With the Fable franchise finally returning to the PC, a lot of questions were certainly raised. Concerns about its status as a port were pretty high among them, as the series has certainly been born and raised on Microsoft hardware. Thankfully, while Fable III hasn't changed much from the content of the original Xbox 360 release, it seems to have mostly shrugged off that yoke. At its core, the game is still the enjoyable romp through a fantasy world, but a good chunk of its gameplay comes across as dated.
The story of this third installment puts you in the shoes of a prince or a princess, and with either selection, you play as a sibling to the reigning king of the land. After an expedition a few years back, the king has become a tyrannical leader, and he has been mercilessly driving the populace into poverty and despair. Your first moral choice in the game isn't an easy one, as you must choose whether a group of citizens or your boyfriend/girlfriend is to be executed, and it is at that point that your cushy life as a member of the royal family becomes the life of a hero and a revolutionary. The people desperately need a leader to help them overthrow the king, and through no accident, that person becomes you.
After escaping from the castle, you are set on the path to becoming the kingdom's newest hero, helping the populace to earn their support and gather a large enough army to start a revolution. As you complete quests, kill enemies, or interact with citizens, you gain hero points, which can be spent in the various sections of the Road to Rule. For the most part, how you gain these points and how you spend them is truly up to you.
The Road to Rule is accessible at any time and is split up into various sections. Each section contains one or more chests that can be opened by spending hero points, which reward you with improving your abilities or unlocking a slew of new actions. For example, you can upgrade your melee abilities, unlock new magic spells, gain the ability to use new expressions in dealing with people, or enable the ability to own property. New sections of the Road to Rule are unlocked as you progress through the game, essentially functioning as a physical manifestation of the narrative thread. Every section you unlock saves your current look as a statue next to the gate, so by the end of it, you can walk through and see how your look evolved over time.
The way that you choose to play Fable III is entirely up to you, and while nearly every action has repercussions both good and bad, they are all valid options. A series hallmark, this allows you to shape the world to some extent, not only affecting how people on the street react to your presence but also how your character and weapons develop in their styling. Some weapons are only leveled up by doing evil actions, and conversely, some are only leveled up by being a goody two-shoes. Then again, another weapon is leveled up by getting fat, so it's not as if everything in the game revolves around your moral compass.
Regardless of your demeanor or methods, you will spend a lot of time in combat, but how you choose to do so is similarly up to you. There are three combat modes available: magic, melee and ranged. Magic is where the game sees the most variation, allowing you to utilize different magic spells for different purposes. The selection is fairly exemplary of your standard schools of magic, hurling fireballs to damage targets or using ice to slow them down. Since magic doesn't require mana to cast, not unlike how guns don't require ammo, you are free to roll around and spam magic every which way. However, this also makes playing a mage feel awfully similar to the gunplay, and like guns, it can be difficult to pick a specific enemy to attack. For the most part, you end up flinging spells in the general direction of the enemy group.
Melee combat makes use of your equipped melee weapon, which is limited to the two categories of hammers and swords. Actually fighting off opponents is a simple matter of mashing the left mouse button while facing an enemy and holding right-click to block. However, melee combat is often very cumbersome if you are fighting more than one enemy at a time thanks to less-than-nimble controls and enemies' tendencies to dog pile on you. Similarly, ranged combat consists of the use of two categories of firearms, pistols or rifles, but seems less sluggish because by its very nature, you run around and take potshots at enemies rather than going toe-to-toe with them.
The entire game doesn't revolve around combat, as you still have a life to lead that doesn't involve stabbing or scorching a brigand. Much as in the other games of the series, you can own property, first by buying and optionally renting out houses and culminating in owning shops and getting your share of their profits. You reap these rewards every five minutes automatically, just as long as you occasionally go to the main map and pay the upkeep on all property with a couple of button presses (and admittedly a few thousand gold). It's entirely possible to become a real estate magnate before you get your hands dirty; with a steady stream of profits coming in, you can easily buy that shiny new weapon or fancy set of clothes.
The interaction with your denizens pays dividends in providing you with a small sum of hero points, so it's a good idea to spend some time getting to know them. Interactions are limited to simply holding down the key of the action you wish to perform until the game prompts you to release it, and the possible actions range from being polite, being a jerk, and clucking like a chicken. As you become friends with people, you can eventually become lovers with them, both in the singular and simultaneous plural sense. It factors back into your reputation either way, though promiscuity certainly leads to an army of kids to care for and a decidedly horrible amount of STDs.
Though Fable III feels structurally solid in that all the right parts are in all the right places, it still seems to have issues with shrugging off an overall feeling that the game's time has already come and gone. The combat's sluggish feel and wonky targeting doesn't make it less fun but certainly less refined, and interacting with people comes across as a downright robotic derivative of actual communication; you can simply do the same actions for every conversation, and everyone will love you for it, regardless of what type of people they are. These flaws don't sink the title as much as they easily spoil the potential.
The game pulls off some pretty impressive graphics in a blending of exaggerated features and color that does well to solidly deliver a fantasy world. Lighting and shadows are used subtly but to great effect, making towns really come to life and dank caverns seem all the more ominous. Though many of the design elements are clearly carted over from the Xbox 360 right down to the colors used for options, the UI doesn't suffer from it and comes across as quite functional. The PC iteration's status as a port broke very few things but amped up the presentation significantly.
While the porting process didn't harm the game, Fable III has a solid yet decidedly dated core. Combat is fun but has a slew of issues that detract from what it otherwise could have been, and that's a sentiment that could just as easily to be applied to most of the game. Fable III is a good game that is worth diving into, and you'll end up having a great time right up to the conclusion. At the same time, it feels like a game that tries to do too many great things and just settles on being decent instead.
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