A Moral Fable

Having just reviewed Fable III (which will run tomorrow), I’m still thinking of the good, bad and middling bits of this most loveable of games. Fable is one of those games you can’t fail to enjoy, unless you are obsessed with deep combat and don’t like to laugh while you play. Yes, it’s true that Fable has become less of an RPG and less of a combat game with each iteration, but it retains its humour and charm and that wins through. However, for a game that Lionhead seems to insist has moral decisions at its core, I have to wonder.

The trouble with moral dilemmas in games is they can all go a bit black and white and Fable III is one of the worst culprits. This is a game that’s come out in the same year as Mass Effect 2, which offers some of the most heart-rending decisions ever.

In the original Mass Effect you had decide which friend to leave behind in a battle. You had to leave one of them, but which one? In ME2 there was the opportunity to save an outpost and its citizens, or risk it perishing in order to benefit the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, when it comes time to make the big decisions in Fable III, Lionhead seems to renege on some of its promises. Yes, I fell for it, once again – I believed the hype.

The previews and developer interviews said we were supposed to decide whether to drag a friend slowly through the desert to save them or leave them behind. This didn’t happen. You’re forced to leave them behind. This didn’t bother me so much, but did detract from what I thought was going to be a pivotal and emotional moment. No such luck.

However, the big disappointment comes towards the end of the game. This is the second half of the game, which actually turns out to be the last quarter. We’ve reached the throne and now it’s time to show our true colours as a just leader, or will we stray from our promises and become a tyrant for the greater long-term good?

When faced with the build an orphanage or build a brothel question, I thought, I’ll build an orphanage because there will probably be some hidden benefit that will reveal itself later. Wrongo!

Then there was the drain the lake and mine the land for resources, or protect this heritage area dilemma. Well, I’ll protect it and I’m sure there will be a way later on to find a less drastic way of getting the resources. Wrongo!

And so it went on.

My other ploy was to build up resources by investing in property, raising the rent and reaping the long-term benefits to help my people. However, before I knew it, a whole year had passed and it was time to face the big bad. There was no "would you like to sell your property?" option and I’d basically doomed my people to a massacre, making the end battle hardly worth fighting.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy Fable III because I did. I just wanted to have the chance to make those decisions and see it play out. Instead, I was given a list of restricted options, none of which I wanted to choose. I know that games don’t have to be this limited because I’ve played Mass Effect.

Fable III promised so much, but it didn’t quite deliver. I think this is the last time Lionhead can rely on the game’s wit and charm to woo gamers. Give us depth, subtlety. I know that Fable is all a big laugh, with its fart gags, chicken suits and in-jokes, but surely these gags shouldn’t come at the expense of the gamer. We’re being asked to make big in-game decisions, at least give us the scope to make them actually make a difference.

The good news is, that I have a feeling Fable IV may do just that. Fable III was just the beginning – that’s what I’m hoping anyway.

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