Sunday, 16 January 2011

There's A Big World In Here

Article written for

There's A Big World In Here

I have, like most of you, been playing video games all my life. I love them; the same escape that you can find in a book or a movie but so much more immersive, the teaming up with your friends to overcome challenges in co-op or putting your game face on and taking your friends out. The main draw to gaming for me has always been community because, let’s face it, playing video games can be a pretty lonely passion. The ability to battle it out online with your friends or work with them is fantastic and that’s the main reason I’m always drawn the Massively Multiplayer Online game or MMO, because you know we love our acronyms.

As you know, there are quite a few types of gamer: the casual gamer who is happy playing some Wii sports to pass the time or the odd flash game on a website, or the hardcore gamer that would happily spend the rest of their lives pwning n00bs in Counter Strike or MW2. There is even the achievement hunter now who will sink shamelessly to the very depths of the gaming toilet to find their latest score of points.

I’m part of another group; a group I would describe as the Social Gamer or maybe the MMO gamer. Social gamer sounds catchier though, so we will go with that. The type of gamer who is happiest in their little virtual world killing three hundred bears and only getting four bear pelts to give to some guy who is going to make a new hat, and the type who loves nothing more than roaming game worlds with friends or clans or guilds hunting for the most elusive treasure. We are the gamers who, if computers had never been invented, would probably still be playing D&D with a pen and paper. Sure, social gamers may not be the coolest, but they are the most passionate about the games that they play. You will find not find a more dedicated community than the one based around an MMO. If your first thought when buying a new game is “who else is buying this?” then you’re probably a social gamer too.

Of course there are pros and cons to becoming a social gamer. A major advantage when playing this type of game is the updated content that is usually provided regularly to keep the player base happy and entertained. This is something that a lot of console game developers currently do in order to make sure you keep playing Mass Effect 2 or Bad Company 2 with the release of DLC, and this additional content keeps the player from drifting to any other game. A drawback to this is having to pay a monthly subscription to most MMOs. This fee usually covers server cost, the cost of building new content and any updates or fixes that might be needed but many people are still put off for this and rightly so in some cases, after all, why should you pay for something you’ve already bought? I guess it works the same way as Xbox live. Sure you bought a console for £200 or whatever, but now you want additional content and the ability to play with your friends which is extra. With an MMO you’re buying a fantastic game with the promise that, if you subscribe, the game will continue to improve and evolve. They are constantly evolving and being improved (and sometimes broken) right up to, and after, they are released to the public, with the developers often using feedback from the community to develop ideas for new features and game content. This, I feel, is also unique to the MMO genre, with content in the game often being suggested by the people who play the game. You don’t often see that in console games.

There are some MMOs out there that have huge player bases. I can’t write an article about the genre without mentioning World of Warcraft, or WoW,a game so successful that it would probably take World War 3 to take it down. Personally I’m not a player, or a big fan, but I respect the game and its success as it has brought millions of gamers into the genre and that is only a good thing. Those millions drive the industry to produce bigger and better massively multiplayer games in an attempt to draw them away form World of Warcraft. Millions of pounds put into games in the hopes that they will become the WoW killer, something that helps create unique and fun games, but never really puts a dent in World of Warcraft.

There are also some risks involved in being a social gamer, especially when you’re dealing with MMORPGs. Let’s face it, games can be pretty immersive, so when you’re battling the Locust as Marcus Fenix or taking down the Covenant as Master Chief, you are pretty involved in that story and that world. Now imagine you have made the character yourself, it probably looks like you, and you have spent two hundred hours in a game building the character up… some people can get pretty hooked. They are the kind of people who maybe should be locked up and not allowed to play computer games.

With E3 just finishing recently, we were shown a number of new MMOs that will be out soon. Games like Star Wars The Old Republic, DC Universe Online and LEGO Universe that continue to innovate within the genre. For example The Old Republic becoming the first every fully voiced MMO, an unheard of move in gaming; hundreds of thousands of lines of dialogue the player used to have to read through now played out as interactive cinematic. DC Universe Online’s control scheme and customisation options may prove to be the most deep and immersive ever seen in a video game, while LEGO Online is looking to improve the way the player views content in games, allowing the player to build their own LEGO items and buildings.

That’s why I love MMOs and social gaming; they are little worlds to escape into and, with the advances in the genre, those worlds are getting so much bigger and better. I’m off to find my Staff of Pwning +1…

Fable 3 - Review

A review of Fable 3 I did for

You can read the fully formatted version, complete with pics at

Fable III

And so our story begins… again. It’s been two years since Lionhead Studios released the acclaimed action RPG Fable II, and the franchise has cemented Lionhead as one of the UK’s best known development companies and this success is continued with Fable III.

