Fable 3 preview: a reason to believe

Albion has entered its industrial age.

Not that I need the helpful, disembodied voice to tell me that in Fable 3's opening, of course. The change is evident in how the once colorful landscape seems to be covered in soot. It's clear from a single glance at the sorrowful, broken eyes of a townsperson worked to the bone.

"The Fable team hasn't changed very much, it's generally the same people and because that's the case, for us, there's a love there for the world, and there's a love there for the characters," design director Josh Atkins tells me. "We can't afford, emotionally, to be complacent."

It's a little ironic that it was the team's commitment to do right by Fable 3, to not play it safe, that forced them to make Albion such an unfortunate place in which to live.
%Gallery-101206% It's not all downtrod and depressed, of course. In fact, things are pretty good for your character, the son or daughter of the hero king you portrayed in Fable 2. But he (yes, sorry, I went with a dude) is quickly shaken from his life of luxury when it becomes clear that his evil sibling and current king, Logan should be removed from power.

Said sibling forces our hero into some difficult choices early on (none of which I'm allowed to tell you about), all part of a plan to help connect you emotionally to Albion in a way that many players may not have been during their time with Fable 2.

"How do you make people care? The first thing is that we present you with some key decisions early on that are not easy," Atkins says. "It sets up a tone that's designed to make you care. Everybody will have to do it, you will, all of sudden say, 'Oh my god, the world is not in great shape, and they're asking me to help.'"

Atkins adds that the team is also fostering that emotional connection by making more obvious the liberal but subtle doses of humor found throughout the series. Or, to put it another way: the quickest way to your heart is through your funny bone.

"If we make people laugh, we'll make them care," Atkins says. "A lot the sidequests are really designed to make you laugh. They're placed there to say, 'Okay, we want to do something funny now,' because if it's a world of characters that make you laugh, you're going to care about it."

It's a tactic personified by your butler Jasper (voiced by John Cleese) who attempts to help you on your heroic journeys by reading notes from an old book on heroing, left to him by your father.

For the first time, slowing down long enough to shake some hands and kiss some babies was on par with rushing to stab the next Hobbe to death.

The tidbits he discovers are not only helpful, they're often very funny. His attempt to relate the "surreal" section of the heroing book that deals with co-op play and its alternate parallel dimensions is priceless.

Jasper's at the literal center of one of Fable 3's other big changes: The Sanctuary. Now, pressing the Start button will instantly teleport your character back to a safe zone, overseen by the butler, where you can swap outfits, change spells or grab a different weapon. It's a a pretty sad comment on Fable 2 that this visual system is actually quicker and more intuitive to use than those old menus, but it's really a surprising pleasure.

Another big feature of the Sanctuary: It's your gateway to the Road to Rule which ... well, hold on, I'm getting ahead of myself.

So Fable 3 has done away with experience orbs. (It's okay if you need to take a moment to mourn the loss.) In their place is belief. As you kill monsters or make people like you, you'll earn their trust and support as represented by Guild Seals. Those seals can then be exchanged on the Road to Rule to open up treasure chests that include weapon and magic boosts. (Other less important attributes like the ability to buy and sell property are also included, which lets the team use the Road as sort of advertising for the game's lesser-known features.)

For the first time, slowing down long enough to shake some hands and kiss some babies was on par with rushing to stab the next Hobbe to death. I soon found myself seeing the people littering a newly dingy Bowerstone Market not as obstacles to my next conquest but people I needed to win over, if I was to make any headway in my adventure.

See? I called them people.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.