In the build-up to your own coronation, Fable 3 feels like a more refined Fable 2. It remains, at its core, a supremely accessible action-RPG (it's fairly easy for any "core" gamer to get the "finish Fable 3 without getting knocked out" Achievement) that alternates between simple, one-button combat or gesture-driven social interactions. You still use a world map to zip around from area to area, and you still roam the wildnerness/tomb/town with your trusty dog at your side. Combat still consists of hitting X for melee attacks, hitting Y for guns, and hitting B for magic; and you can still go up to every townsperson and either fart in their face or woo them with dance.
While many of those core mechanics return from Fable 2, they've been tweaked and polished to a veritable shine for this installment. The flourishes you perform in combat (by holding down the attack button and releasing at the right time) become much more elaborate -- Fable 2's flourishes were mostly pretty cool-looking sword swings, while Fable 3's animations include bravado-filled moments: the Hero snapping an opponent's neck mid-jump with their feet, or shooting their foe in each limb before delivering a coup-de-grace headshot.
The minigame-style jobs (blacksmithing, pie-making, and lute-playing) are straightforward rhythm games utilizing the face buttons, that let you make money much more rapidly (by the way, you only earn money while actively playing -- no more exploiting the system clock for cash). You can now buy and manage property (both personal real estate and money-making rentals and shops) right from the map.
Instead of upgrading weapons through augments, you upgrade them through either fulfilling specific requirements ("kill X number of foes during daylight") or, in the case of your Hero-specific weapons, they simply change and upgrade based on use. My evil character's hammer looks much redder and angrier than the shiny beacon that my good-aligned friend uses as his hammer. The "like Fable 2, but better" even applies to the voiceover work; as an example, the outstanding Stephen Fry felt criminally underutilized in Fable 2, and for Fable 3, he has a much more prominent (and therefore fantastic) role -- in addition to other examples of Important Characters Voiced by Fine British Folk like Bernard Hill, Simon Pegg, and Ben Kingsley.
The actual quests you undertake have greatly improved as well. Like the overall game, they run the gamut from purely humorous to more traditional fantasy fare. Some have you exploring caves in search of missing persons; others have you hunting for mystical books (or gnomes, or rare flowers); one puts you center stage in a ghost theater, while another has you play out a tabletop RPG session chock-full of meta-commentary on RPG quest design. In simple terms, not only is there more to do in Fable 3 compared to 2, but whatever you're doing is generally better as well.
Perhaps the biggest change is how the annoying menu-heavy interface of the previous game hasn't simply been tweaked, it's been ditched altogether in favor of an in-game interface. You don't pop up a menu to change weapons anymore -- you teleport to your personal Sanctuary (there's an in-game explanation for this), walk into your armory, look among your racks for an appropriate weapon or spell, hit A to equip it, and with the press of the Start button, you zap right back to where you were.
If you want to change outfits, you visit the wardrobe within that same Sanctuary. To look at the map or use fast travel, you hit up the Sanctuary and actually walk up to the same sort of 3D map table that you'd see generals pore over in the war room of a movie. This giant magical Sanctuary is your new-and-intuitive menu, and even though it's a quirky concept to swallow at first, it at least works more effectively than the menu array of the previous game.
Even leveling up has become simpler and more literal -- instead of allocating stats in a menu, you walk upon a "Road to Rule" and spend Guild Seals (obtained via quests, combat, or simple NPC interactions) to open treasure chests and gates along the way. Opening a gate occurs when you "level" or fulfill a plot point, while opening individual chests is akin to leveling up a specific skill. Sure, it's still ultimately obtaining currency and using that currency to improve your character like any other RPG, but it's a simpler, more visual and straightforward take on that concept.
So Fable 3 shines with improvements over its predecessor across the board while maintaining the series' effusive charm. In general, what was already in Fable 2 usually feels better (with some exceptions, more on those in a bit), while what gets added actually feels a bit substandard at times. For example, one of the new mechanics added to the way you interact with people is holding hands, where you use the Left-trigger to grasp a character's hand and take them alongside you. In a few instances, this mechanic feels downright perfect and (yes) touching -- I'm thinking specifically of a sequence where you guide a blind man through a cave, or the first time you actually drag someone to work.
But the rest of the time? It feels woefully unpolished compared to the rest of the game.
