Big name games need big development time. The six year wait for Remedy's Alan Wake may be one extreme, but the very best games often make us wait. Conversely, when a game's turned swiftly around suspicions are raised; will it be a quick cash-in, a rushed job or something that's far from great.
So it was with Fable III – its announcement at last August's Gamescom came when many people were still chewing its predecessor over, and when Peter Molyneux later claimed that the leap from Fable II to Fable III was bigger than that between the first and second games it was hard not to take that statement with a pinch of salt.
A few months further down the line at E3 we finally got to play it, and it turns out we were wrong in our early skepticism. Fable III really is a big leap for the series, and its theme of revolution is fitting for a game that tears through what people expect from the world of Albion. We caught up with Molyneux soon after to discuss what's changed and why, and how Fable III is so much more than Fable 2.5.
BIGGER STORY, BIGGER EMOTIONS
Fable's story – as the name suggests – has always been a simple fairytale told with thick strokes of British humor and powered by the all-important moral decisions that are at its heart. That's no different for Fable III, though this time out there's more emphasis on the yarn being told, both in where it takes the player and how it's told.
"When we sat down and did the design of Fable III it was very, very different," says Molyneux, "We've got fans now – we've got people who love Fable and love Albion, and now if I say the wrong thing to the press I get about 50 emails saying 'You shouldn't have said that, you should have said this.' We've set this world up, so there are certain things that we should do and certain things that we shouldn't do."
Fable III's story is defined by its rulers – the first an evil King who has taken the throne of Albion. "He's actually your brother. Fable III is set sixty years on from Fable II, your hero that you played in Fable II had two more children after the single player story. They were both brothers – or if you choose to play as a girl brother and sister – and one of those brothers left the kingdom of Albion."
"Unfortunately your brother seems to have gone a bit insane. He's the most evil, terrible tyrant, a cross between Mussolini, Hitler and Gordon Brown. Your job is to start a revolution – to go out there, get people to follow you and to overthrow this king. You're going to storm the castle, overthrow him and then you're going to become King yourself. That's about the halfway point of the game. Then the rest of the story is the story of you being King. There are all sorts of new drama that's going to be in that story."
AN ALL-NEW MECHANIC, AN ALL NEW GAME
The most exciting thing about Fable III is, as is Molynueux's wont, the one part of the game that remains the most mysterious. Once you become the King the game is flipped on its head as the all-new ruling mechanic comes to the fore.
"Here's the thing," explains Molyneux, "The way it works is that on your way to being King, people have come up to you and asked you to promise that you're going to do things when you're on the throne. So for example there is a character called Reaver, who you might remember from Fable II and who is played by Stephen Fry. He's back – because he's immortal. And he asks that when you're King he wants a whole area [of Albion] to be factories. Are you going to keep that promise? Or are you going to break that promise?
"Are you going to rob people blind? Are you going to use that money to decorate your castle? There are a lot of those decisions."
There are a lot of questions too regarding how exactly this will pan out – and while it's something that's being kept under wraps we've been given a dim picture of how it will work. Powering it all is followers, a unified system throughout Fable III that is, in many ways, its replacement for traditional XP (and, in some ways, a little nod to the social networking site de jour, Twitter).
"The more followers you have the more powerful you'll be and the sooner there'll be a revolution. The more followers you have the more game features are unlocked. You get followers by doing quests, you get followers by making promises and you can get followers by grinding. Some people love to grind."
A NEW INTERFACE
Other hints of what to expect from the latter half of Fable III and the ruling mechanic that it introduces are in the new interface, itself a radical solution to the endless lists and menus that have plagued RPGs since their inception.
"In Fable II, when you pressed [the start] button up came this horrible, horrible list that you had to scroll through," gripes Molyneux, "Now, if you press the pause button, you instantly go to this place called The Sanctuary."
It's a seamless transition that takes the player to a chamber; at its center is the world map, and at its extremities doorways to other, smaller rooms, each one hosting a different aspect of the inventory. So one room, for example, hosts the clothing, and equipping a new item to wear is a simple case of walking up to it and selecting it.
"Each one of these rooms has all the stuff you found- all your clothes go here and all your treasures go here," Molyneux tells us, "I really love the idea that all the stuff you have is actually useful – it's not just some artificial thing."
