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Fable III

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2010


X360/PC Preview - 'Fable III' - The First Two Hours

by Adam Pavlacka on Sept. 9, 2010 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Since its inception, the Fable franchise has offered players the opportunity to choose their own destinies as a hero, villain or someone between, where the possibilities are limitless and the consequences can weigh heavily on the path to greatness.

Editor's Note: This is the first half of a two-part preview. Be sure to read part two of our Fable III impressions!

Fable III kicks off with what be the best opening cinematic this console generation. A short film in its own right, this three-minute cinematic conveys the core theme of the game — revolution — by showing us the trials of a single chicken yearning for freedom. Without revealing a single bit of story, it also sets the stage for the current state of Albion, doing its job so well that even players who are new to the series will feel right at home as soon as the action starts.

While the trailer is sure to catch the attention of players, it is merely a creative way to set the stage. We all play games to experience them, not watch cinematics, so when Microsoft offered us the chance to play Fable III, completely uninterrupted, for four solid hours, we jumped at the chance and hopped the first flight to Seattle.

Fable III opens with a simple choice: prince or princess. After choosing your gender, the game lays out the basics of the story. Set 50 years after the end of Fable II, the hero of yore is dead, with Albion under the rule of the late hero's son, Logan. Unfortunately, Logan is a bastard and has turned into something of a despotic twit, ruling his subjects with an iron fist. Playing as Logan's brother (or sister), you quickly end up disillusioned with the monster that your brother has become and escape the castle with your mentor, Walter, and your faithful servant, Jasper. The three of you know that Logan must be stopped, so it is up to you to become the hero that Albion desperately needs. ¡Viva la revolución!

Of course, before you can have a revolution, you need to have followers. While being a member of the royal family has some perks, the mere fact that everyone hates and fears your brother doesn't exactly make them want to trust you. The trick is to prove your worth. This can be done by helping those in need or, alternatively, attempting to beat the various towns into submission. If they fear you more than your brother, they'll still end up choosing you over Logan. With that said, we opted for the kinder, gentler path during our play time, so we can't speak of the evil route firsthand.

The game's first mission led us to a Dweller Camp, high in the mountains. This once proud people has been reduced to poverty thanks to a combination of the king's rule and marauding bands of mercenaries who only care about themselves. The leader of the camp requested the completion of three tasks before he would agree to support us: 1) retrieve a magic music box, 2) eliminate the mercenary threat and 3) bring financial support to the camp.

Even though the initial escape from the castle introduced the basic combat mechanics, it wasn't until we started the music box quest that the combat really started to flow. While exploring the underground dungeon, we not only faced off against a number of different enemy types, but we were also granted access to the different weapon types. You start the game with a magic gauntlet and then quickly gain access to both swords and firearms.

Combat works based on a straightforward button system. You target with the analog stick and then press the appropriate action button to use your sword, gun or magic attack. Swords are melee-focused, while guns are ranged. Magic can be used at any distance; however, the strength of spells really shines through when you need to manage a large mob. Let a spell charge up without targeting a specific opponent, and you can fire off a rather large area-of-effect blast.

In addition to the attack mechanic, you also have a dodge ability, which ends up looking like an acrobatic roll. As a result, combat seemed to consist of getting in a few hits, dodging to avoid an incoming attack, and then leaning back in to score another hit on your opponent. Combat within Fable III isn't really a challenge, but it still feels fun. Just about any style of player should be able to hold his own without much issue, making the game very casual-friendly.

Switching between weapons is done at your Sanctuary, a special area of the game that is introduced right after you escape from the castle. The Sanctuary serves as your base of operations as well as a general substitute for a menu system. You can hop back to the Sanctuary at any time by simply hitting the start button. Once there, you can change your clothes, pick your weapons, check out items that you've collected and warp to various parts of the world. It's essentially an in-game representation of a traditional menu system without the text menus.

So how does it work in-game? Pretty much as you'd expect. For example, if you're mid-combat and decide you'd like to swap the fire gauntlet for an ice gauntlet, you hop to the Sanctuary, change your gear and then warp back into the heat of battle. By visually representing everything on-screen like this, the game doesn't need to rely on what could have been an intimidating menu system. Even novice players will understand how it all works on the first go.

Menu avoidance also extends to other parts of the game. When you wander into a shop, the items available for sale are displayed on the shelves. If there is something you want, walk up to it and choose it to buy it. Coming from a more traditional RPG background, it felt a bit odd at first (we initially walked up to the merchant and couldn't figure out why he didn't pop up a list of items), but once you grasp the concept, it feels very natural. It also has the side effect of drawing you even further into the world. Rather than just ignoring your surroundings, the game subtly encourages you to take in every detail.

When shopping in the land of Albion, gold is king, but when it comes to leveling up your character, you'll need to use seals. Earned from a variety of sources (completing quests, defeating enemies, even just flirting with people in-game) the seals serve as a sort of "XP currency" that is spent on the Road to Rule portion of the game. An area that exists outside the plane of reality, the Road to Rule is overseen by Theresa, the blind seer from the previous games.

Much like the Sanctuary, the Road to Rule first appears shortly after leaving the castle. You will automatically visit the Road to Rule every time you complete a major quest and advance the story line. Theresa provides advice and information, and she also unlocks the gates to each section of the road. Scattered across each section of the Road to Rule are various chests with character upgrades. Some are core power-ups, such as stronger weapons and magic, while others are secondary abilities, such as gaining the ability to be a landlord or improving your relationship skills. Still others are completely superficial, such as the ability to customize your look with extra colors. So long as you have the appropriate number of seals, you can unlock any chest you choose. It's a nice way to upgrade your character organically.

The music box and the character of Theresa aren't the only nods to the prior game. Fable III references a few things in Fable II throughout the course of the adventure. If you've never played Fable II, you won't be lost, but for players who have completed the second game, Fable III will read your save file and make specific references to the gender of the hero as well as actions that you took in Fable II. It's a nice touch for the hardcore fans.

Editor's Note: This is the first half of a two-part preview. Be sure to read part two of our Fable III impressions!

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