Fable III is set fifty years after the adventures of Fable II, with the player taking on the role of the son or daughter of the former king of Albion and hero of Bowerstone. You are the prince or princess and your older brother Logan, voiced by Michael Fassbender, the current king. Unfortunately for the people of Albion your brother is a bit of a git, a tyrannical ruler so  the kingdom is in disrepair, and its people oppressed. You must lead the revolt; its time for a change and for the good of Albion you must take the throne and so the player and Sir Walter Beck, voiced by the fantastic Bernard Hill set off on an adventure to discover the powers of a hero and gather allies in the war against Logan.

This is a game of two halves and, as Lionhead have mentioned, the first half involves you gathering allies to support your revolt. In doing so, you will travel across Albion, fight for the people and learn more about your father and the inherited hero abilities you have while the second half involves ruling Albion in any way you see fit. You have to protect the kingdom but to do so will require sacrifice, a sacrifice from you as the player or from your people which could lead you down the dark path to being the tyrant your brother was.

Fable has always been about the player’s moral choices, however with Fable III the number of choices feels like it has been cut back. This is perhaps due to the way the story works, after all a revolt against a tyrannical king should be a righteous quest and so naturally your choices are usually on the side of good. Leading the revolt, I found my choices were positive; it felt right when looking at my progression that a prince trying to take down his evil brother should be good. However, when in power, you start to see why Logan is so evil. You are told that Albion needs protection and the easiest way to do that is to make the morally darker choice.

The storyline can seem very linear at times; while you are given the freedom to explore from very early on in the game, side quests don’t become available until you complete stages of the main story quests. On my first play through I wanted to be king and I rushed through the game, missing side missions. I remember promises from Molyneux of ruling Albion, deciding to order troops to areas to quell rebellions or defend against invading armies and, sadly, a lot of that is missing from the second half of the game. Instead, the second half  involves two quests and a lot of sitting on the throne listening to people speak and then pressing a button. Unfortunately the best part of the games story arc is the revolt, and being the king is just boring.

However, Fable III does make up for the short story line with a number of very well produced and also incredibly funny side quests. For example, and I’ll give you a spoiler warning here, a side mission called “The Game” which involves playing a nice role playing tabletop game with some powerful but incredibly geeky mages and, this being Fable, there is a little twist in that you are the model in this game, shrunk down and placed on the table and asked to save the cardboard cut out princess.

Little gems like this are scattered through out Fable III and it’s just a shame that if you don’t want to, you really don’t have to go looking for them. If you happen to get the game, make sure you do the side missions and you won’t be disappointed.

The cast of Fable III, as with the previous game, is impressive. As mentioned before, Lionhead is one of the best known development companies in the UK and with that comes a list of stars from TV and film that look to get involved in their major projects and this time around is no different. Joining Bernard Hill and Michael Fassbender is an all star cast – ZoĆ« Wanamaker returns as Theresa alongside greats such as Sir Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, John Cleese and Stephen Fry. The big names bring an extra dimension to the overall delivery of the story with Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross both play a particularly evil part in the game I found very funny.

New to the Fable series, is a fully voiced protagonist. Lionhead have said that they felt they’d taken the silent character as far as they could, that to add to the game they would have to voice the character and they have done a reasonable job, although I feel that they have possibly held back. Your character is voiced, but you will find that they rarely say anything. In emotional sections of the story where you have to choose between your childhood sweetheart and the deaths of protesters, the character should say more than just a few sentences. Sadly I think the player character falls flat in this game, not due to the lack of a good voice actor but the writing itself being lacking but hopefully they will improve on this in any further Fable games. Overall, the quality of the sound in Fable III is as you would expect from the developers. The soundtrack is filled with the similar sounding fantasy tracks as the previous game, combat sounds are sharp and the voice over work from the villagers is varied and often very funny.

Lionhead have had two years to improve the visual quality for Fable III and in some aspects they have. In the first ten minutes you walk out into a huge cavern system and the visuals are stunningly detailed. The areas are now vast and richly detailed with various animals running and flying around and little details like the inclusion of rabbits running around do help the player to feel a lot more immersed in the game. The visual effects of all of the spells have been updated and improved, although this is much more apparent when the new spell weaving feature is involved, mixing effects.

