Why Fable 3 is an Embarrassment to Video Games

I just beat Fable 3, one of my most anticipated games of the year, and much to my surprise, I absolutely loathed it. It’s strange, because in many ways it’s exactly like Fable 2, which I actually chose as my game of the year when it was released. So why then, do I hate, hate, hate this one so much?

I liked Fable 2 because it improved over its predecessor. It expanded customization, skills, the plot, everything was deeper, richer and had more thought put into it. Yes, it still had some issues to be resolved, but surely those would at least improve somewhat in the third chapter, right?

Fable 3 might be one of the laziest games I’ve ever played. There are virtually no differences in gameplay or features from the last game, the designers not bothering to add new weapon types or spells. Not bothering to make any of the jobs different from each other, any of the people different from each other, or any of the weapons different from each other. Baking pies is the same mechanic as forging iron, a nobleman is just as uninteresting in appearance and speech as a peasant, and a magic gun kills foes as easily as a regular one.

I feel so strongly about all the things that are wrong with this game, what you’re about to witness is literally the longest single post in Unreality history. It’s a rant of epic proportions clocking in at 2,800 words and counting. I detail each aspect of the game that infuriates me, and if you’re a fan of the series, or just come here because you like hearing me bitch about stuff, then boy, this is the post for you. Read on.

The Poorly Played Out Plot

You want me to be king? No thank you.

The fact that I’ve already beaten this game is the genesis for me writing this post at all. I liked Fable 2 because it kept going long after I thought it had reached its peak. But when I thought Fable 3 was just getting started, things were over in a flash.

I have no problem with the first part of the game. Gathering allies across a nation by doing various quests to win their favor might not be the most original idea in RPG history, but it’s acceptable enough. Soon I was ready to overthrow the king, and so I did with ease. (Spoilers ahead from now on in this section).

But now, the game tells me, your journey is just beginning, you’re king now and have to decide how to rule. I am literally now given the option to be an angel (good) king or devil (evil) king, (with wings to match) by deciding how to rule the kingdom. As it turns out, my brother was such a dick to prepare for an incoming invasion of evil, and I would have to now decide whether or not to please the people at the risk of their safety, or become hated but fend off their impending doom.

The way to do this was to fill the kingdom’s treasure with gold. I needed $6.5M to save them all, and making $100,000 every five minutes of gameplay (as I owned almost every store and piece of property in the country) I thought I had a pretty reasonable shot with 365 days on the clock.

WRONG.

The second half of the game is not a half at all, it was merely an extra hour or so, where each day you would wake up, wander over to your throne room and make some decision whether or not to build an orphanage or farm the children for their organs. One decision always made the people happy, but cost you an ass ton of money, and the other would make them boo you in the streets, but the literal mountain of gold in your treasury would grow.

For the first few days, I always did the nice thing, thinking by the time the invasions rolled around I would have enough coin to finance the entire war myself, and as proud owner of every building in Albion, I figured that was a reasonable goal.

But then time started speeding up. After my first day of rule, there were 360 days left. After my next, 290, then 220 and all of a sudden 120. This wasn’t a year at all! After I finished the last item on each daily list, I would automatically be teleported into the future by an uncertain amount of days. I was never sure what was ahead, so how would I know if I had enough time to make the financial goal?

As it turned out, I didn’t, not by a long shot. Despite sinking millions of my own cash into the treasury, I only had $2.2M when I finished day 122. I’ll wander around later, I thought, I’ll let my cash amass and then transfer it to make sure I save everyone.

Does 122 days left sound like the last day of something to you?

But it was, and after I finished one last arbitrary quest, I was thrust into the thick of the invasion, with no way to turn back, or earn more cash or upgrades. Most of Albion was slain, and what should have been an entire chapter of the game was reduced to a poorly constructed hour of insipid account keeping. I can’t believe this game is actually over this quickly.

The Cake-Walk Combat

…and repeat

I’ve given Fable a free pass on this for a while now, but it’s gotten to the point where something must be done. This game’s combat system is unreasonably unbalanced, and makes the entire game practically a joke. Even doing a huge chunk of the sidequests, I’ve beaten the entire thing already, and the combat system has been a major contributing factor helping that along.

The only time battles are difficult are when the camera zooms in to show an enemy you’re killing in slow motion. This might be logical if you’re performing a rare special move, but the game is programmed to execute the slo-mo command at random, even during normal maneuvers, and sometimes when you’re say, shooting a skeleton 100 feet away, it will zoom in on its slow motion demise for 5 seconds as in the meantime, you’re getting swarmed by 6 other enemies.

