Fable III (PC) Review

Author: Sean Ridgeley, Evan Adams
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/fable_III_pc/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Some don't know it, but Lionhead Studios started out on the PC back in 2001 one with god game Black & White before moving on to the now established Fable franchise. Fable was a hit on the Xbox, and its later released PC version -- known as Fable: The Lost Chapters -- was improved greatly, boasting better graphics, properly adapted controls, and tons of additional content. While not the deepest or most challenging game, it was a lot of fun and had charm all throughout.

The studio recently noted it skipped over bringing Fable II to the PC due to a lack of resources at the time, but in keeping with many of the design principles behind TLC, they're back with Fable III.

Note we've already reviewed the game and its DLC on Xbox 360, so if you want another take from someone who's played Fable II in addition to the original title, check those out.

Story & design

Fable III starts out with a bang: your brother has become a tyrannical ruler over Albion, and as prince, it's your job to put an end to it. It's not long before you begin slowly amassing a revolutionary army, in between various side quests and adventures. 

The story and writing are nothing mind-blowing, but do represent some of Lionhead's best work. Both posess the trademark sense of wry humor the series is known for (whether it's the evil gnomes scattered throughout Albion shouting snide insults at you, or the townswoman screaming "Don't take me, take my sister!" to invading Balverines), but also darkness. It's surprising for such a largely family-friendly title to be so unafraid of violence or even a little horror at times (no revolution without bloodshed, they say), so while I can't wholly recommend it to children, I can say it's a mostly enjoyable blend for those a little older.

The structure is largely linear: you can explore some areas but between the 'glowing quest trail' (optional, though a bug forces you to disable it each time if you prefer it off), your dog hinting you toward treasure, a selectable quest list, and the fast travel option, you won't be doing much of it. On the one hand, this ruins the sense of wonder I'm used to in RPGs; on the other, it's terribly convenient for those that prefer to more or less breeze through games.

Mechanics & RPG elements

One of the most notable changes over the console version is the addition of a 'Challenging' difficulty level (aka hardcore mode). It's not a major overhaul as I'd like -- you're given less health, enemies are smarter, and it's more difficult to obtain achievements. Many encounters are still quite easy, but many others got me killed -- in some cases, multiple times. Of course, I rushed some for review purposes, and like a good RPG should, it punished me for it.

The problem is there's practically no punishment for dying: you lose your progress toward the next 'Guild Seal' (enough of these and you can 'level up' abilities in five level increments), but it's just a drop in the hat, really. It goes against one of the basic tenents of game design: make the player feel good for doing good. It doesn't apply to all games, but really needs to here, as there's potential for a very fun and somewhat tactical combat system, but it's mostly wasted by the lack of incentive and depth. In most cases you can spam attacks and come out alive, and if not, no worries, you'll return in a moment with full health with little punishment. Accessibility doesn't have to mean a breezy experience for more skilled players; Fable III and future series installments could greatly benefit from a more elaborate form of scaling difficulty.

On the RPG side, many elements have been stripped out entirely or simplified, but in some cases, simultaneously changed for the better.

Spellcasting, for example, no longer requires mana, so if you thought TLC was spammy, it's worse here. Spells don't evolve as before; this time, though, you can increase your damage levels in five increments, and quite enjoyably, combine different spells for different effects for a total of 15. Unfortunately, many of the effects are more or less the same: Fireball and Blades, for example, creates a very similar spell to Shock and Blades (swords and the respective element fuse and fly about, damaging enemies). Spells can target individual enemies or groups, and charged as appropriate to the situation -- holding down the right mouse button for roughly 10 seconds might see the whole screen filled, depending on the area. While impressive, I find myself longing for the gorgeous aesthetic designs of the spells in TLC.

Another change to the progression system applies to weapons and spell gauntlets. As with some RPGs of old, the more you use them, the more powerful they become (this is besides your Seal-purchased upgrades). Killing a certain amount of a particular enemy, for example, grants you a bonus against that enemy. As well, external events like getting married will -- inexplicably -- affect mechanics such as your Seal acquirement rate. In addition to swords and hammers, guns are present, and -- pardon the pun -- are a blast to use, thanks in part to satisfying sound effects.