There are areas, however, that don’t seem to have been improved. While characters like Walter Beck and Logan are fantastic looking, it feels like little detail was paid to the villagers who populate the areas you visit most so while they are improved over the previous game, as you would expect, there are a number of bugs. During cut scenes, for example, lip syncing seems to be iffy and the villagers faces don’t seem to animate very well at all. I have also noticed a number of missing textures in some of the dungeons, although I’m told by friends that they have not noticed them. There have also been, and again this may just be me, a few cases where the fame rate drops and it feels like you are running through treacle. While the issues do detract from the overall experience, at least for me who tends to notice everything, I stand by what I’ve said – the visuals in Fable III are impressive and when you step out into Misty Peak for the first time and look down on the world you will be blown away.

Fable III has a number of new features such as the new “improved” menu system. In Fable II the menu system always seemed a little clunky and slow to respond and, in response to this, Lionhead have done away with the classic pause menu system and replaced it with The Sanctuary  – a series of rooms comprising the Armoury, the Wardrobe, the Treasury and the LIVE room. In the central room you find a map table, also a new feature, that shows all of world in beautifully made miniature. This table map allows the player to see the various areas of the world and gives a break down of quests and collectable in each of those areas allowing the player to use this map to fast travel and buy structures, shops and houses, in order to build their financial empire. As an improvement to the previous system I think it really works; it also shows a commitment from the developers, who have clearly listened to the feedback from the previous game and done well to improve.There are some issues however. If you want to build an empire and amass a fortune, this will involve buying, renting out and repairing the houses and shops throughout Albion and beyond. Strangely there is no way to browse quickly between buildings and there is no “repair all” button, so when you have an area like Brightwall Village and there are twenty buildings, you have to click on each individually to repair them. Sure it sounds like a little issue, but if you are like me and have bought every building in the game, you spend an age repairing stuff.

Combat has also been overhauled, receiving an update and polish with the addition of the finisher system, which seems to replace counter attacks. Sometimes in combat you will do an insta kill and, depending on your weapon, it will start a brilliant little animation. For example when fighting Hobbes, the little gremlin looking creatures, you may kill one by punting them through the air or when using a pistol you throw the pistol in the air, side step the enemy, catch it and shoot them in the face. Combat without the finisher system would start to get a little dull after a while, but when you see one of the finishers I dare you not to smile.

Weapons now evolve as you progress through the game. You are given four base weapons, sword, hammer, pistol and a rifle and these weapons evolve and change shape as you play. If you regularly use a fire spell then the weapon will eventually get a flaming aura; use combat magic often and your weapons will develop a more arcane look, ultimately becoming wooden. It’s a very impressive system and between my two play throughs the weapons looked vastly different based on my combat style and moral standing. My only issue with the system is that I couldn’t manually set how my sword looked.

Finally, as Peter Molyneux has said many times, a key feature in Fable is the player’s interaction with characters in the game and in previous games this was achieved with the emote wheel system that allowed the player to choose from a very large list of actions. In Fable III, however, this system is gone completely and is replaced with a more direct one to one version. Walking up to a villager in the game and pressing A will put you into the emote/action system and a random positive and negative action will float in the screen. To make friends in Fable III you will have to speak to people individually and then complete friend quests. These friend quests, from what I’ve seen, involve two things: going to a spot and digging something up or delivering something to someone. This system adds some side quests to the over all game but they become tedious to the point where I stopped bothering trying to impress villagers. I honestly hated the system in the previous game, where you would end up having everyone in the town love you when you were talking to your wife, but the new system is not an improvement at all. Its simplified and takes a lot of the fun out of what was an interesting feature.

  • A cast of some of the best names in British film and TV.
  • Improved combat mechanics and the addition of the finisher system brings an extra level of fun to smashing enemies.
  • Weapon evolution creates a unique look and feel to weapons based on what you do in combat and through out the game.
  • The menu system is improved and is an innovation in games that I could see being done else where.
  • Side missions deliver injections of fun to a main story that is, otherwise, just a little too short.
  • The main storyline is a little one sided. Most of the weight is in revolt half of the game and because of this the game feels very short.
  • The lack of the emote wheel really limits interaction in co-op and with characters in game.
  • Player character is now voiced, but says hardly anything so adds hardly anything to the story telling.
  • Lack of difficulty option, meaning the game can be far to easy.
Lionhead deliver another excellent edition of Fable. The game may have minor issues, but overall it is an improvement over previous games and that is all you can ask from a sequel. The environmental visuals are stunning and while there are some texture issues, they are minor. The story line is strong, and keeps the player interested through the first half at least. Sadly it does fall down a bit and the King half of the game feels a little tacked on. Lionhead have added innovation with the weapon evolution and improved on previous mistakes with the menu system. Still, overall its a very good game.
If you enjoyed the series and the works of Lionhead, you have probably already bought this game, but if you have never played a Fable game and you want to play a well executed action RPG then you need to get Fable III. Fable III may have its flaws but over all, its well worth the price of admission.