Been playing Fable 3 off and on the last couple of weeks and I must say it’s a huge let down compared to what I remember of Fable 2. In terms of pure gameplay and overall story it’s just as good as it’s predecessor with a couple of improvements here and there, but in terms of the social and visual aspects it’s a huge step back.
Apparently one of the more prevalent critiques of Fable 2, which was the first game in the series to offer the option of a female Hero, was that the female avatars were too manly. She had the same animations, walk/run gait, and body morphing traits as the male Hero. For me the animations were pretty awesome because those weren’t masculine animations, they were gender neutral animations that showed the strength, power, and competence of your Hero regardless of what their gender was. The body morphing was a little less awesome because while my character became very muscular and strong looking, it was in a way that made it somewhat obvious that the female body morphing had just been copied over from the male Hero which had a completely different stature than the female Hero, thus creating an odd look. Women can get very muscular and can look great that way, but it shows bad design and a lack of care about the women in your audience when you just copy-paste a feminine face and some boobs onto a male body and call it a day. We do have different skeletal structures, frames, and musculature that should be given the same respect when doing character design that is given to male characters.
So, what did they do fix these problems when it came time to make Fable 3? Well that depends on your definition of ‘fix’. The female and male Hero now have a completely different set of animations, with the male Hero getting to keep the gender neutral animations and the female Hero getting new and ‘improved’ feminie animations. She no longer stands in a balanced and ready stance, no, now she stands with hips fully cocked and back arched. She also has a lovely idle animation of her swinging her hips back and forth to wiggle her butt at the camera. On top of that her character model has been taken in a completely different direction than in Fable 2. She has a huge rack and a tiny waist which does not work well with whatever engine Lionhead studios used for the game. The end result is that she looks like a badly drawn and even more badly rendered drawing of your prototypical oversexualized video game heroine. It’s also become nigh impossible to make her visibly muscular and imposing like you could in the previous iteration of the series. They took what was a slightly fudged but conceptually great non-sexualized female video game Hero and feminized and sexualized her to the point of deformation and having the character lose most of the competent, skillful, and powerful attitude she had in the other game.
Sadly that wasn’t the only mark against the game. As you might recall, I gushed about the female characters in Fable 2 because they were all strong, capable, and were saving Albion without needing men to tell them how to go about it. A female hero type character didn’t even show up until halfway thru the game (not counting your character if you were a female Hero). This was so awesome and novel to me because you never see that happen in movies, shows, or games that aren’t explicitly going after the “rah, rah, grrrl power” theme. Heck in most media you see the reverse, men going about their adventuring with nary a women in sight, let alone in the midst of the action. So having three female character sitting around conversing battle plans and saving Albion’s ass sans men was a great thing in Fable 2. In Fable 3 though, there are only two (I’m not counting Teresa cause she acts mainly as an occasional narrator in this game) female characters besides the (possibly) female Hero, the first of which you don’t meet till the game is almost half over and the second of which you only really interact with for like 5 minutes. They also never talk to each other. The funny thing is, in this game, the astonishing lack of female characters is illustrated for you every time you level up. During the “Road to Rule” scenes where you pick out your new power-ups and skills, all of your allies are displayed for you and it never ceases to be anything more than a parade of an overwhelming number of men that are mostly white and have a large variety of body types. The two female allies you gain, who both have the same sexualized body type of the female Hero and are ‘exotically’ beautiful, really do seem like both race and gender tokens so Lionhead can point and go, “See! We’re totally progressive!”
Speaking of progressive, they really were in Fable 2 with their relationship system. You, as the Hero, could befriend and possibly romance the citizenry of Albion. You had your pick of merchants, travelers, and househusbands and housewives (yea, you read that right, househusbands, how awesome is that?). There were also a plethora of gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters to romance. in Fable 3, I could only find one lesbian and two or three bisexual characters, and I never did see any gay characters. Also, your character always starts off with a significant other of the opposite sex (which is promptly fridged if you’re a ‘good’ Hero). With this bit of mandatory character development and the scarcity of same-sex possible romances, you are effectively shoe-horned into playing a straight character which is a huge let down after the freedom given to you in Fable 2.
All in all, I was really disappointed with Fable 3. With Fable 2, Lionhead Studios had a pretty groundbreaking game, but instead of continuing forward with Fable 3 they took huge steps backwards. It’s like they scared themselves (and their audience) with some of their progressive ideas and had to shove the game back into the stereotypical game tropes box to make it more acceptable. It’s hugely disappointing and leaves Fable 3 as little more than a hollow shell of the awesomeness that was Fable 2, which is a shame with all the potential the overall story of Fable 3 presents.
ETA: I can’t believe I forgot the gnomes. God, I hated those gnomes. It’s not a huge analytical point, but it was a huge annoyance that made all these other disappointments even more sharp. Mainly what I’m talking about, for those who haven’t played the game, is that there are lawn-gnomes-gone-bad strewn about the world that you have to destroy and they like to announce their presence by insulting you. Some of these insults are gender neutral, but a good deal of them are very, very sexist. Most of the male-specific insults are about how they are feminine and this is an insult because obviously being feminine is a bad thing. The female-specific insults are a lovely mixture of anti-feminism bullshit and insult about how the hero is either too feminine or not feminine enough. I realize the gnome is *supposed* to be insulting, but there’s a ton of ways to be insulting without reinforcing the very prevalent idea that being a woman or being feminine is a bad thing.