Fable 3: examining early critical reception

David Hughes's picture

The release of Fable 3 today marks the second high-profile exclusive for the Xbox 360 this fall. While the previous two games in the franchise have garnered their fair share of attention, this newest entry is perhaps the most ambitious yet. Here we examine the early reaction to the game, quoting from certain reviews as necessary to provide a sense of the general reaction.

The road to rule is done well, but Fable 3 isn’t perfect

Yesterday we highlighted the Lionhead-developed Fable 3 as one of the games to watch for this week, as its sales success (or lack thereof) will tell analysts a lot about the strength of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. In reading a lot of the pre-release coverage, two major elements of the game stand out as ones to watch. First, Peter Molnyeux has talked a lot about Fable’s “Road to Rule”. The game begins with the land of Albion being ruled by a tyrant, and the player’s job is to gather a following—eventually storming the castle and becoming king or queen themselves.

IGN’s review lauds this element of the game, saying that “what makes Fable III feel unique is the layer of politics wrapped around the standard Fable setup.” In gathering a following, players will have to make a lot of promises in order to garner allegiances. Once in power, though, the gravity of the situation in Albion comes home—and fulfilling many of those promises presents a difficult choice. Quoting the same review, this is “where things get interesting.” Fable 3 presents an interesting set of choices, and provides a level of dynamism that previous entries into the franchise have promised but ultimately failed to deliver.

Once in power, CVG praises it as well, noting that it “feels meaningful, fresh and immersive - it's just a shame that it's over so quickly.” The ending of the game does wrap up the main story arc, but like previous entries does allow players to finish up side quests and other exploration—albeit in a game world that is forever changed by the choices made at the story’s conclusion. Given the high praise for being King of Queen, however, it is entirely possible that Lionhead will provide Fable fans with some sort of expansion, building on their previous royal rule with a new story arc.

The other major element of Fable 3 worth taking a look at is the promised streamlining of the various RPG elements. For instance, instead of traditional leveling, your character’s progress is measured graphically alone the “Road to Rule”, with gates unlocked by story progression. Character and weapon appearance modifies with a revised version of Fable 2’s ‘morph’ system—another feature that sets the franchise apart. Also, inventory management is no longer conducted via a menu, but instead with an actual wardrobe that players walk inside.

Ultimately, while the streamlining makes Fable 3 initially more accessible, it still provides some of the depth of a traditional RPG. Several reviews compared this treatment to the same transformation that BioWare undertook in making the critically acclaimed Mass Effect 2. There are still flaws with the game, but Fable 3 delivers on its biggest promises, and that’s good news for a franchise plagued in the past by promising much and delivering only a little.

Of course, while the game is receiving generally positive reviews, the success of what it delivers depends on individual perspectives. Destructoid’s review represents perhaps the best example of the outlying negative review. Instead of praising the shift in gameplay achieved once the player becomes king or queen, they point out “Even though you're royalty, you'll still spend most of your time farting at people to win their approval and performing mind-numbing QTE minigames in order to earn cash.” It is worth noting, however, that much of the criticism here seems targeted at the fact that—in their estimation—the franchise has not evolved enough.

Whether or not an individual gamer will enjoy Fable 3 is difficult to predict, but the majority of critics agree that the newest entry in the franchise continues to evolve its unique sense of morality and humor with some interesting genre-bending choices in terms of menu navigation and dynamism in the game world. Fans of the franchise will not be disappointed, as most reviews begin by saying that—despite the game’s flaws—it is the best entry in the franchise to date.

Fable 3 released in the U.S. today. As sales data becomes available, look for a follow-up article on this important Xbox 360 exclusive title!

Note: a PC version is planned, but a release date is still TBA. Combined with the fact that multi-platform titles, particularly in the style of this one, historically sell far more for the consoles than PC (even when they release on the same day), we are treating this as if it were only for the Xbox 360.

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