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Fable III hands-on: Starting a revolution

Fable III is the third installment in the series from visionary creator Peter Molyneux.

Fable III is the third installment in the series from visionary creator Peter Molyneux. This latest iteration continues the story of the fictional land of Albion, taking place 50 years after the events in Fable II and 550 years after the original Fable on Xbox.

Now deep in its industrial revolution, Albion is faced with a tyrannical king who happens to be your brother. You'll seek to overthrow him by gaining enough followers to stage a revolution. How you accomplish this is the game's good or evil main gameplay component.

Having sat down privately with Fable's lead game designer Peter Molyneux a few months before Fable III's release really helped understand where he wanted to take the franchise. Molyneux seemed frustrated with where the RPG genre had evolved and wanted Fable III to distance itself from the norm.

To Molyneux's credit, Fable III is by far the most accessible RPG we've played--so much so that at times the game doesn't even feel like one. Instead of worrying about the typical genre staples of meters and gauges, Fable III seamlessly equates leveling up to crossing through a series of gates. This separate world can be visited at any time and lets players cash in earned points to open treasure chests that represent upgrades and new abilities.

Also new in Fable III is the menu system, or lack thereof. There's actually no pause button in the game. Instead, hitting Start takes the player to a sanctuary where he or she has the option to equip weapons or switch outfits. Kudos to the development team for making this such a smooth experience--the sanctuary loads almost instantaneously.

There's so much to cover in the world of Fable III, but what really stands out is the game's excellent combat system. It consists of a satisfying mixture of spells, firearms, and melee attacks, allowing for some exceptional cinematic moments. Players will notice the game adapting to their specific play style, too, in addition to weapons changing their overall appearance as time goes on.


How you play the game, whether you're on the path of good or evil, ultimately affects your character's appearance, too; arguably Fable's most iconic detail throughout all three games.

Fable III charms us once again, not just with its tongue-in-cheek humor, immersive story, and satisfying gameplay, but with outstanding CG cut scenes and voice acting. You'll most certainly recognize a celebrity here and there as well; Fable III features the likes of John Cleese, Simon Pegg, and Sir Ben Kingsley.

It may seem obvious that Fable III is an experimental sandbox for the concept of nonverbal communication. After all, much of the game is spent dancing, singing, or otherwise showing off for other characters, and the game's early hours may be the world's most advanced handshake simulator.

But it's actually not nearly as abstract a concept as one might think. It turns out that the vast majority of video games are essentially concerned with nonverbal communication in one form or another. Sometimes it's wordlessly shooting down waves of enemy soldiers, other times it's getting a basketball from one end of the court to the other by reading the body language of teammates and opponents, or retelling famous stories through mime-like Lego characters. The difference is that the Fable series makes no attempt to disguise it's deep fascination with the topic.


Like the best films or television programs, the best games are primarily concerned with relationships. Fable III owes more to the classic strategy-driven version of this, found in games such as The Sims or Civilization, rather than the (relative) realism of Heavy Rain or Mass Effect. The end result is more of an elaborate puzzle box than a traditional narrative; players are trained to think more about gaming the system for extra widget points than truly interacting with virtual people.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; it certainly emphasizes the "game" part of video game design, and the end result is a highly playable, entertaining experience that has much more mainstream appeal than one might think.

To the game's credit, it carries that concept over behind the scenes as well, replacing the written dialogue of menu trees and lists with elaborate imaginary rooms and roads, following the same precepts of nonverbal interaction (except for an especially chatty butler played by John Cleese).


But there's a burning question behind it all. While much of the game is presented in this gesture-based style, it still resorts to traditional narrative frequently, often in the form of lengthy dialogue-filled cut scenes. Rarer still, your usually mute prince or princess protagonist even speaks on occasion during this exposition.

The question becomes, where in the game's internal logic is the choice made that this set of interactions will be performed through nonverbal communication, while this other set of interactions get traditional dialogue or cut scenes? It's a question even Fable creator Peter Molyneux didn't quite have an answer for when we asked him in person a few months ago.