Fable 3 debuted its playable demo at E3 this past week, and to say I made a beeline for it, monopolized one of the stations, and made the developers from Lionhead Studios borderline uncomfortable with my questions would be understatements all.
Presented either with a side quest in an idyllic village or dank, shadowy dungeon, players were given a hero with a solid stable of powers, a million bucks, and a border collie to take a test run with. If you, like me, clocked excesses of 70 hours in Fable 2 and ended up being a real estate baron to rival Donald Trump, than your head, like mine, would have imploded from sheer glee and that peculiarly ravenous sort of satisfaction that comes from being a hero in Albion. It felt good to be back. Better than it had felt the last time, in fact, with the changes to gameplay the gang at Lionhead Studios have implemented for this new installment.
One change is the menus. No more 2-D menus, no more click-wheel. Now when you go to your menu, you are transported to a fully interactive environment that’s like your Batcave, where your butler Jasper (voiced by comedy-God John Cleese) will chat with you and provide helpful advice, and you can outfit yourself at your leisure off of mannequins sporting different ensembles. Once you’ve chosen your accoutrement, you’re out in the world with your dog at your side, ready for adventure. The mechanics of moving, and indeed of fighting, are much the same, but have been greatly improved in a number of ways. One of the ways in which this is most evident is that your hero actually touches the world they move through.
Fable 3 takes the solid interaction ideas and progression of character abilities established in Fable 2 and makes them organic and tactile. No longer is there a three foot buffer, a magic force field between your hero and the world. Everything from fighting to hugging to playing with your dog has become an exercise in direct contact. Like a combination of The Sims and Red Dead Redemption, suddenly your fabled hero can directly manipulate the world as they come into contact with it, instead of being a kind of warping force that passes by and generates a reaction.
In past games, you would address a villager, bring up the click wheel, and choose to beckon them to follow you. In Fable 3, you grab them by the hand and pull them along. They may follow willingly, they may fight you on it- it depends on how they feel about you. When you approach a villager and wish to impress them and make them like you, you can shake their hand. You can dance with them (fans of Dirty Dancing will have a mini freak out when they do this for the first time, I guarantee). When you threaten them, instead of growling and clawing the air and looming over them, you grab them by the throat. It makes the interactions seem genuine and immediate. They are engaging. It is a huge difference in how you experience the world of the game.
This major step forward in gameplay is going to be enhanced by the fact that your hero is fully voiced, something a certain Star Wars game is also- rightfully- getting much press for. Whereas before you would growl or laugh or make vague preening noises, now your hero converses with the people they come into contact with. I’m really pleased with this trend, not just because it makes your character seem more real in the environment, but because of all the work it’s going to give the great actors who are being squeezed out of animation by the clamor for ‘celebrity voices’. Do like voiced RPGs.