Warning: Fable 3 spoilers ahoy!
I somehow managed to finish Fable 3 twice. This usually never happens because I have other games to play or other things to do, or because the first long linear part of any RPG that’s worth replaying is almost always a tremendous slog to get through. I didn’t manage to finish Knights of the Old Republic twice. I didn’t manage it with Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. I didn’t even really manage it with Deus Ex because I got distracted when I reached Area 51 for the second time. This time, I didn’t really have anything more interesting to do with my time than a second playthrough of a game I’d already completed, and I overcame the initial linearity problem with the help of EER, since co-op makes everything more interesting.
The game is a lot shorter if you don’t worry too much about all the collectibles. Fable 3 is a game with objectively too many collectibles. Destroy the 50 talking garden gnomes hidden throughout the world? Sure. Find the 50 silver keys to unlock the ultra-secure chest in the castle garden? Yeah no problem. Find the 4 super-hidden golden keys? Eh… yeah all right, there are only 4 of them and the “puzzles” you have to solve to get them are fun enough. Collect the 30 books hidden throughout the world? Uh… I don’t think so. Find the 30 flowers spread across the three Aurora areas? Oh, sod off. Probably half the duration of my first Fable 3 playthrough was spent just chasing around after those keys and gnomes, and the final rewards turned out to be enormously disappointing anyway.
Fable 3 sort of has three stages. The first stage is the introduction/tutorial and it just goes on and on and on. It’s characterised by a very linear unlocking of the first several areas of the world and by an amazing amount of cutscenes, most of them of course unskippable. It does have an unusual amount of choices in it though, even if they’re not that important in the long run. Once you’re past the intro, and you’ve reached the city of Bowerstone, the second part kicks in where you’re a rebel. Narratively there’s nothing new under the sun, because you’re a rebel throughout most of the intro as well, and you’ve already secured three out of five allies when the linear part ends. Structurally however, you have a lot more freedom to travel around and take on quests in this stage, and it feels more like you’re in control. This section ends with a long interlude in a foreign land, after which you secure the fifth and final ally and immediately return to Bowerstone to kick your evil brother’s ass and take the throne. Then the third stage is you as ruler, preparing the nation to defend itself against a much greater threat than a tyrant king, and once you’ve either won or “won”, there’s an indefinite epilogue where you can keep playing and new quests and content will appear to keep you around for a while.
In second playthrough terms, the stage where you’re the ruler is obviously the most interesting one because it has so many choices and almost all of them have really impressive consequences. Some of them change certain buildings, some change sections of areas, some change whole areas, some may open up entirely new locations for you to explore depending on what you choose, and at least one of them changes an existing area completely, but in drastically different ways depending on your decision.
To make all this possible, unfortunately, all your choices are binary, and almost always easily categorised as Good™ or Evil®. The most you ever get is three options: be nicer than your brother, be the same as your brother, or be even worse than your brother. What I didn’t expect was Lionhead’s willingness to disable puzzles or quests depending on your actions. In my first game, I turned down every proposal to build mines or quarries or lumber mills because I’d promised various people not to exploit their homes and because I didn’t want to turn all the nation’s natural areas into industrial toilets. My second playthrough, however, as the Bitch Queen of Albion, saw me destroy nature and enslave people at every available chance (when I wasn’t taking time out for a massacre of civilians to level up one of my blood-thirsty legendary weapons, to have lots of evil unprotected sex, or to fuss over the colour of my hair).
When I decided to turn the City of Aurora into a mine and force all the Aurorans to work in it, the mine (which hadn’t even existed in my first playthrough) turned out to be one big flit-switch puzzle to open up a secret room. Likewise, the Temple of Evil – which I’d been actively ignoring the first time around – was revealed to feature a 3-quest chain at the end of which another elaborate flit-switch puzzle became accessible.
I’m not saying Fable 3 is the best RPG ever. In fact I wouldn’t call it an RPG at all, even though within its very binary world it certainly has plenty of scope for role-playing. It’s more like an action-adventure game with a simple levelling system. It has plenty of flaws, including potentially show-stopping bugs, and it doesn’t deliver the same emotional punch as I got from the second game in the series, though it does muster a few relatively powerful scenes. What I’m saying is that this game may be unsurpassed in its genre as far as choice and consequence goes. You get a lot of choices, most of them are really big, and most of them have comparatively large and highly visible consequences. If, like me, you get a huge kick out of that sort of thing, you’ll want to get a hold of Fable 3. It’s the game where you have to choose between restoring the city’s orphanage or turning it into a brothel – that very nearly encapsulates the game for me.
If you require substantial challenge in your games, however, definitely stay away. I managed to beat it twice without ever getting knocked out in combat, and I wasn’t even trying.