Fable III

360

In recent years it appears that video games have struggled in telling great stories. In fact, it's probably fair to say that most developers confuse plot with story. Plot is a device for getting a character from A to B; story gets your character there in style. Unfortunately for the world of gaming, plot has shoved story in the boot of a car, gagged and bound, and been driving around aimlessly for a while.

This year however has seen a revival in storytelling in gaming. At the start of the year there was the sublime and beautiful Bioshock 2. Then we had the awesome Red Dead Redemption. And now weíre fortunate enough to return to Albion for a third time.

Itís 50 years on since the events of Fable II occurred and Albion is now gripped by the power of industry. The current king is Logan and heís certainly unlikely to win any popularity awards any time soon. You play his younger sibling, who is oblivious to the current political climate. That is until your brother Logan puts you in a delicate situation, where youíre left to make a difficult decision. This is just the first of many you have to make as you start your journey.

Itís not long after that you realise that Logan needs to be dethroned for the safety and well being of all the people of Albion, but you clearly canít do it alone. With the help of veteran soldier Walter Beck, you begin to visit allies throughout the land with the intent of gaining their valuable support. And so the seeds of a revolution are quickly sewn.

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For anyone who has played a Fable title in the past, there will be an instant cosy feeling of familiarity here; itís almost a sensation of coming home. But donít worry if youíve never dabbled in the world of Albion before as previous visits arenít essential.

The series has always benefitted from an impression of scale and this third iteration is no different. Just as you get accustomed to the size of one particular township, a quest will then send you out into the wilds to discover even bigger environs.

But itís not just the scale that impresses. Thereís a not only a real feeling of community whilst playing, but of actually belonging to it too. As you walk the streets youíre encouraged to interact with the locals. Itís all basic stuff Ė shaking hands, dancing, kissing etc Ė but it really feels like youíre building relationships. Much of this is down to mechanics similar to those found in The Sims. Even in the way you can get characters pregnant and raise children with them. Thereís a lot of micro-managing but not enough to make you sick of it.

To balance out the touchy feely stuff you get to kill a lot of foes. You can use all manner of weapons as well as magic. All of which can be upgraded buy opening up chests; this can be done using the currency you gain for completing quests. Many of them find you travelling through wooded areas where all kinds of enemies lurk in wait. So if youíre feeling a little tense about your new wife finding out about your old wife, you can relax by chopping down some baddies.

You also get to travel around with your own dog. Heís useful for searching out treasure, and doesnít mind getting his paws dirty with mucking in with the fighting. He also never gets in the way, so you can go about your business and let him get on with it. And during quiet times you can have him lick your face and play fetch. What more could you ask from a pet?

Whatís difficult to avoid here is the story. Itís far from ground-breaking and yet time and again it makes you care about not only the people around you, but ultimately what happens to Albion too. This is reinforced by some real characters around you, who are voiced by some of Blightyís best; Stephen Fry, Simon Pegg, Zoe Wanamaker, Bernard Hill, Ben Kinglsey, Michael Fassbender, John Cleese and Jason Manford to name but a few. And you can understand why so much talent was attracted to the project, because the writing is so damn good. Itís full of that dry wit that we Brits love so much and just fits in so perfectly to the timeframe of the game.

Itís also visually a treat. An obvious amount of effort has gone into creating its look, where it never gets tiring just exploring each town or area on foot, popping into the shops or going down your local for a beer. So much so that you can easily get distracted from your main story quest, which is part of its charm. Itís all well and good games like GTA creating cities with startling accuracy, but after a while it all gets a little too samey and dull. And besides, as youíll soon discover, the best whore houses are definitely in Albion.

The only downside to speak of really is the length of the main story. If you do the minimum amount of side quests, the story feels like itís over in a blink of an eye. But then youíre kind of missing the point of the game. Even when the main story is over, there is still plenty to do around Albion. Hunting down all the bad-tempered garden gnomes alone will take some time to finish. But the beauty of the game is that youíll want to do it, feel compelled to do so even, because there will always be something about Albion to bring you back. And you wonít return because you have to but because you really want to.

Although Fable III is essentially a solo experience, you can join your friends in a co-op mode and help each other out on your quests. You can even marry each other if youíre into that sort of thing. Its multiplayer mode is by no means a huge draw, but it acts as nice icing on a very delicious cake.

Thereís something deliriously unique about Fable III; it manages to pull off virtually every element of its game play with aplomb. In fact weíre hoping to see Albion feature in an episode of Location, Location, Location with Kirsty and Phil showing couples around its many sites and sounds; because once youíve spent a little time there yourself, youíll realise that thereís no other place that youíd rather be.

five out of five