Menus have all been replaced with the "Sanctuary", a place that can be accessed at any time to level up, change weapons, spells, outfits, location, or access co-op (unfortunately, this feature wasn't available in the pre-release review copy). I expect more casual gamers will love the accessibility this brings, while some CRPG nuts will be going crazy at the lack of menu management. I don't mind this so much as a related change to the quickbar: this is filled automatically as you obtain items, and only shows itself contextually, so potions will appear when you're low on health, for example. Besides not being able to tell how many items you have or need at any given time, you're unable to alternate between different spell sets on the fly as before.

Fresh new features include the ability to marry, have children, and buy and rent property. These are light but welcome additions, and not at all required if you don't wish to partake (hint: property will go much farther than you think, though).

PC features

Lionhead has assured PC gamers it's taking advantage of the platform's wide range of hardware, and the result is better than I'd expected based on screenshots and such. It's not breathtaking, but does what it does well, and has enough beautiful scenes and effects to make you stop and stare now and again.

Complementing that, we have a wide variety of graphics options, though unfortunately, some are tied to each other (e.g. AA, depth of field, and bloom). Sadly, despite all manner of tweaking, performance is still not where it should be on a 1055T CPU and 5770 GPU, ranging anywhere from about 30 frames per second to 90, with shadows off (even on the lowest settings, these cause significant framerate drops on a mid-high range rig where more demanding games run much better); stuttering is seen fairly often, especially during camera movement. Worse, shadows add a much needed layer of depth to a given scene, as shown below. All in all it's quite playable, but certainly not ideal. It's one of the game's major issues, so with any luck, it will be patched promptly.

Shadows Off vs. Very High.

Controls, besides a few minorly awkward bindings, feel natural and are customizable.

Finally, the load of DLC console players had to pay for is all included here, even the Limited Collector's Edition goods -- an appreciated gesture given the seven month gap.

3D & Multi-GPU

For the first time since using 3D Vision, I have been able to ratchet up the 3D setting to maximum without too much distortion occuring. There are still some issues such as ghosting on select objects, but these are not very significant and you should be able to ignore them.  Unfortunately the common issue with pop-up indicators such as "Press *Button*" as well as subtitles, do have issues integrating within the 3D world and look odd.  If you do not use subtitles at all, this issue will be negligible. As with many games, Fable III has trouble with alignment during cutscenes, and it can be so bad as to produce a near doubling effect.  When all is said and done though, this is one game where you should be satisfied with the quality of whatever 3D depth setting you feel comfortable using.

As far as 3D performance goes, the game runs fairly well with dual GTX 570's and an i7 950, usually not dipping below about 45 frames per second.  It does on rare occasions dip to anywhere from 20-40fps, depending what's on screen or on the area.  3D performance with a single GTX 570 card knocked off as much as half the frames as the dual GPU setup, occasionally holding ~55-60fps with a minimum of 10fps loss at all times.

SLI without 3D produces a general framerate range between 75 and 230, averaging 80-150, relative to the action on screen.  However, framerate takes a nosedive to the low 30s in far LOD areas; changing the graphics settings presets from Very High to Normal doubled FPS.

Interestingly, although I noticed a fair amount of screen tearing with V-Sync disabled, 3D Vision appears to force it for a smooth experience, capping the framerate at 60.

Final thoughts

Fable III is about as much of an RPG as before. Many of the mechanics have been reworked for accessibility, but they're all still there in one form or another. Excepting a deep and terrible plot hole toward the end, the story is compelling to match, and hosts memorable characters. Were it not for the weak punishment system and performance issues, the game would be highly recommendable, but as is, it's an otherwise well-made RPG adventure with a couple of major flaws. As a Fable fan, you should leave mostly satisfied; as an RPG fan, your mileage may vary.

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