Fable Legends has officially been cancelled, and with all signs pointing to Lionhead being closed down, it seems unlikely we’ll get another proper entry in the Fable line. When talking about the Fable trio, the second entry tends to get the most love. The first Fable is charming, but a wee bit clunky, and then there was that whole fracas over the damn acorn. Fable 3 is just fine until its last third, when it abruptly switches from being a sword-swinging, magic-slinging adventure to a kingdom management sim, something for which it was never really forgiven. But you know, that part of the game is really quite good. It’s just horribly out of place.
In case you’ve blocked the trauma out of your head, after plenty of fighting and questing, you usurp control of Albion’s throne and become Monarch, at which point you must make binary choices about how to manage your kingdom. Your options typically boil down to being benevolent towards your people, which will empty your coffers, or making life a bit rougher, which will add to your coin. You know an invasion is coming and you’ll need plenty of cash on hand to fight it off, and you can get what you need either way, if you make the right choices and sacrifices. Though the countdown to the invasion clicks by at a steady pace for much of the final act, leaving you time to gauge the effects of your choices, the last chunk of it gets used up all at once without warning, leaving you flat-footed and more than likely very under-funded. It’s a pretty massive dick move, and one that got half my citizens killed fighting off the invasion. I was so pissed I switched off the game and didn’t speak for several hours.
Ok, so, yes, that bit could’ve been handled better, but overall the sim itself is quite engaging. Throughout your journey in Fable 3, you make various alliances and promises that you’re expected to make good on once you become Monarch. You don’t have to, of course – you’re the ruler, you make the rules. But there are consequences to every decision, and it’s difficult to know when to be a jerk and when to stick by your word. Do you keep your promise to the sleazy Reaver, or do you send him packing? Building factories is great for the economy but not the environment; your priority in peacetime might be quite different from what’s necessary in time of war.
The kingdom management of Fable 3 was a bit overly simplistic, given that your options may as well have been labeled ‘Tyrant’ and ‘Benefactor’, but the way they examined the long-term implications of a hero’s choices paved the way for games like Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s easy to look at Fable 3’s Logan and decide he’s a cruel leader who needs to go, but once you’re on the throne yourself, you realize that it’s a much more nuanced situation. If being a tyrant keeps the most people alive, maybe it’s not such a terrible thing. Except, of course, you’ve made their lives fairly awful in the process. But better alive and miserable than happy and dead…right?
We’ve got the hacky-slashy hero thing pretty much down, but not enough games follow through on the bits that happen after the bad guy has been put in the ground. For many games, what comes after isn’t your concern, because you’re not the person in charge, you’re just the grunt on the front lines (or the chosen one who oddly never gets asked to stick around after they’ve saved the day. Weird, that). Long-term consequence on a large scale, as opposed to just “Theresa will remember that”, adds new dimension to the choices we make as we labor to right all those wrongs.
Like so much of Fable, the kingdom management is a great idea that just didn’t quite come together. It comes out of nowhere, is a bit too simple, and, well… there was that sudden stop that can only be described as the developers trolling the players. But also like so much of Fable, it could be something truly marvelous if given enough time and room to breathe. It certainly would’ve made for a far better spin off than coin-golf or the pub games. Ruling Albion via a mobile game would’ve been perfect, had such a thing been more commonplace five years ago. Sadly, we’ll likely never get the chance now.