I suspect this might split fans of the series into two groups: those that find this increases immersion, and those that find, actually, it takes them out of the experience. Sorry Peter, but I find myself in the latter group. Hitting the start button will, after a short load, take you to the main room of the sanctuary. It's circular, with rooms for your weapons, wardrobe and treasure branching off from it. There are shortcuts on the D-pad for each, but once again there's a short load between this and the next room. Making any changes to your character is thus a lengthy procedure. Aside from these logistical drawbacks, I found it to disrupt continuity, too. One minute I'm fighting balverines in the misty depths of the Silverpine forest; the next I'm standing in a trans-dimensional War Room with a butler and my dog curled up peacefully in his basket. It's all a bit too jarring, for me.
Then there's the Road to Rule - Fable III's answer to an upgrade system. At certain points in the story you'll be forced into entering a portal which will take you to a long road, peppered with chests. By using guild seal coins, a form of currency that reflects how many followers you have, you can open chests of varying prices. You can buy new expressions and spells, improve your proficiencies with weapons and increase your aptitude for magic. Once again, Lionhead wants you to make use of this featurein game, even if the mechanic is unnecessarily long-winded and nonsensical. As somebody who plays a lot of RPGs, both eastern and western, The Road to Rule is perhaps my biggest issue with Fable III.
Apologies; I've been waiting to get these problems off my chest since I first played the game, and I'm all too aware that it's a long list of complaints. But here's the thing: somewhere between teaching your dog new tricks, hunting down evil gnomes, having sex with women that aren't your wife, meeting the requirements to upgrade weapons, slaughtering Hobbes, exploring the unknown continent of Aurora and farting in the faces of children whilst wearing a chicken suit, all these problems seem to fade into the background. The familiar Fable experience is as engrossing as ever, and it's incredibly hard to stay mad at a game that oozes charm from every one of its pores. Fable III is a game that is inexplicably better than the sum of its parts.
As always, it's the strength of the world, atmosphere and characters that define Fable. Take Jasper, for example, your personal butler. Voiced by the incredibly fitting John Cleese, Jasper is one of many characters in the game that will force a chuckle out of even the sternest of gamers. The script is as sharp and delightfully British as always, with hundreds of lines of dialogue woven into each quest. A personal favourite of mine involves taking part in a desktop game based on Dungeons and Dragons. The quest-givers shrink you down to an appropriate size and literally put you on the board, narrating your adventure in their game as you go. It's genuinely hilarious, with witty insights to the game development process hiding among the gags.
Fable III doesn't just excel in presenting its narrative; the game is rife with technical innovations, too. Those who take the game into the realm of Xbox LIVE can expect to not only pair up with other players for co-op questing, but marry, have kids and enter into business partnerships with them too. Don't be rash in committing to a stranger online, however. Bound by the laws of marriage, it's only natural that what's yours is theirs and what's theirs is yours. In the event of divorce, your partner will receive half of your fortune – and undoubtedly some players will enter into marriage for precisely this reason. The parallels to real life really are quite frightening.
Molyneux's fervent quest for accessibility might alienate some core gamers, but even the most cynical of critics would struggle to suppress a smile while playing Fable III. To enjoy a game to this extent despite so many flaws only serves to show how utterly compelling adventuring in Albion can be.