well. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice it’s got to prove that this detour through rooms is actually more convenient – it’s certainly confusing, at first. Thankfully, it’s at least entertaining as your butler (voiced by the ever-marvellous John Cleese) spouts dry, sardonic humour every time you pass through.
In addition, you can check out a miniature Albion which we expect will be immensely important, especially once you become king. Yes, you can use it to fast travel around the kingdom, but you can also zoom in to individual buildings and residents. We imagine that on release you’ll be able to use this to, say, increase the rent on properties, find quests and interesting hotspots, and even set up and move your armies.
Prior to actually having an army, of course, you’re going to have to do your own scrapping, and Fable III uses the same one-button controls as its predecessor. As before, it’s X for a melee attack, Y to fire off your rifle or pistol, and B to let loose magical hell. Again, it’s all about mixing long and short button presses to combo together fast and strong attacks, and unsurprisingly it works just as well as before. Combining different types of attack shows off some gorgeous animation, and those who liked the way combat looked and flowed in Fable II are going to fall in love with the improved eye-candy on offer here.
Magic, at least, seems a bit simpler. Instead of gradually unlocking more powerful variants of fireballs, lightning bolts, and the like, you can now unleash the most powerful spells right off the bat – it just takes a lot longer to cast them. Amusingly, you can combine the spells together. A tornado and fireball, for instance, will unleash a burning hurricane, and Lionhead promises dozens of combinations.
You’ve got the breadcrumb trail to lead you to your next objective, if you want it. You’ve got the dog, barking to point out paths through dungeons and hidden treasures. You’ve got three buttons for three types of attacks. There’s so much that’s comfortable and familiar – but then you’re forced to make a decision, and when you do, your hero actually speaks and responds. If our decisions will actually make us feel remorse this time, then it’s possible that Fable III will finally fulfil the promises made by the first game all those years ago. We’ve got the combat and the characters; we’ve got the humour and the silliness. If, this time around, we can actually influence the kingdom and really feel our consequences, then it’s hard to see how Fable III will be anything but king.

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