“Fable is all about power. It’s about feeling powerful. I want you to feel like you can right all the wrongs in the world.” This will be a recurring theme as Peter Molyneux presents his newest installment in the Fable series.
He describes the dozens of RPG and action games that rely heavily on a weak protagonist that gradually grows stronger and stronger until they’re finally prepared to take on that final, seemingly insurmountable foe. “Just when you feel powerful…the credits roll. But I want to feel what it’s like to be that powerful guy!” Once you’re finally powerful enough to thrust the Master Sword through Ganon’s face, you do the deed and have nothing left to do with your power.
That’s why Molyneux takes the climax of most games and places it firmly at the halfway mark of Fable III. Its story begins with a tyrannical leader named Logan ruling over the land of Albion. It begins in the midst of an industrial revolution, and Albion’s ruler clearly puts more emphasis on profitability than human happiness.
“Your job (at the beginning) is to go out and make people follow you and believe you. Whatever the price, man. Whatever promise you have to make, just make it so you can overthrow that guy, to be the rebel who takes over. You’re gonna promise to get rid of crime, you’re gonna promise to turn all the factories into schools, you’re gonna promise to get rid of starvation, and then when you defeat Logan and become king, you have to sit on the throne and start delivering on your promises.”
Once you reach that point, the second half of the game deals with whether you become a true savior of Albion or an even worse ruler than your predecessor. Do you fulfill your promises and become a man of the people, or do you abandon your ideals in favor of greed and self indulgence?
A new feature that manages your social interactions is the “touch” system. The A button serves as a context-sensitive command that determines how you interact with other citizens of Albion. When your wife informs you that your daughter is lost, it’s up to you to find her and get her home safely. Upon finding her location, you can scold her for her actions via the touch system, and she’ll sulk away sadly. Using the same context-sensitive command, you can console and embrace your daughter, followed by leading her home by the hand.
It’s this type of interaction that Molyneux uses to draw the gamer further into the experience. He wants you to literally guide your daughter by the hand, not just run home and hope her A.I. tags along accordingly. Even the process of leading her home can alter her behavior…attempt to sneak into a pub for a drink and she’ll voice her disapproval of your drinking habits.
Once the changeover from rebel to king occurs, the touch system remains relevant. If a vagrant comes to your throne begging for cash, you can either help the poor soul or drag him to your dungeon by the collar and slam the door. If you encounter a similar situation on the street, you have the option of taking the beggar by the hand just as you would your daughter. He’ll inquire whether or not you’re “taking him to dinner,” just before panicking and fighting back when he realizes you’re taking him to a factory to sell him into slavery.
Fable III has no intentions of falling into long-followed RPG traditions, with the first victims being health bars and XP. Health bars are completely eliminated, opting instead for an FPS-style regeneration system. Molyneux certainly realizes that this will draw the ire of longtime RPG purists, but he doesn’t seem to mind in the least. “RPG fans will come up with ten reasons why they think it needs a health bar,” he says.
Leveling up is handled in an entirely different manner than most peers within the genre, replacing an arbitrary point system with a number of citizens who support you in your quest. These followers are crucial in your quest for power, and influence numerous decisions throughout the story. That gorgeous peasant girl may seem like a fine wife, but the revolting daughter of a politician may do more to advance your social standing and earn you more followers.
Your character’s appearance changes as you progress through the story, but in a more specific manner than previous Fable titles. Molyneux is aware that every character in previous installments of the series looked huge and bulky when leveled up, even describing high-level females as “looking like Russian shotputters.” Rather than the simple “powerful = big” equation the franchise has previously gone with, gamers will have more control over the eventual look of their character. If you want to be bulky and strong, use heavy axes and swords. Lithe and graceful more your style? Use guns. If mysterious and mystical is the look you’re going for, frequent use of spells is the way to get there.
The customization doesn’t end there. Even the weapon itself changes as you use it. “To be perfectly honest, we’re bored of making more weapons for you,” Molyneux says. He’s tired of just adding an arbitrary amount of weapons for a press release bullet point. Rather, he wants your weapon to be reflective of your character. If you’re using a scythe primarily for killing hobbes, the blade will feature more jagged edges and even the texture will change accordingly.
Weapon customization involves much more than simply what you kill. If you’re using your scythe to kill civilians as well as hobbes, it may be named “(Your Gamertag’s) Evil Scythe Of Hobbe Slaughter.” If you’ve performed an unforgivable amount of evil deeds with it, it may even drip with blood or glow with an ominous aura. Its length, size, width, and weight is determined by how many enemies have met their fate from it. Even your gamerscore affects the appearance of your weapon. Level it up and you can sell it online for a good price via the in-game auction house. Once it’s sold, it retains your gamertag in the name of the item, letting others know exactly who morphed the blade into what it currently is.
Like virtually any Peter Molyneux title, Fable III is nothing if not ambitious. Fable II was well-received by most gamers, but III isn’t content to simply rest on its laurels. It’s a new experience that presents gamers with even more choices than its predecessors, and if Molyneux has his way, it’ll present them with a feeling of power never before seen in the genre.
Keep an eye on the site in the next week for our video interview with Molyneux regarding Fable III.