Fable was a colourful, sometimes humorous RPG romp marred with bugs and unimplemented features, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It was a fairly typical story, showing a young boy's coming of age, his struggle to discover his destiny, and his eventual defeat of the man who razed his village. Short, but charming and fun.
Fable II raised the stakes further by pitting a descendent of the first hero against a villain trying to rebuild a kingdom-levelling magical structure. While the game world and sidequest content was as charming as ever (being similar in tone to the work of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams), the main game suffered dramatically. The writing for the main storyline was atrocious and illogical, the much-touted moral choices were horribly contrived, and a wide variety of bugs plagued what could have been a brilliant game. Understandably, the stakes for Fable III go far beyond increasing the scale of the plot.
Fable III starts 50 years after its predecessor, with you as the prince or princess of Albion. The world of Fable has changed much since the last game; the industrial revolution is in full swing, and the realm is troubled like never before. Children are forced to work in factories, the Dwellers are besieged by mercenaries, Bowerstone is stricken with poverty, and the new land of Aurora has some serious troubles best left unspoilt. The problems are far more real than a pack of balvarines (werewolf-equivalent) or kidnappings you never see. People are dying, living in squalor or fear, and you are the only one who can save them. It makes the player feel much more heroic than in the earlier games.
The first two thirds of the game deal with raising a rebellion against your corrupt brother, with the last third crowning you the monarch of Albion. The Fable games have always claimed to be about difficult and meaningful choices, but Fable III is the first to really pull it off, especially in the last third of the game.
Saving the world involves a lot of fighting, and the combat system in Fable III rises to the occasion. Previous Fable games have tried several ways to spice up combat, but they sometimes made it a little harder to deal damage. The combat has been simplified and sped up in Fable III. It makes fighting a little boring and challenging if you are the type to focus on one combat discipline, but works quite well for combining your various options. The finishing moves can be impressive as well, and are spaced apart enough to not become repetitive or boring.
The weapons have changed significantly as well. Instead of plugging magical stones into generic weapons, the weapons you find or buy in Fable III have a neat little backstory to them and have three upgrade conditions relating to the story. This could be something like "Kill 300 hollow men” (skeletons), "Make 10 villagers fall in love with you”, or "Kill 10 villagers who have fallen in love with you.” It’s a pretty neat system, but it is impossible to acquire each one in single player, and you’ll need to trade over Xbox LIVE. Your mileage may vary on whether this is a good idea or not.
The weapon choices have been unfortunately pared down to hammers and swords for melee users, and rifles or pistols for ranged combat. The game makes up for it with the "hero weapons” inherited from your father or mother, the hero of Fable II, upgrading themselves and transforming based on their use. Cast a lot of lightning bolts and the hilt of your sword will look more arcane. Amass a lot of gold and your blade will drip bling. It’s a nice touch.
Magic is now cast through a series of unlockable gauntlets that can be combined with the "spellweaving” skill, though Slow Time and Summon Creature are now cast via potions. The magic in Fable III is far more streamlined and easy to use, but those who like to switch spells frequently might be left out in the cold.
Which brings us to the menus. Fable II's menus were notoriously slow, and kind of ugly to boot. With a few rare exceptions, Fable III ditches menus and dialogue boxes completely. The start button now takes you to a place called the Sanctuary, which is a physical space filled with the information and equipment from the old start menu, with the addition of a butler voiced by John Cleese. It sounds weird on paper, but is actually a great way to display the wealth of information and equipment collected on your quest.
Of course, the game is far from perfect. It has inherited several annoying bugs that plagued Fable II. The trail of breadcrumbs that guides you from quest to quest will disappear or change direction abruptly, and the characters are still prone to getting stuck. Thankfully, most of the bugs are fairly minor, but it can still be annoying. Doubly so since fans had to put up with them in the last game.
Overall, Fable III is the most mature Fable yet. The storyline is great, and the final act is genuinely thought-provoking. There are a number of bugs and other issues that can make it annoying at times, but if you liked the earlier games, it is a must play. And if you didn't? It’s still worth checking out anyway.