Perhaps the area of improvement I like the best in terms of traditional Fable
play is in the NPC interaction. In Fable II, entertaining (or annoying) townsfolk was a practical nightmare, and cumbersome to boot. Here, you simply walk up to a character and his/her opinion of you appears at the bottom of the screen.
Pressing the A Button lets you engage in conversation, and random interactions are assigned to the face buttons. A good act will be placed on the A Button, while a bad deed will be set to X. Y is your 'ugly' card, and includes pelvic thrusting. Aw yeah.
brings a lot of great new improvements to the formula that makes it worthy of a good look on its own. But this game is really a game of two halves ? once you take the power back and become King yourself, a whole new element of gameplay presents itself where you must decide on daily matters that can greatly affect your country. It is without a doubt the greatest part of the game, but unfortunately it is also the shortest.
Without putting too fine a point on it (otherwise I'll just end up spoiling it all for you, and you don't want that), your royal duties involve managing the kingdom's finances so that Albion can both prosper and protect itself. You do this with the help of your advisor, who offers you a list of royal engagements to attend to every so often.
Many of these events take place in the throne room, where you must listen to two sides of a particular proposal and make a decision. The aforementioned village and rebel leaders who helped you get the crown will understandably come back to see if you will make good on your promises made as a revolutionary, while industrial meanie Reaver (played by the legendary Stephen Fry) will act as the devil in your conscience. Deciding on things that will benefit Albion will cost the Treasury money, but listening to Reaver will net you a hefty profit ? at the expense of civilian morale and the environment, of course.
While all this is happening, your character sits on the throne, looking troubled. In my case, I was wearing a chicken suit so it kind of lightens the mood somewhat. I like to entertain. I needed to cheer myself up as well, since rebel leader Page decided to talk smack about my reign when I denied her some frivolous venture. ?I wonder if anything has really changed,? she asks. Hey, I just abolished child slavery not five minutes ago, love! Cut me some slack.
Decrees can be carried out whenever you like, and inbetween royal duties you can still roam around and marry yourself to sixteen ladies if that's your bag. There's a real additional thrill in milling about during this time in the game as well, as townspeople run around yelling ?Yay! It's the King!? and other such excitable things. It not only adds to the traditional Fable gameplay, it elevates it to something akin to a medieval strategy sim ? only without watering down any of the other elements at its expense.
But that thrill is over far too quickly. The time for deciding on legislature and telling hippies where to get off only lasts for a year's rule, spent over five or six cycles in the game. Before you know it, you're tackling the final boss, with the consequences of your first 365 days coming back to greet your people.
Such consequences appear hollow at this stage however, because the alliances and promises you may have kept/broken don't seem to have much of a visual effect during the last gaming sequence. It's almost as if you're just playing another quest with a band of NPC friends.
You can carry on your rule after the final story battle of course, and there's an awful lot to maintain your interest. But without the official royal activities to entertain yourself with, it feels like there's something missing. It's like the game's gradually led you up to this natural high that peaks during the first year of your rule, and the post-credits gameplay is the sombre comedown.
You're still coming down to a very impressive game, mind you, but that doesn't escape the fact that you won't want to. To be able to continue ruling on matters like industrialisation, taxation and defences and to return to them and change your mind periodically would have been absolutely brilliant ? even if just relegated to text.
Fable III is a truly great sequel ? lush graphics, full of humour and coated with the fantastic British sheen that only Molyneux can deliver. The attempt to refresh the series with a brilliant strategy-sim concept is stunted by Lionhead's inability to flesh it out post-story. You'll play this for ages, and love every second of it too, but by the time you get to the truly special part you'll want to avoid reaching the very swift conclusion for as long as possible.
SPOnG Score: 92%
SPOnG NOTE: At the time of going to press, Microsoft was unable to provide access to Fable III's online features. As a result, this aspect of the game could not be reviewed in time for publication. Such functionality will be made available on the game's release, in the form of a downloadable patch.