Fable III inspired the same sort of lukewarmly positive vibe as I felt for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I enjoyed Fable II a lot–it didn’t try to break new ground or subvert its cliches. It was a fantasy RPG and it embraced that wholeheartedly. The quests were fun if straightforward, the plot was transparent but enjoyable, and the gameplay was intuitive and simple. It was, more than anything, fun. Not brilliant, not groundbreaking, but a plain old pleasure to play, and frankly that’s a welcome relief from the constant advertisements about X, Y, or Z game that’s going to change your life. Sometimes I just want a game that’s exactly what it says on the tin, and Fable II did that admirably.
Fable III, however, has decided to do things differently. There’s no XP, no HUD, and no health bar. They dumped the HP in favor of shooter-style screen flashes, which seems to entirely miss the point. I mean, who plays RPGs? There’s not a whole lot of overlap between those who play Gears of War and those who play RPGS. I was KO’d pretty early on in the game because I had no idea what my health was. This bothered me more than it should have because they had the nerve to include an achievement for beating the game without a knockout. Great.
The lack of a HUD and menu system is beyond irritating–now instead of navigating what were admittedly ill-organized menus, you have to transport to your Sanctuary and walk around a physical space. How is that more convenient? Instead of an easy-to-read text menu, I have to walk around mannequins to find the outfit I want, all while my valet chatters on advertising that there are items in the shop I should buy. Really? I already bought the game, and you have to advertise to me every single time I pause? At first I didn’t mind the system, but the more items I accumulate that I have to sort through, the more I long for a simple menu-submenu system. Why reinvent the wheel?
And yeah, they reinvented the wheel: literally. Some of the most fun I had in Fable II involved the expressions wheel, where you could interact with one or dozens of people and emote to get them to like or fear you. This has been replaced by a minigame that you have to enter every time you see someone. Possible actions used to be accessible by default–now you have to enter a special interaction mode. More buttons to press, same gameplay, waste of time. And once you enter that interaction minigame, you don’t get a wheel of possible emotes: you have a “good” one and a “bad” one pre-selected for you that you can’t choose. You know, sometimes I don’t want to play patty cake with a househusband, and sometimes I don’t want to belch in front of a guard. For a game that’s about choice, they’ve eliminated the most flexible and entertaining part.
And lastly, in lieu of XP, there’s a Road to Rule–a path that all players take no matter what, meaning you don’t feel like you’re customizing your character at all. According to the developer, the previous XP system was “too complicated” for players. You used a melee weapon and you got melee XP for melee upgrades, and the same for ranged or magic… that was complicated? Are people idiots? Apparently the reasoning behind eliminating the HUD was to “declutter” the screen. Look–I’m playing a video game. I’m not watching a movie. At no point do I believe, even for a moment, that I am doing anything other than pressing buttons to make a character respond. Eliminating the HUD doesn’t create the illusion of immersion, it just makes all of the information I find essential to understanding what’s going on around me vanish. Things like hit points and character and building information are immensely important for quickly processing gameplay. Getting rid of that undermines the entire gaming experience.
For all its flaws, though, the game has a stellar voice cast, and the addition of (albeit limited) local multiplayer is worth its weight in gold. I do hope Lionhead comes to its senses, though, and brings back the features that so defined the last game.