This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Fable 3.
It's okay, publishers. WoW: Cataclysm is out now. You can come out from behind the sofa. No? All right. Well, while I try to lure them out with a saucer of milk and some hot IP, let's talk about a game from last year I never got around to, if only to stop people plobbing on about it.
The fact that Fable has a large following is like the existence of the appendix or the biological compulsion to have eighteen kids that's exclusive to rednecks - it's one of the little things about humanity I find completely incomprehensible. Okay, it's fairly unique, but then so is an asbestos-and-bacon sandwich. Okay, it's a reliable meal-ticket for every out-of-work comedic voice-actor in the United Kingdom, but Fable as a gaming property is just not very good. I suspect mainly its support comes from it being Xbox-exclusive, because fanboys will angrily defend aggressive wasps if they exclusively nested inside Xbox casings.
So, in Fable III you are the younger brother - or sister! - of the king of clearly not Victorian England, like Prince William sort of an attractive and popular alternative to the actual heir who everyone thinks is kind of shit. After waking up one morning from a hard night of fucking your dog, you go outside for presumably the first time in 20 years and notice that your brother is a murdering tyrannical despot, like a steampunk Ming the Merciless.
So off you go on an adventure to built support for a revolution, and I think I've realized what I don't like about Fable: it's essentially fascist. Heroism, rather than a quality anyone can exhibit, is reduced to some kind of inherent biological thing unique to a single genetic line of handsome white people. All the support characters who do the actual organizing of the revolution take it as read that you will be king, because you're the only one with the king genes, despite being an embarrassing, out of touch, mostly silent privileged fop who fucks his dog. (And I'm not even being disingenuous - when you pet your dog, it strongly resembles making out. Especially when you dip it and stick your tongue down its throat like you're teaching it dirty dancing.)
At first I was lukewarm about Fable III because it didn't look like much had changed since Fable II: a half-decent if slightly restrictive story campaign, the same three different forms of combat to switch between, and I've got to say I've never played a Fable game where I didn't end up spamming area-of-effect magic in every battle because enemies always swarm around you like aggressive Xbox-dwelling wasps. And as always, the game devotes large chunks of itself to side things no one asked for. It's not freedom. The Just Cause 2 hookshot or the Portal...portal gun - these mechanics offer freedom. The ability to marry random NPCs is just fannying about. It flummoxes me how Peter Molyneux persistently thinks anyone could seriously value one random NPC over the others when the extent of all their personalities is going "Booooo" when you overcharge at the shops you own or "Yaaaay" because you danced around whistling like a retard. Actually, they've grown in sophistication somewhat, in that now individuals will only become your friend if you go on a little fetch quest for them, because I remember thinking in Fable II, what this relationship bullshit really needs is even less motivation to do it.
But then, something weird happens. I thought the game would end when the evil king was overthrown, but when the revolution batters down his door he basically says, "Fine, you be king then. Oh, and by the way, an evil black primordial slime is going to come and slaughter us all one year from now. Toodle-e-oo." Then Fable III turns into Sim City meets the sword of Damocles. You're given a number of decisions to make as ruler and must choose whether to continue your brother's evil policies in order to raise the arbitrary sum of six million gold coins required to fight off the black goo after the year's up, or blow the entire treasury on making the lives of your citizens happy if short, the Logan's Run option.
"Ooh," thought I, "an unexpected twist? An actual moral dilemma? Gold star, Peter!" But no. The moral dilemma thing falls down because your decisions are still referred to as "good" and "evil," even though the "evil" option is so everyone can still be alive next Christmas. And why can't we keep the evil policies until the Shoggoth has come and gone, then reverse them all? Surely one year of hardship is better than one year of picnics followed by Armageddon. But no, not an option. Castle Albion was apparently built on a leaking gas main.
And what really gets to me is that your character never explains their decisions. "Horrors from beyond the veil of time and space are coming to eat us, so shut up" seems like a pretty good draw card for a leader to have. At one point, you can either drain a lake to mine the valuable resources within and pay for everyone to not die (that's the evil option) or you can leave it because, "It wooks pwetty!". Lady, unless the natural beauty is outstanding enough to flummox dimensional Shamblers, we're going with the option where we don't get worn as hats by cosmic monstrosities. "Good" or "evil" at this stage comes down more to "liberal" or "conservative", and conservative policies I admit can be a bit callous...when we're not about to be devoured!
There is a third option for kings with working brains: donate your own money! Now, there's two ways to make money: busking, a monumentally awful minigame, but at the highest level of which your audience toss out money like coins have been linked to bubonic plague; and renting out property. So here was my cunning plan. After busking until my lute strings had severed all my fingers, I bought the most expensive properties and jacked up all the rent. The time leading to the deadline only passes in between story missions, and rented property exists in an alternate space-time continuum that pays out every five minutes of real time. So prior to doing the final story mission, I would simply leave the game on overnight (with the TV off, lest anyone call me eco-unfriendly), then donate the subsequent mountain of gold to pay for all my nice, benevolent decisions. Tee hee, leadership's easier than I thought.
This is what I would have done if the story hadn't suddenly and unexpectedly jumped forward 150 days and gone straight to the final battle. WHAT? "If only we'd been more prepared," said one NPC. Yeah, if only the king hadn't slipped into a fucking coma for five months and his tenants had paid their fucking rent! Not that it mattered, since after defeating the evil, I got the ultra-good ending where everyone stands around congratulating my victory and my benevolence. Apparently no one wanted to be the guy to bring up the fact that three-quarters of the population were dead. And the only effect was that in the post-credits sandbox mode, the vast majority of random NPCs had simply disappeared. And you know what? I call that a 100% positive result.
- The once and future king: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I guess it's easy to tell where Peter Molyneux's political leanings lie from this game
- It is nice to see Mark Heap still getting work