Fable 3 - gameplay preview

A New England

If you're after a developer who invests their own personality into a game, you need look no further than Peter Molyneux.

In Molyneux's Fable III, the hero must litter the ears of his 'people' with head-turning, crowd-pleasing promises - in order to win the support he needs to become king. It's an approach the Lionhead boss apes wonderfully well.

When CVG catches up with Molyneux for our preview of his latest offering, he handles the press with calculated bombast; dropping rhythmic bombs of hyperbole that tickle the shorthand notebook of all in attendance.

His is perhaps the most disarming - nay, likeable - vernacular in the entire games development universe. When he tells you his latest creation is all about "power, man", you can't help but be won over.

But in Fable III, stealing the crown from Albion's evil King Logan is just half the battle. You spend just as much time coming good (or not so good) on what you've pledged to your supporters; demonstrating whether your promises were little more than overblown soundbites.

So, when Molyneux says there are a "hell of a lot of changes" from Fable II, should you believe him?

Goodness, yes. Because at X10 in San Francisco yesterday, Molyneux also revealed a different side to his character - the unsatisfied perfectionist; the guy who believes most of the public dismiss Fable II as the "cute British farty game" and who confesses to over-complicating it with an expression and magic system that most players just didn't bother to explore.

Sure, he's flirting with the assembled media when he says the reaction to his last version of Albion left him realising "what a talentless bastard I am". But part of him means it.

It's the same paranoia that has seen Molyneux and his team at Lionhead dismiss so much of what defined Fable II's RPG status.

Fable III is still instantly recognisable as a Fable game, but there's plenty missing. The power bar - gone. The HUD - gone. That cumbersome, under-used expression system - gone. The age-old 'experience-equals-points' RPG mechanic - gone. If less is more, this is the most ambitious project in Molyneux's career.

CVG is told that this simplification exists is because "half of the people who played Fable II only used 50 per cent of the features". It's an unscrambling of the series, then - a reach out to new, RPG-unfriendly gamers who were left bewildered by the complexities of Fable II.

This subtraction of these features could have infuriated us - nay, left us "pissed off" - and tempted forth accusations of dumbing down. So it's just as well that the stuff Molyneux's introduced in their stead is pretty darn cool.

Fable III's story is set 50 years after the last title, during the Industrial Revolution in would-be England, Albion.

The nefarious King Logan is setting up workhouses left, right and centre - in which children toil all hours in treacherous circumstances, even to their death. (Molyneux says the evil monarch values "industry over human suffering").

Albion has transformed into a grim, smog-suffocated no-man's land - all grime-billowing smoke stacks and soiled architecture. It's your job to rise to power, so that you can recapture the idyllic landscape of yore.

At least, that's what you tell your public. Which style of reign you actually choose to follow in the second half of Fable III is entirely up to you - and the strategic pressures you face as ruler.

You could be the 'good king' - replacing factories with schools, improving the health of the underclass. But what about when the influential lobbyists come knocking? Will your socialist agenda survive? Molyneux offers nothing specific on this, but uses the example of Barack Obama - a man who inspired a whirlwind of positive feeling, but has yet to close Guantanamo Bay as promised.

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