In Fable 3, your sword is more or less useless. If you want to take on a group with your melee weapon, you’ll have to block, lunge, parry, dodge, charge attack and your opponents will block half your attacks. And that’s if there’s only one of them. Being surrounded by a crowd makes sword fighting even more unbearable, because after all, why would you want to swing a sword, when you can roll away and blast everyone with a rifle? The gun is the far easier alternative to the sword, as no enemy in the game can effectively block bullets. There’s a reason swordplay in combat went out the window once gunpowder was invented.

But why shoot a gun when you can just explode everyone onscreen with magic? Yes, magic is still massively overpowered in Fable 3, and the charged area of effect B attack is the key to winning any battle. Not only are there no new spells at all in this “new” game, but the old ones are as unbalanced as they ever were. Spells like Vortex and Force Push are still useless, while the lightning attack remains the “kill everything” button present in the first two games. And now with the power to combine spells, I can electrocute AND burn my enemies to ash, and it if that doesn’t kill them instantly (which it usually does), I can slice and shoot them as they hang there motionless, frozen by electricity for what seems like ages.

This tactic works on literally any enemy in the game. I just spend five minutes mashing B electro-fireballs at the final boss who was frozen in place by the spell. Sure, it took 30-40 hits to kill him as opposed to the usual 4-5, but never was there any real danger to me. In fact, I’ve died a grand total of once in this entire game, and I’ve only used 2 health potions in my entire combat history. Yes, it’s true, I could choose to only use the sword and combat would generally be a good deal more challenging, but that’s like saying I should play through Halo Reach‘s campaign using only a pistol even though there are way better guns available. It’s not my fault B is a “win button” nor should I be the one responsible for making the game more difficult by handicapping myself.

If you’re going to design a game for children, it’s probably not a good idea to rate it Mature.

The Mind-Numbing Navigation

“Where the f*ck are we?”

Navigation in this game is a train wreck. Yes, Peter Molyneux’s brightly lit breadcrumb trail taking you to your next destination is still in place, though I have had the game glitch several times where the trail wouldn’t appear at all, or would flutter in and out like the magic dust had a fuse that needed to be changed.

But the problems lie more in the fast travel system and mini-map. Let’s say I want to go to a town to buy a toy boat for my kid. A relatively simple task right? In a normal game, I’d press select to pull up the mini-map, locate the store, which is labeled on the map, set a waypoint for it, fast travel to the town, and follow the waypoint until I got there. In Fable 3? Here’s the process :

I press start, I’m taken to my Sanctuary where I have to walk over to the map. I zoom into the country, then find the city I want. I zoom in further. Now, I can’t set a custom waypoint, so I just have to fast travel to the city in general. Based on no discernible criteria, I may teleport two feet from where I need to go, or I may appear 3 miles outside of town, and have to fight three legions of mercenaries to get there.

Once I’m in town, I don’t know where the shop is and my options are either to walk around to every story I see, and press A to read the sign in front of it to see if it’s the store I want, or I pull up the mini-map, which is a crude 3D rendering of the city that looks almost nothing like what surrounds you. I hover over every building until I find the right one. Again, I can’t set a waypoint, so I have to take note of what’s around it. Problem is, I can’t even see where I am on the map, as there’s nothing to indicate anywhere that “YOU ARE HERE.” How the hell do you forget something that simple in a game in 2010?

I unpause from the mini-map, and am instantly lost as the surroundings look nothing like the map I just came from, so I wander around aimlessly until I stumble upon the shop by accident or give up and decide my kid doesn’t need a damn toy boat after all. Custom waypoints, a readable, easily accessible map with a “You are Here” feature are things we take for granted in most modern RPGs, but in Fable 3 they seem to be luxuries the designers couldn’t be bothered with.

Edit:

People keep telling me I missed an aspect of fast travel, where you can use the magnifying glass to travel to a specific building, and you’re planted nearby (sometimes) and are led there by the glowing trail. I just went and tried what you said and it does work. I guess since it said “Do you want to travel to Bowerstone Market” rather than “Do you want to travel to the Blacksmith’s” I didn’t know I was being led there, and the trail was now guiding me to the store rather than the current quest I had active.

Looking back, I did try this magnifying glass method when I was playing before you all brought it up, but sometimes it would plant me at the door, sometimes it would plant me far, far away, which I didn’t understand, and didn’t get that the trail had now changed to be directing me to that location. This would all be solved if they just made it so you could fast travel to any property sign, and I’m not sure what would have been so difficult about that.

Maybe I’m a moron, but if I can play through the entire game twice without realizing that mechanic was in place, I don’t think it’s very intuitive or showcased properly.

