Fable III isn't the finest RPG ever made. But the world of Albion it depicts, with all its charm, humour, wry commentary on the nature of games and unique atmosphere, is something that deserves to be celebrated.
Fable III starts badly. After making an uninformed decision about a 'childhood sweetheart' you've had about 5 minutes to grow to care about, and a rather lame melee combat tutorial, you're thrust into a meandering, hour long, dungeon full of 'puzzles', switches and hordes of bats to fight. The graphics aren't spectacular, the camera's wonky, your skills aren't powerful, and the enemies are boring.
For players who stick to the 'main path' of Fable 3, this opinion might continue through the entire game. For whereas Bioware counts on the player's attachment to its characters, and Bethesda games count on the player's attachment to their stuff, Lionhead relies on your attachment to Fable's rich, colourful and charming universe.
Albion is not lacking in terms of character. Unlike much of Dungeons and Dragons, which, while occasionally 'dark', is mostly devoid of any kind of sex/other things present in the real world, Fable embraces its whimsical version of human relationships. Yes, 'hug' a person enough times, and they'll like you. Raise the allowance you give to your spouse (of either gender), and they'll be more likely to want to have sex. Give someone a gift, and they'll be your friends for life. It would be naive to suggest that this is all part of some deeper social commentary, but much of Fable's wit, like the 'British' sense of humour, is below the metaphorical iceberg.
The way in which Lionhead creates this 'attachment' to Albion is through Fable's quests, each as rich and interesting as the best of those in other RPGs. Fable is one of the only franchises in which the main story leans too heavily on these secondary excursions, for it is clear that without spending hours helping the citizens of Albion, you'll feel no emotion when they live or die.
In Fable III you'll travel into a lost play and act out the "world's first" mix of Tragedy and Comedy. You'll rescue chickens from a pie factory, help construct a new village for gambling addicts, and seduce a tortured House Husband's wife in order to get him out of his marriage. And, best of all, you'll be shrunk down to travel into a tabletop D&D-style game run by three Wizards, one hilariously camp, one malicious, and one simply trying to keep the game together, as they spoof RPG design in one of the greatest quests I have ever played, in any game. Ever.
(The 'wizards' narrate the quest with lines like "Does anyone even read item descriptions?", and "Worst. Game. Ever. No, this time I'm serious", as well as the gem of "What kind of game lets you kill the villain in one shot?" (referring to Fable II) while cycling through RPG tropes and calling out "sloppy game design".)
These missions, as well as the friendships, relationships and marriages you form with the people of Albion, build a 'relationship' of their own between the player and the world (or at least they did for me). Coupled with the game's truly beautiful art style (the textures may not be high resolution, but the design is fantastic), these things make Albion feel alive. The repeated lines uttered by shopkeepers and citizens are often actually funny.
Fable III's complexity is also perfect for the kind of game it builds. The average action-adventure fan can ignore all the side missions, minigames, and still do alright (though they may suffer during the ending). Those who wish to dig deeper can dye all their armours and weapons, they can build property empires, or buy stores and businesses and raise/lower the prices to affect the local economy (which in-turn affects house prices). Each weapons has a series of optional objectives (such as the use of certain abilities while wielding it) that make it more powerful- and weapons grow and adapt with you.
The Demon Doors and their riddles (if you refuse to use guides) are still among the hardest puzzles in any RPG, and best of all they're optional, so players are never forced to do them if they do not want to.
Those who dislike Fable often refuse to see it as it is, rather than what it once was. As much as some people lament the disappearance of armour stats, or attribute points, Fable III offers far more customization than any of it's predecessors, so instead of everyone wearing the "one armour of power", you wear what you think looks good for that character. The system of 'appearance gear' is one that online worlds have used for a long time, and means you're never forced into wearing equipment you think is ugly, just because it has better stats.
Fable III also succeeds in it's morality system. When gamers complain about choice in Fable being "too binary"- they miss the point. Fable is a (slightly) more mature version of a fairy tale- it's *about* good and evil. The fact that the world, the citizens, the weapons on your back and even the furniture in your castle reflects that, is the entire point of the system, because it's not about 'moral grey areas'.
The biggest problem most people have with Fable is that it's different. The game's detractors say it's not an RPG because it doesn't have stats or conversation skills or attributes, but they miss the point- that Fable is far more of an RPG than Skyrim or Dragon Age will ever be. In Fable, you can marry, settle down, have kids and work as a Blacksmith for the rest of your life. You can also be the greatest hero the world has ever known, or its most evil villain.
But the choice is up to you. And for every choice, there is a consequence.....