It’s back to Albion for another, improved, adventure.

The biggest problem Fable 2 had, according to pretty much every Lionhead rep that I spoke with, was that many aspects of the game were complete shit. Switching from your gun to your magic? Shit. The map? Complete shit. The magic menu? Utter shit. Fable 3 has been tweaked, rethought, and refined so that is now, Lionhead hopes, a far less shitty experience.

You’re living a life of luxury when Fable 3 begins. You play as the child of your character from Fable 2, and your older brother Logan is current King of Albion. You soon discover that he’s a bit of a tyrant, and decide to leave the castle in order to gather enough followers to lead a rebellion against him.

If Fable 2 was an RPG with action elements, then Fable 3 is an action game with RPG elements. It’s much more streamlined and faster paced, which means less fannying about with menus and stat points. You won’t be collecting experience in the traditional sense, and you won’t be leveling up your skills and spells by purchasing upgrades. Your character will still develop based on how you choose to play, but you won’t be sucking up different colored orbs anymore. Instead, experience comes from how many followers you’ve attracted. Some will join you after you complete quests for them, while others can be won over by interacting with them socially. You’ll eventually gain somewhere around 300,000 followers, but you don’t have to collect them one by one; some connections you make will bring large groups of people with them, or perhaps entire cities.

The magic system has gotten a complete overhaul for Fable 3 to make it far easier and faster to use. Switching between spells during a battle was – you guessed it – shit, so the menu system is gone, replaced by spell gauntlets. A gauntlet represents a single spell but if you wear a different gauntlet on each arm, the two spells will blend. If you’ve got just a fire gauntlet equipped, you’ll shoot fireballs, but if you have fire on one arm and lightning on the other, you’ll shoot a fireball wrapped in lightning. Every spell can be mixed with every other spell, and can be charged up to five levels. You’ll have to use the spells frequently to get good enough with them to be able to charge to higher levels, though.

The melee combat is mostly the same in Fable 3, but the ranged combat has changed a bit, thanks to the industrial progression of Albion. There are no more crossbows or bows, just guns and rifles, which are thankfully much easier to use this time around. Switching back and forth between your offenses in Fable 2 was incredibly slow and clunky, but in Fable 3, it’s instant. There’s no delay while your character ponderously pulls out his pistol, he just fires. I never used the gun in Fable 2 because it was such a slow pain in the ass, but I switched between magic, sword, and gun quickly and easily during the combat part of the demo with no trouble at all. I’d pick off a few enemies long range with the gun, do a dodge roll, take out some of the closer ones with my sword, and blast them with lightning if they started to gang up. It was all very fast and seamless.

As with Fable 2, your character’s appearance will change depending on how you play. Swinging around a giant hammer will turn you into a big, burly fighter, while using magic will age you prematurely, but now your actions will also have an effect on your weapons. Your swords, guns and gauntlets will all morph depending on what and how you kill. The swords of evil characters might grow spikes and drip blood, while the sword of a master Balvarine slayer will sport a carved Balvarine head. You can trade your weapons with other players online and they’ll continue to morph depending on how their new owners use them.

You can still customize your character’s appearance, but costumes and hair style are now purely aesthetic. In Fable 2, items of clothing provided stat boosts or penalties, which meant that everyone ended up wearing pretty much the same outfit in order to have the strongest, most attractive character. Getting dressed is much easier now, thanks to the Sanctuary, which takes the place of Fable 2’s menu system. It’s a hub space from which you can access your closet, weapons, and world map, just by walking into different rooms. All of the outfits you’ve collected are displayed on mannequins in your closet, and switching between them is as easy as hitting the shoulder buttons.

Almost anything would’ve been an improvement on Fable 2’s shitty map, but what you’ve got in The Sanctuary is truly wonderful. It’s a living, 3d map that lets you zoom in and see people walking around a town. You can see what quests they might have and accept them right from the map, set a breadcrumb trail or just fast travel directly there. You won’t have to read a list on a menu to know what’s going on in a village or city, you can just take a look for yourself, any time you like.

Another new aspect of Fable 3 is that your character now has a voice. It was a hard decision, said Lionhead, but it’s very difficult to tell a story when your hero is mute, and given the tale they wanted to tell with Fable 3, they felt adding the voice was the best way to go. I have to agree. Character interaction and dialog is a big part of Fable’s storytelling, and it always felt a bit awkward to sit through long, one-sided conversations. Even just based on the small part I saw, having a hero that can actually respond makes a huge difference on the emotional impact of the story.

You could buy buildings in Fable 2 and buy furniture for them, but the most impact you had was to decide which bookshelf you wanted. In Fable 3 you’ll be able to customize virtually any building in the entire game. Put books on your bookshelf. Make them green or make them skulls. Or skip the bookshelf and put in a stove. Put some fruit on the dinner table, or perhaps candles. Or skip the table entirely and just lay down a nice rug. I didn’t get to see any of that in action, unfortunately, but I hope it works as described.

When Peter Molyneux first mentioned that Fable 2 would have co-operative play, he said that you would be able to bring your hero and his dog over to your friend’s game. What we got instead was a shitty henchman. Fable 3 will supposedly be getting the co-op that we were promised in Fable 2. You’ll be able to bring your hero and dog into your friend’s game, with separate cameras so that you can both go off and do your own thing. You and your pal can get shagadelic and have kids together, or if you’re not into that kind of commitment, you can go into business together. It sounds great – if it works. I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical about it, given what happened the last time we were promised good Fable co-op.

I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Fable 3 as I wanted to, which is a good sign in and of itself. The combat was far more enjoyable, and I enjoyed the spell-blending system. I enjoyed Fable 2, but I think Fable 3 is going to be a huge improvement. We’ll find out when the game is released on October 26th.

Keep track of all our E3 2010 coverage here.

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