Thursday, 25 July 2013

Xbox 360: Fable 3

Thanks to the recent "It's free, so play it and stop whining" promotion by Microsoft (no, not using the $, that's over done and nobody cares anyway), I managed to experience the game series for the first time. It's hard to judge just what exactly the game is trying to be and how it is going about it when it jumps and changes so frequently. 

Cohesion seems to be absent, at least initially, as from one moment I'm running around a castle having woken up with a dog in my bed (literally), to deciding the fate of several people on an enforced execution session. It does raise a few eyebrows initially when you consider whether to execute a few nobodies you've apparently never seen before or you have to execute your "childhood sweetheart", which you apparently have known all your life but in game, you just met and spoke to for a few seconds before determining whether to have him killed. This might have worked had there been more time to develop the history (supposed or otherwise) of the inter-character relationship and led to a harder hitting impact on the choice. And making no choice kills everyone, so the truly evil people are the ones who walked off for a cup of coffee during the unskippable scene. I relish my evil coffee thank you.

The next thing I know, I'm running through a crypt with John Cleese cowering audibly behind me while I'm immolating bats. A short while after, I'm negotiating future peace promises with people while learning to cut down creatures and shotgun people in the face. Which brings me onto the combat.

Fighting in Fable 3 is a mishmash of using magic, a gun or a melee weapon, each set to their own button, holding down the buttons allows for stronger charges and hits from those weapons. Movement and dodging is fairly fluid but combat tends to descend into running away from enemies until you've enough health to continue flailing combos and long ranging magic and guns before the enemies get close up again for more health draining. It's basic and it's just too simplified and could have been a lot better with perhaps a combo system with melee filtering into switching up combat moves would have made for a more interesting series of fights instead of playing keep-away while the health-regen is playing doctor.

Thankfully combat for the most part can be ignored and in some cases, run past, to get to the waypoints and skip the large fights altogether. Given that most of the levelling system is purchased unless you're trying to get the legendary weapons upgraded, combat seems to be almost entirely forced and unnecessary. Given some of the later developments in the game, it makes one wonder why it's there at all when you become ruler and have to start actually making decisions on ruling a kingdom. 

The game is entirely in 2 halves, the first half is running around, exploring brightly coloured and picturesque locals, appreciating subtle humour and playing "name that voice" with a large myriad of voice actors and celebrities from Stephen Fry to Michael Fassbender and Simon Pegg (rate them yourselves, I like them all, except that one... yeah... him...). Developing a large ownership (or not, your choice, but I DO recommend you do this) of buildings and stores to gain cash, doing quests to gain favour or partnering up in online mode, getting married, having kids (which you can ignore, another bonus) getting married again, divorce, adopting kids and handing them back. 

Then suddenly the game takes a dark turn and introduces the eldritch abomination threat from out of nowhere. The game then quickly becomes a game of "rule the kingdom" with the aim being to fend off the threat within a year. This is done my making sure you've got cash in the treasury while you'll be offered choices in the kingdom that ultimately boils down to being a shitbag and breaking promises (more cash for you) or being a kind and considerate individual that makes the "right" choices and leads to you having no cash for the final boss fight. (Or take the hidden option of donating shitloads of cash of your own money to make sure you have more than enough before the fight, straight after day 121... I don't get the time skip myself... and lets you do what you want, kill whom you want and just cough up on the final day). 

In essence, there's two games here and it's as if two developers came up with their plan for Fable 3 and instead of picking one, they chose both at the same time while someone occasionally sprinkles humour around the game. There's a variety of depth behind the two layered surface if you're willing to hunt for it but the effort doesn't balance the rewards that the game provides. You can spend days playing this game just for an occasional punchline and in some cases, have it go straight over your head. If the game had chosen to be one thing rather than everything at once, it could have been a much more enriching experience with a fuller and longer lasting impact, particularly for the choices and decisions that are made within the game, depending upon whether you're playing as a dick or trying to do the best (dick route is amusing at times and turfing out orphans to make a brothel is entertaining).

Eventually the game becomes a contest of how big an e-dick you can be when you're shown leader boards of how many groupies you've fucked at the same time to how many STDs you've caught by jumping the bones of the local crabs breeding ground, to how many locals you brutally slaughtered while trying to get the "I can kill people for cash" achievement. (More on such achievements in a later entry).

Overall it depends what you're looking for if you're going to enjoy this game, if you're looking for subtle references and a shallow morality series of issues, you can find them happily here. If you'd rather look for something deeper with more of a focus on what it's trying to be, you would do well to avoid this interesting experiment.

Don't kiss the dog, it looks weird.