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.
The character models have been reworked so your hero isn't quite as hulking and genderless. It was easy to become a sort of formless, color-clashing blob in Fable 2. Now, both you and the other characters populating the world are a little less lumpy, a little more attractive, and more varied from person to person. A crowd has fewer doubles in it. The world is as bright, vibrant and carefully animated as Fable 2, but looks even more lush. Hopefully we’ll see more environments soon.
Your quest and end goal, also, are better defined. At the end of Fable 2, you must make a personal choice, but the end result is ultimately that you can continue gallivanting about, hero-ing or villain-ing as is your want, extorting people for money by jacking up real estate prices or killing waves of balverines til you're blue in the face. There’s no real sense of ’ending’ to it, but that’s because the ending is a set up for Fable 3.
The goal for Fable 3 is more personal- you‘re not tied to your endeavor by the memory of someone lost, you are actively pursuing a family member who is quite alive. The way you get to the end will have as much effect on the outcome as your arriving, too, since your goal is to depose a tyrant and ascend his throne. The way you do this isn’t by amassing XP, either, but by amassing followers.
In Fable 2, XP bought you everything- weapons, power upgrades, the ability to make the masses love you. In Fable 3, you have to win the people over, and based on how many of them you do, you may proceed to being awesome. Your weapons and physique change, not just with your moral decisions, but with every physical action you choose in the game. If you do bad things, your sword will warp to reflect your nature, to the point where it may ooze blood or sing terrifying battle hymns. Similarly, it adapts to your fighting style and the opponents you go up against most. If you like killing banshees, your sword will evolve to be a banshee-slaying specialty weapon.
It’s not only your character's stats that reflect this, but her/his physical appearance- curvature, glow, pommel decorations, the whole nine yards. This level of customization that permeates the game- not simply choosing what color to dye your hat, but having your character and their possessions reflect your style of game play, as well as moral choices, is a very intriguing and attractive prospect. The fact that this same morphing will apply to the world your hero occupies, depending on your choices, will make the game even less predictable and the experience of playing more dynamic. So in addition to the seamless, fluid game play you have this changing landscape and massively personal character to traverse it with. ....Yes, please?
The voice talent is also ridiculous. Stephen Frye returns as the supercilious bastard he played last time, thank goodness, and Simon Pegg comes on board as a swash-buckling type (romanceable for the ladies, natch.). Fans of Inglourious Basterds will recognize the voice of the protagonist’s tyrant brother as Lt. Archie Hickox, aka Michael Fassbender. Well done, Lionhead.
Fable 3 will be out October 26th for the Xbox 360 and the PC, at which point you will probably never hear from me again.