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Fable 3: Hands-On at E3 2010

The king is dead. Long live the king!  Or short live the king, and long live you.  The choice is yours.  As the second son of the recently deceased monarch (the hero from Fable 2), you are a noble with the world at your feet in Fable 3. As your older brother begins to veer towards tyranny, the throne beckons you. Through your choices you can take the kingdom and rule with benevolence and justice, ushering in an age of peace to Albion, or you can rule with an iron fist and become a tyrant that kills those that would speak out against you. The choice is yours.

Your ascent to the throne is just the beginning. From there you are responsible for the social lives of the people you rule over. If you chose to be selfish and tax them to fill your purse, they will suffer and hate you for it. Your family and advisors will tell try to convince you that the people need your help. If you ignore them and the people suffer, the area will reflect that.

There is also a practical reason to how you treat people both as a king and in the game, beyond just how they react to you. There is a heavy emphasis on the people that follow you in this game. In fact, leveling up is a minor part compared to how many followers you have, and there are dozens of ways to win – and lose – followers. The people you attract are also determined by whether the followers are good or evil. If you kill a random innocent, some people will run from you, while other might like your methods, and vice versa.

Where in past games your actions directly affected your looks, that idea expands to incorporate areas. If the area is poor, the people and the buildings will both look run down, and your character will be met with hostility when you pass through. If you treat the people well, the area will bloom and become idyllic.

The same is also true for weapons this time around. If you kill an innocent person with your sword, that sword might turn black, be stained with blood, or a dozen other possibilities.

The country of Albion has undergone same technological changes since Fable 2. The cities have seen a bit of an industrial revolution, which can make things much better for some, while it can also create deeper inequalities for others. It is up to you to decide whether you will step in and help, reap the benefits of it, or simply ignore it. As king, you also have the choice to stay in your castle and rule or go out and explore, but there will be consequences for both choices. While it might seem more common to a video game to go out and do everything yourself, like stop crimes, it could leave your kingdom in need of a ruler which would increase the peoples’ suffering. If you remain in full command of the kingdom, you have the option to begin to expand Albion, which is just one part of the world. If you push too far though, you might start a war with a neighboring country. The scope of Fable 3 is amazing, and you could play the same plot from a different point of view several times over and have a totally different experience each time through.

The first thing that is apparent is the look of the game. The past Fable games were graphically sound and fit the tone of the game, but they were nothing really special. While it would have been easy- even expected- to simply upgrade the looks from the last game, the developers chose to rework the graphics almost entirely from the ground up. The depth to the game is impressive. The world is fully fleshed out and the environments are top notch. Each character has its own look and reactions, and the worlds they inhabit make sense for that character. The graphics have the right feel to them that just fits, and the world comes alive. There are better looking games out there, but few have the add the same level of immersion as Fable 3.

The combat has received a few tweaks, but it builds on all the things that worked in its predecessor rather than reinventing it. It is easy to target enemies (or innocents), and the switch between equipped weapons is no problem at all. There is also the smart addition of a safety that when turned on, will prevent you from accidentally attacking an innocent that may wander in the line of fire and give you a negative reputation without meaning to. It is a simple addition, but it is the minor things in Fable 3 that really add up to make it feel like a fresh and interesting experience in terms of gameplay.

Another change is the addition of gauntlets, rather than equipped spells. You attach spells to the gauntlet, and like weapons, the gauntlets change in looks based on how you use them.

Perhaps the biggest improvements are in the inventory and menu system. Rather than simply having a menu system as most JPRGs offer, or some sort of gameplay mechanic to access a menu, like a high-tech wrist device or a load-out area on a spaceship as in western RPGs, Fable3 allows you to hit start and access your sanctuary, which then lets you walk into the door of your choice and change clothes, weapons, as well as giving you several other options. On paper it sounds like a minor change, and maybe it is, but it just makes things simpler, which is a nice addition.

There is also an increased emphasis on cooperative play, something that failed badly on the previous game. We’ll have to wait to see how that plays out though.

If you are a fan of the western style of RPGs, the Fable series is one of the best out on the market, and the sequel seems like it takes everything that worked from the previous entry and improves upon it. For non-RPG fans, the game might seem overwhelming, with 40 hours minimum to beat the story, and multiple endings, but if they give it a chance the adventure style gameplay might just win them over. We’ll know for sure on October 26, when the game is released for the Xbox 360 and PC.

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