The Ridiculous Relationships

Ugh. Let’s get married. I guess.

The character interaction system in Fable is, and has always been, absolutely moronic. Far lazier than Bioware or Bethesda, Lionshead merely fills the worlds with a bunch of lookalike NPCs with no actual dialogue. Sure they dress differently in various regions, but the graphics are so bad, all their faces look like something out of a horror film. And you’re supposed to want to befriend, impress and DATE these people.

Lionshead’s solution to making human interaction intolerable was not to change anything, or make any NPC have anything meaningful to say, no, they simply give you XP for performing “expressions” now, a Sims-like form of communication that rarely involves words.

But it’s not even like these expressions correspond to the person you’re talking to. Sure, maybe I’ll seduce Mary the bartender with a few dance moves, but I’d rather not to do the same to Sam the Blacksmith. Why not pick another option? I can’t, because usually only two expression options appear onscreen at a time, and my other choice is to dance like a chicken.

At first I was going to choose some random NPC to date and marry so I could experience that aspect of the game, but after not being able to tell a 20 year old maiden from a 60 year old crone because of supremely awful character models, I gave up. Until Elise.

Elise was my girlfriend at the time I chose to spare at the beginning of the game. There was a mildly interesting subplot where I rescued her from kidnappers and made her break off her engagement.  Later, I randomly found her in a bar, and the game seemed to want me to propose to her, so I did. Seeing as she’s the only unique looking female NPC in the game, it seemed like a good decision.

I took her back to our newly bought mansion for our honeymoon night where we did the nasty in one of Fable‘s typically retarded blacked out sex scenes. But when I woke up the next morning, apparently it started to burn when I peed.

I marry the girl the game more or less sets me up with, try to have a family with her, and I get an STD, even though she’s the only in-game woman I’ve slept with? You gave the female lead in your own game an STD? Seriously?

“GODDAMNIT!”

So finally, after a whole lot of itching, I did manage to pop out a child. It was actually kind of a magical moment, as I’d skipped doing so in the previous games as I heard they were simply chores. I had a little infant girl I named Ivy, and I would sing to her and be a good dad.

But what did I find when I returned from my long voyage to Aurora? My little Ivy had grown into a seven year old BLACK GIRL. Look, I’m not trying to be racist here at all, I’m merely pointing out the supreme laziness that accompanies something like this happening. Though as far as I can tell, you can only be a white hero (an issue in itself, as I’m pretty sure you get even whiter with “increased moral standing”), and the girl’s mother is most definitely white as well. Clearly rather than take the five minutes necessary to write code that factors the parents’ race in, there’s just a completely random child generator system in place that can produce a kid of any kind of appearance, regardless of pesky things like genetics. Pure laziness. I’d try for another kid to see what would happen this time, but I don’t want any more STDs. I also suspect my wife has cheated on me with a black guy.

Every so often my family makes me come back home so they can give me a present, or I can give them a present, but that’s really it. There’s mild satisfaction from having a virtual family love you, but after the initial good vibrations, it does become a chore.

The entire character interaction system in Fable is horrific. There’s no reason to want to talk to anyone, as no one ever actually has anything to say. The only time you’ll hear anything remotely interesting  is during a quest, but even then, the dialogue is full of Fable’s horrible writing team that desperately tries to be funny with every line, but rarely ever is.

This is the exact opposite of say, Mass Effect, where practically every person you see has something worth hearing. Could you see Commander Shepard walking up to the Asari consort and flapping his arms like a chicken so she likes him enough to give him some meat pie? I understand it’s a different kind of game, but again this is rated “Mature” after all, though everything about the game is the farthest thing from it.

In Conclusion

There are many more things I could talk about here. I could say how my dog apparently has been kicked in the head since the last game and can’t find treasure without getting stuck on a wall for twenty minutes. I could say how the characters skate around the screen with a physics engine that thinks cobblestone is ice. I could talk about how annoying it is to not be able to load a previous save when you realize you’ve accidentally drained the lake in your back yard to make way for a mine. I could talk about how lame it is to lead a grown ass man through a dangerous cave by the hand, only our hands don’t actually touch 80% of the time due to poor programming.

I just don’t understand how you can take a game that was pretty good but then add absolutely nothing to it for the sequel, and in some instances even takes features away. I don’t understand how you could make it shorter, make combat even less balanced and somehow make the world uglier and less worth exploring. I just don’t get it.

AND STOP MAKING ME HOLD DOWN A TO OPEN DOORS.

(contact the author at paul@unrealitymag.com)