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X10: Fable 3 impressions (spoiler: we're not pissed off)


Receiving a live demo of Fable 3 from Lionhead, er ... head and Microsoft Games Studio boss Peter Molyneux during today's X10 event, we learned that it, in his words, "is all about power and uniqueness." Well, that and Charles Dickens. (More on that in a sec.) Yes, the game is up, running and actually looking pretty far along at this point. But Molyneux was much more keen to talk about some of its new gameplay mechanics than anything involving graphics, sound or other trimmings.

First up, he revisited the premise of the game. It's set in Albion, which -- as we noticed right away -- has become heavily industrialized. You play as the son or daughter of the hero from Fable 2, with Molyneux confirming that you can import your saved game from that title, but that it "will make minor, not major, changes to the story." The game's structure will have you starting out as a "nobody," getting people to believe in you and eventually starting a revolution. About half-way through, you'll be the king or queen of Albion.

The Albion in the demo could certainly stand a change in ownership. It's smoggy, grimy and the streets are full of the homeless, poor and starving. The factories are full of everyone else, including children as young as five-years-old. Molyneux says that all of this is inspired by the works of Charles Dickens; in particular, Oliver Twist. As bad as it is, he promises you'll eventually have the power to change it all, should you choose.

Molyneux points out that it's important to be mindful of what you promise during your rise to power, since the second half of the game and much of its drama will involve deciding whether or not to honor your word. Playing through the first 50 percent of Fable 3, you'll be approached by characters who'll ask you things like, "Will you promise to replace these workhouses with schools when you're king?," and you'll actually have to put the promise in writing. One you're in power, these same people will come before you, present these papers, and you'll get to pass judgment on them. Will you keep your promise, or lose their loyalty?

Will you keep your promise to characters, or lose their loyalty?

Passing judgment will be done using what Molyneux calls "the most emotionally driven feature in a game," a touch mechanic inspired by ICO. In the first example given, the character's wife was in hysterics -- their child had gone missing. The demo driver was able to use his dog (yes, man's best friend is back) to track her scent. As it turned out, she'd just wandered off to play with friends. The touch mechanic (performed with the right trigger) was first used to admonish the child. (The actions performed by press right trigger are context sensitive to the other character's emotional state.) She began to cry, so the touch mechanic was used to pick her up, hug her and start tossing her in the air until she was happy again. The character then stood next to her as the demoer held right trigger to hold her hand and walk her home.

Along the way, he tried to go into a pub, child in tow. The girl said, "Dad, that's the pub! You promised mom you'd never go there again." So, yes, the AI is always "aware" of the current situation. Case in point: The second demonstration of the touch mechanic. The character walked up to a beggar and took him by the hand. The beggar, thinking he was being taken home for dinner, began to exclaim his gratitude. Only the demonstrator was going to be naughty -- he led the beggar to a workhouse, where he intended to sell him. As they got closer to the factory, the beggar become more and more afraid, eventually pulling against the character's arm in an attempt to escape. It was pretty horrifying.

Molyneux explained that the touch mechanic will also work when interacting with objects and in combat, though he wouldn't elaborate on either of the latter. He simply stated that this "is not a gimmick, but a really big feature." Emotes are still in the game, though they've taken a back seat to touch.

Next up we saw some combat inside of a vast cave, prompting Molyneux to explain that the "dungeons" in Fable 3 are much more "open" than in the previous game. He then went on to explain how your character's physique will change based on the weapons you decided to use; if you want a tall, lithe female character, use lighter swords. Wielding a large battle axe will result in your character becoming much more buff.

Your weapon also evolves based on your Gamerscore. It can be traded. It will be named after you.

Saying that "we're bored of making new weapons," Molyneux revealed that all players will be able to craft their own totally unique weapons. Every weapon starts sort of bland and will change to reflect the way you use it. It can also level up. Its look will change; killing Hobbes make it spiky, Hollowmen make it blunt, for example. The more you use it, the bigger it gets. Kill innocents, it drips blood. It also evolves based on your Gamerscore. It can be traded. It will be named after you.

Combat also features more finishing moves and level of gore dependent on how evil your character is. Every player will develop a pair of ethereal wings that will grow and display their power. Molyneux calls them an "extreme expression."

On the topic of co-op, he couldn't expound too much, saying only that "pretty much whatever you can do in single player, you can do in co-op."

So, what about those things Molyneux had tweeted would "seriously piss off" fans? It involves "simplification," he says. Health bars, for example, are gone, replaced by a FPS-like desaturation of color. The biggest change, however, is the removal of experience orbs. Molyneux likened leveling up in Fable 2 to using Windows 7 (go corporate synergy!). In place of the orbs, Fable 3 will rely on "followers" -- do good and get more, do poorly they'll leave. They're what will determine the overall greatness of your character.

With a Fall release promised, we're certain to be seeing much more of Fable 3 soon – with Fable 2 occupying Joystiq's top spot for 2008, we're equally excited and nervous about the changes. For now, we're giving Mr. Molyneux the benefit of the doubt. We're not pissed off ... yet.

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