Oh Peter Molyneux, whatever are we to do with you? Countless hours of my life have been squandered on your games; most of which have been excellent. Disregarding health and safety in Theme Hospital,
making B-movie schlock in The Movies,
and of course, terrorising the unassuming with disembodied hands in Black and White
. All in all, under Bullfrog and Lionhead, Mr. Molyneux has made some of the finest games of all time. His trademark sense of humour and knack for innovation has made him one of the most prolific game designers the industry has to offer.
Which brings me to the Fable
series. The first two games are competent action adventure romps, but with the creation of this series seemed to trigger some form of ongoing insanity within Mr. Molyneux. "Plant an acorn and watch it grow into a tree" was a promise Peter had made when giving details on the first game in the series. This feature was absent, though made a triumphant debut in Fable II
where you could plant a staggering one tree.
Wow. Well...cheers Pete, I suppose.
What I'm getting at is that Fable
is a series built on false promises, and none were more disappointing in this regard than Fable III
. The first part of the game involved the player (a prince or princess) attempt to overthrow their tyrannical brother and king, Logan, by raising an army and starting a revolution. A fairly simple setup, and the game introduces the player to several of Logan's evil associates and the harm they're causing to the people of Albion. This characterisation is easily the best part of Fable III
. There is also plenty of entertaining dialogue, along with Molyneux's trademark humour. It's easily one of the funniest games to be released in recent years.
The problem here is how bare bones the game is. Sure, Peter Molyneux and his studio followed up on more promises than ever before. Imagine Mr. Molyneux has made a delicious multi-layered trifle, but instead of digging down to the delectable lower layers, he's simply ran his finger along the custard surface before throwing the thing out the window. In other words, all of Fable III's
gameplay mechanics had so much potential, but all we got in the end was...well...custard...?
Pictured: Fable III
I was personally looking forward to raising an army of rebels to overthrow an evil king. By the sounds of things, the overall effort I put into creating said army would have determined how efficiently I claimed the throne. But no, I got a series of compulsory missions that gradually added to my army as I completed them, with a big battle at the end, so this notion had completely lost its magic.
I loved the idea of a weapon that changed shape and colour based on how you played. What Lionhead delivered was a basic leveling system that changed your weapon when you opened a series of reward chests. Aw.
But what about all the grand, difficult choices you have to make across the game? Choices that will come back to haunt you? Choices that have a massive impact on how the game plays out. Oh, the choices are big alright, and to the game's credit, there are a few that require some thought. But these choices only boil down to A or B. Good or evil. That's fine I guess, but in the game's second half when you become king/queen, you have to raise a ludicrous amount of money to fund an army to take on an unstoppable force that could destroy all of Albion (read: a large black blob. Real imaginative). You raise this money, mainly, by holding meetings in your throne room. For example, one choice you have to make is to spend a lot of money rebuilding a school, or to rebuild it as a brothel that will create revenue. So it's much less good or evil, and more pacifist or complete douchebag. When you're not making the big choices, you can raise money through a limited real-estate system, searching the world of Albion and fighting monsters, or by making pies.
So what comes of all this? Well, one of the most unsatisfying endings of all time. You think Mass Effect 3
had a bad ending? Well, that ending is a magnum opus compared to this one. If you don't raise enough money to fund your army, which normally happens through playing the good guy, Albion is spared, but the blob monster basically exterminates all life there, save for guards to make sure you don't rob any shops. If you play the bad guy, you'll likely raise more than enugh for your army, but the people will still hate you for being a brothel-loving, children hating bastard. Both endings make the player feel like a complete dickhole.
All things considered, Fable III is a decent game. The combat, while a little choppy, is often satisfying. The world of Albion is varied and good-looking enough to make the game somewhat immersive from start to finish. The dialogue is entertaining and often hilarious. But it all could have been so much more. In Theme Park, if you set up a new store, you could set the price of its items. Even better, if you erected something like a coconut shy you could set the probability of a person winning and the quality of the prize. Ice cream stores let you set the amount of sugar, fries stands the amount of salt etc. That's depth right there. Sure, it's not amazingly deep, but a lot of thought went into Theme Park's various mechanics, making it feel like you were actually running your own park and were totally in control.
Again, Fable III just skims the surface on a plethora of potentially great ideas and in the end just becomes a choppy hack-and-slash game with tacked on "choices." Peter Molyneux's touch is not as golden as it used to be.