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Moral Complexity Sold Separately─Fable III Review

I have never liked the Fable series. The storytelling is flimsy, the game mechanics are sloppy, and the whole is just too disjointed and unfocused. Creator Peter Molyneux is infamous for inciting hype and failing to deliver, and he has made this practice tradition in Fable’s latest installment.

You play as the son or daughter of Fable II’s protagonist. Your older brother, Logan, has inherited the throne to Albion. He, however, does not play nice and, because of this and a more personal infraction a few minutes after the game’s beginning, you and your mentor, Walter, decide to lead a revolution against him.

The game is separated into two acts: The first one involves collecting allies. You please various leaders in true, trite video game fashion by completing tasks they are too lazy to do themselves and promise the leader a particular improvement in their area if they aid you in ridding Albion of tyrannical Logan. Once you’ve collected them all (as it were), you storm Bowerstone castle and take the throne.

The second act is the well-publicized act as King or Queen of Albion. By this time, you are aware of a larger threat that requires your wisdom. The survival of your kingdom now depends upon your skills as a monarch and not just through your sword, gun, and sorcery. You will need to amass money to fund an army against the threat, but, at the same time, you will also need to choose whether you will honor the promises you made to the various leaders that have helped you gain your throne. Doing so will cost you money, but will gain you popularity and honor. Thus, the greater moral crux of the game is revealed: Do you honor past promises and improve the general life of your citizens at the moment or do you safeguard their future?

This question is almost silly. The mechanics of the game, however, are frustratingly lacking any sense of moral complexity. Decisions as monarch involve pseudo-complex but ultimately futile choices between screwing Albion at the moment or in the future: Channel Machiavelli and your citizens will hate you and Albion will suffer from pollution, moral degradation, and/or unhappiness. Be kind and millions of Albion citizens will be slaughtered with the succeeding generation hating your guts for allowing it to happen.

There is no actual way to save the kingdom apart from amassing the cash yourself, which is close to impossible and requires an inordinate amount of work disproportionate to the rewards or the way the game was meant to be played. You’d think, as a king, you will have more choices, perhaps more intelligent choices, but no. You are stuck with choosing between a massive dip in funds for an orphanage or rise in funds for a whorehouse. Clearly, a ruse; but the game does not give you leeway. The Fable universe is morally confused and is juvenile in its treatment of it.

The gameplay is also confused. Most of the elements, which all work fine though not brilliantly, for the most part, are irrelevant. There is an economic system, but it is veiled, and is nice but isn’t any more than nice. Your clothes are strictly cosmetic. Speaking to people adds points with which you may redeem better equipment, but does not add to the experience and easily becomes tedious. You can act morally or immorally, but the game ends the same for everyone, save for a few changes that affect only appearance and the way the game strokes your ego (The Blind Seer who comments on your success always commends you, despite what you do, regardless of your evil or benevolence), hence this ludo-narrative dissonance that has the player save the kingdom, even if he is a mass-murdering monarch.

The story is ok, but, considering the latest narratives, and being released fairly close to the ultra-complex Fallout: New Vegas, the childish, cliché-ridden, and predictable story is inexcusable. There are hilarious moments and a surprisingly hyper-imaginative quest involving the player shrinking to partake of a tabletop RPG session with a couple of nerds (which, I think, is one of the best quests of any game in a long time─though not beating Fallout 3’s Tranquility Lane quest by any measure─and certainly the best in the game) but, apart from these, the story is only memorable because it is one that we’ve heard over and over again. Not to mention the game misses its chance with some almost awe-inspiring sequences. During the revolution, you are led through narrow streets fighting hordes of enemies with your few friends, rather than with scores upon scores of allies smashing against Logan’s army.

Fable III is a deeply flawed game, but it is a fun game. It is short if you choose to ignore the largely mundane side quests (standard escort me here, give this to whoever, tell someone this, get me this from here affairs), and this, considering the small amount of main quests, characters, and weapons, makes the game a sort of ludic short story or novelette. The combat is satisfying, the voice acting is fantastic, and the graphics make for nice eye candy. Even if the ultimate mechanisms have conceptual faults, they generally work and, regardless, there is fun to be had here. Pity Molyneux failed us again with a shallow sense of morality and lots of fat, but his game is, at least, a decent distraction.

Six out of ten.

Fable III (Xbox 360). Developed by Lionhead Studios. Published by Microsoft Game Studios. US Release, Oct 26 2010. Single playthrough (normal difficulty) in about 15 hours. Ended with extremely high morality and attractiveness, and very slender build (clearly, a fantasy). All promises to allies fulfilled and, consequently, six-million citizens killed during final attack for lack of money to fund an army.


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