Review | 5/22/2011 at 2:26 PM

Fable 3 Co-Op Review

The Fable franchise has followed an interesting path since it’s birth on the Xbox some years ago. What started out as solo quest of a boy turned hero took a different turn in Fable 2 to a game with more difficult decisions between good and evil. Fable 2 also introduced a limited form of co-op which for most, simply didn’t fit the bill. Now Fable 3 is here and it not only expands on the concept of what is right and wrong, mostly blurring the lines, but it also expands on the co-op giving people exactly what they want.

Fable 3 starts with you as a prince or princess, you are the child of the Hero from Fable 2. Your brother Logan is currently sitting upon the throne of Albion, but he’s a very unpopular leader that some call a tyrant. It isn’t long before your mentor Walter whisks you and your pooch away on a question to rally the people of Albion to your side to overthrow your brother.

Fable 3 is a lot more like an adventure game and less like an RPG. No longer do you collect orbs based on melee, magic or ranged attacks leveling up that ability - instead all your actions, aggressive or not, yield you experience points towards Guild Seals. These seals are then spent on different chests on your Road to Rule, the chests contain items like different expressions, upgraded attacks, and new spells to learn. It’s here in this hub world that you’re really given the choice to shape your character.

Another big change is the lack of weapon and armor collecting - or rather - the lack of importance of it. Sure you can still collect or buy different outfits and armor, but they have no statistical effect on your character. You are given your choice of weapons like a sword, hammer, rifle and pistol at the start which you’ll use for most of the game. While there are “epic” weapons you can acquire and complete special tasks with, there’s very little reason to switch off of your favorite hero weapon. As you use your weapon it’ll morph and transform - glowing different colors, adding curves and twists, and adding different styles and sizes to itself. This all depends on what you kill, as well as what deeds you do while wielding the weapon. This adds to the cool factor when joining a co-op game, showing off your bad ass weapon.

The combat is mostly unchanged from Fable 2, a one button system yields plenty of cool moves and maneuvers. The longer you hold a button, the greater the power of the swing of the hammer or shot of the pistol. New though is a dynamic action camera that will slow down and focus in on particular animation. There’s a huge variety here you’ll see - whether it’s an overhead smash, the breaking of an enemy’s leg, or the rapid shot of a gun into the bad guy. So despite one button, the combat is incredibly satisfying.

Where Fable 3 really shines is its quest system. There’s a variety of quests that are both fun and unique, each with an entertaining or sometimes ridiculous story behind them. One quest had me doing a panty raid for a fan of a celebrity, another had me in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, while another has me hunting possessed garden gnomes. These quests not only yield precious Guild Seals, you’ll also earn trophies and other stuff to add to your Sanctuary.

What’s your Sanctuary? This hub takes the place of a normal menu system, allowing you to interact and do tasks like switch weapons and spells, choose quests and locations, and see stats or join a co-op session. It adds to the experience, keeping you “in the moment” a bit more - but it’s also a bit of a burden at times. For example, performing a simple tasks like looking through your inventory becomes cumbersome. I will say the map system found here is one of the best I’ve seen in any game, with the ability to get an RTS like view into villages with lots of information at your fingertips - plus the ability to quick travel to any location really helps speed things up.

Speaking of the map, the world of Albion still has familiar places like Bowerstone, but its changed, evolved and grown into an industrial city. The people are hurting from Logan’s rule and it’s easy to see it on the streets with beggars, child labor, and plenty of hooligans causing trouble. The towns ooze their own distinct personality - whether they are a big city like Bowerstone, or a small town like the Dweller camp in the mountains.  

Like Fable 2, players can invest in properties in the towns and villages - choosing a house to live in or rent out, as well as buying businesses and getting a cut of the profit. There’s something incredibly satisfying about buying a few key businesses then watching the gold tick in every 5 minutes. The houses you buy now require upkeep as well as decorating for maximum value - and if you have a wife (or husband) to fill one of these properties - it’s even more of a financial burden.

When you marry someone - whether its another player or an in game character - you’ll join assets up and really be able to bolster your wealth. You split not only the cost or new purchases, but the revenue gained from them. These business relationships can be extended with many friends on Xbox Live to really start raking in the dough - sadly I couldn’t test this very well as there’s not that many folks playing yet - but the prospect of it is exciting.

One change in Fable 3 I didn’t care for is the way you interact with NPCs and other players. Gone is the radial menu for choosing expressions, and in it’s place is this one on one system where you are simply given 2 or 3 choices of what to do/say. After a successful expression you are then given 2 or 3 more. This just seems to have taken some of the choice out of the game, giving it even less of an RPG like feel and more of a hand held guided tour.

There’s a lot of content to be had in Fable 3, so much so, that you’ll never get through it all on one play through. But while there’s a lot of content, there’s very little challenge along the way. You never actually “die” - you just get knocked out - and if you do you only lose progress of the current seal you are on, which in the grand scheme of things, is very minor.

On the co-op side of things, Lionhead has delivered on what they promised. Players will bring their own character, items, gold, and dog into a friends game and vice versa. This works both online and offline. You’ll also be able to enter into business partnerships with another player or if you prefer, full on marry them. Doing so shares the costs of purchases as well as the revenue gained. Offline you are still restricted to a single screen, though the camera is a bit more forgiving now - you won’t find yourself getting stuck against the environment too much.

Co-Op does make the combat even easier, not that it is difficult, but dispensing enemies is cake in co-op. There doesn’t appear to be any extra bad guys to kill either. One nice touch is that when one person picks up an item, both players get that item. I guess if I had to say if something was missing from co-op, it would be the ability to carry over completed quests back into your world.  That means you may be doing quests twice, once for single player and once for co-op.  The orb system from Fable 2 also makes a return, allowing you to see friends floating through your world and easily join their game.  You can also trade items and chat directly with the orbs.

While the 360 version of the game looks decent enough the PC version ups the graphical fidelity quite a bit. Draw distance is significantly larger, the character models are smoother and the textures are a higher quality.  Performance obviously depends on your system but the game ran decent enough with everything on high in our mid-to-upper range PC.  That said the PC version does have this odd motion blur effect, its also prevelant on the 360, but its more pronounced.  We found it a bit distracting.  Sadly the PC and 360 version of the game do not work in co-op across platforms.

Despite the changes in game, I still feel Fable 3 is the best Fable game to date. There’s an excellent pace to the game. The game builds and build until you hit the revolution to overthrow your brother, and you almost think it’s over...but then you begin rule as the King or Queen. This is where the game truly makes you think for yourself, make decisions that no matter what the direct result, the outcome may be bad. You truly feel powerless despite being the most powerful ruler in land. I’ve never been so torn to make a decision in a video game and I think it’s moments like that, that make Fable 3 a must own game despite its flaws.