The Microsoft/Lionhead press conference at this week's GamesCom trade fair in Cologne was, in actuality, little more than a sketchy Fable III preview filled with the kind of far-reaching, flowery posturing we've come to expect from Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux - so we figured we'd treat it as such.
Expected to hit the Microsoft Xbox 360 at some point during 2010, Fable III will offer a degree of familiarity insofar as it will take place in the existing kingdom of Albion and will include returning characters from Fable II. However, its storyline will unfold some 50 years into the future and will revolve around the player overthrowing a Tyrant King and assume the vacant throne.
With politics clearly set to play a central role in Fable III, Molyneux outlined how the player will have to make a wealth of promises to the people while on the trail of revolution. He also described how an eventual position of pure power could potentially corrupt to the point where such promises are broken in favour of personal gain.
Padding out the game's political undertones, the Lionhead boss seemed to spend an unusually long time referencing the inspiration provided by various real-world political figures, the effect power has had upon them, and the choices they face on a daily basis (hence the weird Che Guevara images appearing on the company website ahead of the show).
Playing as either the son or daughter of Fable II's hero (save game compatible), choice and consequence will once again by integral to gameplay, with Molyneux pointing to Lionhead's desire to instil the player with a sense of the responsibility that comes with real power.
Promising regal choices such as eradicating poverty or hoarding cash, increasing or lowering taxes, and ruling with a fair or nefarious hand, Molyneux said the player's journey to the throne will see them gathering support from the people, nurturing their followers, and then leading a revolution against the King.
New gameplay elements promised for Fable III include the following:
Judgments: Where the crowned King or Queen is able to pass judgment on NPCs in the game. For example, the player can decide the fate of a girl suspected of stealing food from the royal kitchens. They can choose to investigate the incident for themselves, weigh up evidence, listen to pleas and cases from both sides, and decide at any time to "pass judgement" and add further consequences to the story's momentum.
Expression Touch: Building on the existing Expression communications system utilised throughout the Fable series (i.e., dancing, farting, etc.), Molyneux offered that the new game's 'regal' focus makes many of the more banal expressions somewhat ill-fitting. Therefore, the newly defined system will enable the character to "physically touch" those they meet, with players earning touch-based progression that expands from formal handshakes to hugs, embraces and full sexual relations.
Dynamic Touch: Expanding on Expression Touch, players in Fable III will, according to Molyneux, be able to hold hands with those in-game characters they're emotionally connected to. Similarly, they'll be able to run arm in arm and be pulled along by someone else. This, if Molyneux is to be believed, will help build a sense of more organic connection between player and game. It's all very 'Molyneux' and sounds much like a flowery tech demo that won't ever quite deliver on its promises.
Of course, while Molyneux trod a thin line and was careful not to mention Microsoft's Project Natal motion control system at any point during the press event, it seems fairly obvious to us - especially given that Lionhead is developing Milo for Natal - that Fable III's Expression Touch and Dynamic Touch aspects will be coupled in some way with Natal interaction.
One notable announcement made with regard to Fable III is that Lionhead will be removing a long-established RPG foundation used across the genre, which Molyneux described as an "insidious" aspect that fundamentally mires all role-playing games and detracts from the experience - included those in the Fable series. While the Lionhead boss was unwilling to reveal exactly what RPG lynchpin will be pulled from Fable III. we'd hazard a guess that it will be character levelling - not least because the press event repeatedly pedalled the merits of good story and drama.
Our initial sense of Fable III was 'Overlord but with moral choice' but we probably won't say that in front of Peter Molyneux, who was quick to distance Fable III from any similarities with RTS games - even pseudo RTS games like Overlord.
In related news, the Microsoft/Lionhead press conference also threw up the September 29 arrival of Fable Episodic for Fable II, a collection of five gameplay expansions that will provide fans of Albion with self-contained chapter missions.
All five episodes will be fully compatible with existing expansions Knothole Island and See The Future, and the very first of the releases will be a completely free download.