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Friday, 10 October 2014

Fable III.

Took me ages to figure out what to do for today. Bravely Default is a surprisingly long game, you know that? I thought I'd have it wrapped up and done and ready to be reviewed by tomorrow, but I'm nowhere close. Harshness.

Fable III.

Here's something everybody can agree on: Fable III was the worst Fable game of all. 

In a way, it marks the end of Fable as we knew it. Fable as the brainchild of wacky Peter Molyneux, as this kind of bastion of fun, playful gameplay with a very British, Pratchettian sense of humour, being developed out of a studio in Somerset of all places - that all kind of stopped with Fable III. Microsoft reached in, seized the reins (as they have now done with Minecraft) and everything since has been very - stale. When people talk about game development as an industry, they often talk about it as something aggressively stale and unreasonably set on an outdated (if it were ever true in the first place) ideal of gaming that places teenage, white, American boys ahead of all other demographics, despite how small and boring a demographic they are. Microsoft is that, and Molyneux wasn't. 

But you could definitely see the franchise start to falter with its third entry, even with Molyneux at the reins. If Fable was an iconic if flawed game, and Fable II was a shining example of everything the franchise could be, then Fable III was a game that was more flaw than icon largely because of its insistence on changing in ways nobody wanted it to change, struggling to carve out a new niche for itself and failing utterly. 

But at least you still have a dog.

Set some decades after Fable II in Albion's quasi-Victorian age, Fable III puts you in the shoes of a young prince or princess, whose older brother Logan has become a tyrant. Prompted by an old family friend, the prince sets out to ferment a - well, not a revolution, despite what people may say, because one royal warring with another does not a revolution make. A civil war, really. On his or her journey, the prince or princess also discovers a threat to Albion from over the sea: The Creeper, a figure of darkness and fear.

(I totally have a theory that the Creeper is actually Jack of Blades in a reduced form. We know killing him is difficult, I see no reason why destroying his mask in Fable should have been the end of it. Besides, a powerful void-dwelling creature with a deep voice, who likes taunting people and has a motif of three faces?) 

Same, Walter.

So that's the first half of the game, and it's - it's fine. It's not good. It's not up to the standard of either of its predecessors. There are too few enemies, so it feels repetitive, and the way you learn to do even basic things like swing a sword is staggered out to the point of absurdity, and Albion is unnervingly unrecognisable, as if they lost their geography consultant, and you're constantly getting called away to your headquarters, giving the entire thing a niggly feel. Iconic parts of the previous two games, like the inevitable arena battle, fall flat because they're overmilked, and returning characters like Reaver barely resemble themselves. 

It's the second half of the game that's the problem. Charged with raising funds for the kingdom's defence and a limited time in which to do so, you are placed on the throne and must make decisions as to whether to fulfil your promises (which will inevitably lose you money) and be a benevolent ruler, or whether to be a strict ruler and save up money in your coffers. 

Here are the problems with this section: Firstly, whoever wrote it doesn't understand politics or economics. One early choice you're given is whether to lift a ban on alcohol. Lifting a ban causes you to lose money, but that makes no sense. For starters, you're lifting a ban, not buying your citizenry drinks. Also, it costs more money to ban alcohol than it does not to, in real life: Bans on alcohol are more to do with quelling public disorder, increasing population health, and the hand-wringing of people who don't like anyone drinking than they are to do with economy, because policing such a thing is hard. It's expensive. You can kill a nation with the costs involved in banning alcohol. That's why most countries don't ban alcohol: They tax it. Alcohol is sold at a premium price to reduce drinking, and the government gets to fill its treasuries with the money taken off tax on it. 

Secondly, you are never given the option to defer a promise. The Creeper will attack in a year, and everyone knows this. You are a monarch: You do not need to seek re-election before this attack. In real life, of course you would be able to tell people 'I see your promise and I have every intention of fulfilling it, but we will be attacked in precisely eight months, and I cannot see your people safe and well-fed if they are all dead. Please be patient, and in the meantime I will do X, Y and Z low cost compromise to try and ease those months.' 

Thirdly, you only ever have two choices. When presented with the option of building a school or having children work in factories, the 'neither' option isn't available. There's no middle road.

Or a 'Liquidate Zombie Reaver's Assets' road.

Obviously, it would be impossible to program every possible choice into the game. That's understandable, it's just an obvious problem with video games. But more than two choices would be nice. Four, maybe. Just four choices. Four choices that seem based on a reasonable understanding of politics. Four. 

What the game wants you to do, of course, is make all the benevolent choices and then work up the money yourself as a bard or a piemaker or somesuch. But the job minigames are longwinded and kind of boring. They are, in that respect, much as they were in Fable II. If you've the patience, you can work up some money on jobs and then buy real estate and let the funds trickle in, but that's also a longwinded process, and it's not uncommon to see people suggest that you just leave your Xbox on overnight to accrue money. 

Needless to say, it's not a mystery that this game wasn't especially well-received. It filled me with irritation when I first played it, and the same when I next played it. But Molyneux was still a better game developer than Microsoft, of all people. 

So I'll be over here, lamenting the planned Fable IV and Fable V, which it seems increasingly unlikely we'll ever see - and if we do, quite possibly not in any kind of worthwhile form. I'll mourn Minecraft while I'm at it.

Bloody Microsoft. 

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