There's some neat things within this new interface too; first up there's the living map, a top-down view of Albion and new continent Aurora that's fully interactive. Zoom in on a town and you'll be able to see the inhabitants – and it's even possible to use merchants and do your shopping this way, as it is also possible to accept quests via the living map.
It's also tempting to think that this living map might give some insight into how the latter half of the game might pan out. We've been told that once you're the King your notoriety means it's near-impossible to take to the streets without a disguise, so what better place to rule your Kingdom than through the distance of the living map? It could be a whole new way to play Fable, and we can't wait to see where this all-new mechanic takes us.
NEW WAYS TO KILL THINGS
Also within The Sanctuary is The Armory, wherein the seeds of Fable III's new combat system are sown. "Combat has changed a lot," explains Molyneux, "We were thinking about our combat changes – again looking at the forums, and people were saying 'I hope they give us loads of new weapons'.
"To be honest with you, we've already made like 200 weapons in Fable and Fable II, and we're running out of steam a bit. We could do The Weapon of Ultimate Destruction 2, but what are you going to do? That's when we came up with this idea; why don't we just let the player do the hard work? Why don't we let you craft your own weapon."
"The initial idea was that you'd buy a weapon and then you had a mini-game in the Blacksmith to craft that weapon – but that wasn't really fun. Then we thought you could find bits of your weapon around the world and slot them together but that wasn't really fun either. Then we realised we were being stupid; we already had a fantastic morphing system around the hero, where they changed their muscle size and so on. So why don't we apply that to the weapon?"
"If you kill innocent beings, the shape of your blade will start to change. The type of things that you kill, the middle of you blade starts to change. The number of flourishes that you do, the length of your sword changes. The number of fast attacks you make, the blade gets shorter. These are all combined and morphed together, and they combine to unlock special abilities. So you are crafting your sword as you use it. As you kill things, it will change; it will level up. It will combine that with your Gamerscore and your Gamertag."
"You are then free to change that online, to sell that online and someone else can buy that sword crafted by you, you can reuse it, you can gift it. What's so great about these swords is that as you use them they go up in value. It's a way of making money, almost like a job, and this morphing technology applies to blades, it applies to swords, guns and hammers, shotguns and gauntlets. Gauntlets are our new magic system."
"They unlock completely new combat styles, all under the player's control and it's all essentially done through the press of a button. The thing I like about it is that the combat means something, and the casual market likes it because it's on one button."
It's hard to say how this works out in practice, a short gameplay session not enabling us to see the nuances of the morphing system nor allowing us to craft our own spells – but the potential is heartening, granting more power to the players and extending the organic, home-spun charm of the series to its arsenal.
NEW WAYS TO PLAY TOGETHER
The last aspect of Fable III that's revealed is one we don't know too much about – perhaps because details come in an off-script moment, teasing a full reveal that we're likely to get before this August's GamesCom.
"We've completely re-written our co-op system – you're now free to invite whoever you like into your world, and they come in as their hero, with their dog," Molyneux reveals, before confirming that "There is dog butt-sniffing."
It's a response to the weak co-op aspect of Fable II, a feature that was undercooked and under-delivered. Now, as opposed to playing as a generic henchman, you're free to transport your hero from game world to game world – and that's something with exciting ramifications.
"Once you're in my world you're free to do whatever you want while I do whatever I want, so we're not locked together," says Molyneux, "We're also allowing you to marry your partner, you can have sex with your partner and you can live with your partner. They're not as much of a burden on you as an NPC wife is."
And what happens should you divorce? "The kids will always stay with you," answers Molyneux, "so just be careful you don't marry everyone of your co-op buddies or you'll be overrun with kids."
It's something we'll be learning more about soon enough, and even in the midst of the wealth of new additions in Fable III it's this element that gets us hottest under the collar.
"Hell of a lot of features for two years, I've got to say," concludes Molyneux, and having seen the difference they make its looks like Fable III could take the series to all new heights, a feat that's taken its toll at Lionhead. "It feels a bit emotionally exhausting after two years, Molyneux admits, "I felt like we'd only just finished doing Fable II, but other than that it just feels great to be doing this."
Review from IGN
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