I enjoyed the original Fable. The whole “people react to you differently if you’re a butthole to them” thing had been explored in other games, but it was still relatively fresh at the time. What set Fable apart was that in games like Knights of The Old Republic, you made choices in the story or took quests that affected your goodness/badness rating and everybody treated you accordingly. You could do this in Fable, but you could also interact with random villagers and affect their individual opinions of you. If they loved you, they would give you discounts or you could marry them and have sex with them. However, since you were always dealing with characters unimportant to the story, the game still treated them as such, and you interacted with them the same way you’d interact with any other non-important character – “expressions”. These were simple actions you could do to be good or bad to someone. You could dance or “hero pose” and make people love you, or act like a jerk and fart all over them and they’d hate you. When a member of the opposite sex loved you enough, an option to marry them would open up. When you were married, an option to have sex would open up. All the while, they would say weird, repetitive pithy sayings and your character’s voice would mumble. It was a little weird, but charming enough, and it didn’t really get in the way of all the epic awesome in the rest of the game.
Fable 2 was released a couple years later, and the world had been expanded and everything got redesigned, and the amount of interaction you could do with the townspeople increased somewhat in that you got more silly expressions to play with. It was still pointless, and had sort of a childlike charm to it. Oh, except now you were equipped with some kind of magic Hero gaydar that could tell you if someone was straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and you could have premarital sex with whatever gender and/or orientation you wanted. Oh, and there was an achievement for having group sex. Wait, what? And you could have children. And they grew up insanely fast. And I’m not quite sure what happens to them if you divorce your spouse. You had a little approval rating meter that would appear and show you what everyone you talked to thought of you, which I wish I had in real life, and it was a lot easier to tell if someone was indifferent, friendly, really friendly, or like, OMG SUPERFRIENDLY. If you improved your relationship with a person sufficiently, the game made no bones about telling you that you have formed a Deep Personal Bond and they are now your BFF.
I laughed the first time I saw that message. I am no longer laughing.
I bought Fable 3 earlier this week, having been happy with its predecessors. They sucked me right into the story and made me HATE the evil king, who they basically tell you is destined to be overthrown by your hand in every advertisement for the game ever made. They filled the world with pain and suffering and character and they have me absolutely rabid to free Albion and to ease the suffering of its people. To do this, you have to first gain the support of the people.
One of the first quests you get is to shake hands with 20 people, which is done via an expression. These have been greatly simplified, and the computer randomly chooses a good and bad one for you and you just push a button. I was getting pretty damned tired of shaking hands by the end of that, but I was OK with getting through it to get to more of the saving and alleviating and regime-changing and eradicating the practice of child labor. CHILD LABOR. God, I was having FITS. Of JUSTICE. And then I play a little more and it isn’t too long before I’m informed that I have to collect a bunch of these little “guild seals”, which are kind of like XP. And I have to get them by making all the townspeople everywhere like me. Which I can only do by performing a bunch of mindless expressions.
In case you’re wondering why my hair is three times its normal height and glowing yellow and my power level is OVER NINE THOUSAND! right now, allow me to put this into perspective.
I’m viewing a cutscene where an evil industrialist boss is shooting a protester and threatening all his workers and their families with death if they protest, speak, or take over a three second break. I hate that son of a bitch with all of my being. I want to shoot him in the face, but he leaves before I can. I am emotionally invested all the way up to my eyeballs. Then, in order for the resistance fighters to take me seriously, I have to dance with 50 townspeople and do the “flying” lift at the end of Dirty Dancing with all of them. Men and women, nobles and working class, most of which who don’t know me. There are a couple of alternatives. I can play Pat-A-Cake with them, or I can tickle them, all the while making noises that if I used them on my two year old would smack me and tell me to stop treating him like such a baby. Also, anytime I make friends with someone, I have to go dig up something in the mountains for them or deliver a package. And I have to do it again if I want to be BFF’s. Which I had better do if I want to unlock anything anytime soon.
Basically, my emotional investment in the story and suspension of disbelief were struck repeatedly in several sensitive areas with a pickaxe and then I wake up five hours later disoriented and furious that not only has my precious time been wasted, it has been wasted on ruining the mood.
Stop it stop it stop it stop it STOP IT
I really have no idea what Lionhead Studios was thinking. My best guess is that Peter Molyneux has been trying to convince people since 2004 that Fable’s expressions system is a deep and complex metaphor for human interaction, and that after six years of people going “LOL that’s kind of weird I guess”, he decided to make them mandatory this time around. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the expressions used weren’t so damned goofy. Maybe it would help if I wasn’t watching the same set of four ten-second-long sequences a hundred times in a row. Maybe if it didn’t require me to do three expressions, a jaunt into the mountains, three more expressions, and another trek into different mountains all for ONE PERSON to declare their emotionally-devoid everlasting fake friendship to me, I would not be laying mushroom clouds right now really quietly so as not to wake my son. Perhaps if I did not have to repeat the aforementioned ridiculous sequence of events dozens of times during the game, I would not be saying “perhaps” so much. If you are troubled by how many times I have said “perhaps” in this paragraph, perhaps you should avoid Fable 3 like the plague. The bad kind.
Really, the thing that makes all of this several orders of magnitude more awful for me is that, as I mentioned before, the rest of the game is wonderful. Sure, I have some issues with the UI, and I’ve seen a bug here and there, but I can cheerfully look past that kind of stuff if I get immersed in the story. Honestly, if anybody should be mad that this game went this direction, it’s the developers and writers and artists who worked so hard to make all the nonstupid portions of the game so amazing. I think I would lose my mind if I weaved such a beautiful world into being and somebody demanded it be turned into a Fisher-Price Sexual Deviancy Playset. It’s like I’m trapped in a nightmare about Fable and Brave New World, and everyone in the whole world is Epsilons, and they’re all horny. And, though it may not seem like it currently, I actually believe there is a time and place for these kinds of things. The Sims is a great game. Running around doing whimsical metaphorical actions to symbolize true human relationships or whatever might be OK if it were its OWN GAME. But trying to blend this sort of thing with a real story and well-developed characters is inconsistent and confusing at best and infuriating at worst. I opted for the latter. It damn near ruined the whole experience for me. It may yet.
All this vitriol, and I’m only halfway through the game. That’s why it’s a “Half-Review”. It is not some sort of weird genealogical thing, nor is it radioactive. Well, maybe it is radioactive. Regardless, I am going to finish this game, free all the children, kill the king and wear his skin as a cape, ride a rainbow pony off into the sunset, and fix the economy. Just like Obama. No matter how many times I have to put Baby in a corner. So listen up, Lionhead. If I finish this out, and the plot falls flat, I am going to write a really negative review.