Never mind quirky glitches like how the breadcrumb trail disappears at random, or how enemy A.I. sometimes stands around untriggered. I'm talking about how the act of holding hands either resembles the Creation of Adam fresco on the Sistine Chapel (specifically the obvious space between the hands), or Elastic Man whenever your character's hands goofily stretch a couple of feet to maintain touch contact. And heaven forbid if you want to guide someone up or down some stairs -- as you'll often instead break contact and find yourself babysitting the NPC slowly up/down. Considering how many quests require you to hold hands and guide someone, it's odd how this mechanic simply looks like it was tested last and given an early stamp of approval before shipping.
Or how your dog, so key to your Fable 2 playthrough, doesn't feel so important here. Perhaps it's the subtle lack of "find a puppy, adopt it, and then grow up with it" experience -- or maybe because I didn't find enough dog-improving books along the way, but my canine pal seems noticeably dumber or even irrelevant. I found plenty of treasure chests myself, and during combat, my dog spent more time running in circles than charging forward into battle like in Fable 2.
Another half-improvement is online co-op: while it lets you use your own character online, and you're not tethered to the other player camera-wise, it still feels a bit sloppy when it comes to characters interacting with one another. Basically, when doing co-op items like proposing marriage or selecting quests or some such, only the host or initiating player sees the menus; the other player literally sees nothing of what the lead is doing until the act (such as the proposal animation or the fast travel) actually happens. It just feels weird to be locked in place for a few seconds with only a vague "the other player is interacting with you" before you see what the heck is going on.
Then there's the actual "you're the King/Queen" aspect (which comes with a story element that I won't get into here). Gameplay-wise, it ultimately means that, once in a while, you have to decide between two very obvious choices: one benevolent (which will subtract funds from the royal treasury) and one tyrannical (which adds funds to either your personal treasury or to the royal one). It's actually a lot like the governing sequences in Dragon Age: Origins -- Awakening, in that two people will present their perspectives on a common issue, and you press either X for the tyrant option or A for the benevolent option.
It seems neat at first, but it ultimately ends up feeling simplistic and inconsistent; the former due to the emphasis on money (smart players can remove emotional weight or consequences by simply saving money, and depositing enough into the royal treasury to offset the monetary difference in being benevolent), and the latter due to how kingship is simply just adding X-or-A prompts to your everyday gameplay routine.
sillier when quest givers consider 500 gold a fitting reward to a monarch who just pocketed 200,000 gold via a tax increase. On the bright side, the decisions you make sometimes cause changes in the game world that will open (or close) access to certain postgame sidequests.
Finally, while Fable 2 had a divisive ending (me, I'm on the "like" side -- both the "Perfect Day" and the quirky way that Lucien gets taken care of are surprising and different enough for me to overcome the otherwise anticlimactic finale), Fable 3 might be even more so -- especially depending on whether your reign is defined by benevolence or tyranny. While it features a climactic fight against a central character (which seemed to be one of the chief complaints of Fable 2's ending), there are some other issues with the endgame sequence. Without spoiling too much, it's safe to say that one ending is clearly "better" than the other, and in fact, I actually applaud how subversive Lionhead is when it comes to the theme of whether tyranny or benevolence is more helpful to the kingdom.
Such a theme, though, can get lost in how money-driven the ending is; the amount of gold saved in the bank literally determines the difference between a populated or a decimated Albion. And said decimation comes with not enough warning for players ruling with benevolence -- so the result actually feels cheap and exploitative rather than fitting. For me, since I embrace tyranny wholly, I wasn't nearly as bothered by the endgame as my cohorts who ruled with kindness. So, you might want to either go full tyrant, or at the very least save up money and dump it in the bank on day 118 (you'll know what I mean).
Of the trilogy, Fable 2 still proudly stands as the apex -- a magnanimous leap over its predecessor and as one of the best games on Xbox 360. Fable 3 almost eclipses it, but it stumbles along the way, and alternates between, "it's Fable 2, but better" and, "it's not as good as Fable 2." Nonetheless, Fable 3 is even simpler than its predecessor while remaining utterly and distinctly charming when compared to the rest of the 360's library -- it just isn't quite as magical as Fable 2.
Original Article written by By Thierry Nguyen can be found here