Before I start, understand this. I'm going to talk about Fable 3, and Fallout: New Vegas. I have completed Fable, and I'm a considerable way into Fallout. But I'm not going to indulge in any spoilers, don't worry. The things I'm going to discuss are pretty clear from about 10 minutes into both games, and other things I discuss are pretty obvious if you haven't been living under a rock. I don't want to talk about combat, about quests or even about graphics or loot.
I want to talk about morality, and how Fallout manages it magnificently, and Fable crashes and burns. Horribly.
It seems that this season, the trend in computer games is morality, and all the subtly grey shades that this can bring. The previous incarnations of these games, Fallout 3 and Fable 2, both dealt with morality and it's implications, but with kid gloves, and in a very simple way. The sequels have made a very strong move towards taking it further, but one manages it much better. I think I'll talk about Fallout first.
New Vegas, to a large extent, knows exactly what it's doing. There is SO much choice, all with consequence, and all with repercussions that will properly affect you in-game. The choices aren't obvious, either. Often I've found myself in real dilemmas, having to choose the lesser of two evils, but real evils. Truly grey in it's moral compass, Fallout exhibits how it should be done. You feel like you're making decisions, and that some are shitty, but are necessary. Indeed, in a post-apocalyptic nuclear world, I can't really imagine there's much opportunity for making decisions that are best for everyone, all the time.
Fable tries this approach, and fails miserably.
I loved Fable 2. It was charming, funny, quirky and generally great. The morality in the game was a quirky gimmick, a different line in voiceover at the end, and the ability to get horns or a a halo. It was a little feature that never mattered, never detracted from the game, or never carried any real weight.
But the new one is clumsy incarnate. It's no secret that Peter Molyneux's grand design for the game was to split it in two, but it also seems he did this with the budget also. The first half of the game is exciting and fun, fast-paced and generally engaging. It's when you take over the kingdom that the games falls absolutely flat, it's second act being more like a tragic comedy. Again, I'm not trying to spoil anything here, so I won't talk about details, but it is very, very poorly executed.
You're faced with decisions. But these decisions are seemingly obvious. If you can't tell whether you want to build an orphanage or a brothel, the flames around one choice and the angelic aura around another put it in crystal clear perspective what path you're choosing. This isn't the problem though. I can dig this, and don't mind it at all. If it carried on in the Fable 2 ilk, I would of been happy, and indeed pleased. But it didn't.
It half-arses being morally grey. It wants that slice of the complex, grown-up pie, but it isn't quite prepared to pay the price for it. It tries to make you think about the choices you make, but the choices are so obvious, it's incredibly hard to ever make an un-biased decision. The pay-off, however, is fully ready to make you pay for your choices. With very little physical repercussion, but every piece of narrative designed to make you feel uncomfortable, the promises you make earlier in the game counting for nothing.
Fable is a game truly half-finished. An intriguing and exciting idea, falling prey to the 'Molyneux Effect'. Often known for his over-hyped self-promotion and ambitious boasts, this time he's actually built them into the game, rather than simply talking about it. He's built a game that promises so much. Not only does it fail to deliver, it also detracts from the other parts of the game. Such a shame, as it's such an easily avoidable mistake.
Morality is just like hair. If you're Mr Fantastic, a bit of grey in there is fantastic. You've just got be delicate how you handle it, or it could end up like Noel Edmonds.