The Grater Good: I’m So Smart, I Can Count to 3

Many games these days are glossed over with accusations of shallowness and pandering, a genre trope started and perfected by the Call of Duty series and something many other games have gone on to mimic. However, I fell one game in particular gets a bad rap for its attempts at simplification and actually contains one of my favourite ever set-pieces. Fable 3 is smarter than you think

Critically panned and coming from a developer with more infamy than the Power Glove and Wii Music put together, Fable 3 was seen by many to be a colossal failure. I, however, have a real soft spot for the game, not only because it was the game Fable 2 was supposed to be but also because it contains one of the strongest uses of NPC emotion I’ve ever witnessed.

It comes in the form of Walter, your beardy mentor and guide for the game’s rather limp narrative. He’s voiced by the warmly loving Bernard Hill, whose caring, dulcet tones make the character a pleasure to be around. It’s established early on in the game that Walter has a fear of confined spaces and the dark, a setback for warrior and knight but one that is easily dealt with. Well, that is until you end up in the Sanctum of Darkness, which consists solely of confined spaces and the dark.

He gasps at first. Then tears.

He gasps at first. Then tears.

This is where Fable 3 pulls off its most impressive trick, one that almost merits the purchase of the game (though don’t rush out). Walter, who up until now has been calm, joking and swashbucklingly gleeful about fighting off hoards of the undead suddenly starts to sound legitimately scared. His attitude suddenly becomes very urgent, the jokes and banter disappear and instead a decisive “We have to leave, now” is said not with authority, but with fear. Gone is the recklessly shouted “Have at you!” replaced instead with a shaking “Leave us alone!” The darkness and monsters that whisper to you throughout the section make Walter more and more paranoid, turning to you and asking if you heard them too. Your father figure and guardian throughout this quest is suddenly a helpless child, lost and afraid. Surely this is enough to make any gamer slightly unnerved.

The game then decides it hasn’t freaked the gamer out enough, and so to prove a point it blinds Walter. That’s right, a man with claustrophobia is made blind; he will never, ever see the light of day again. This horrific fate is then exacerbated by the game’s next set piece, do you want to drag Walter across the dessert to the nearest town (which will likely take 2 real world hours) or leave him to die? He begs you, pleads with you to leave him in the sands, and even if you choose to take him the game STILL makes you eventually leave his side. Your adventuring has turned a proud and noble man into a crying baby, gibbering in the sand filled with nothing but fear and pain. Do you feel like hero? No? That’s because, like Walter, you are but a man.

It’s a powerful scene, and a set piece that plays off a genuine connection to a character in the game. You might grow weary of Walter during your playthrough, the endless tutorials are an issue, but the fact he’s always been the authority in the game, the character that leads you by the nose through every quest makes him reassuringly stable. The game does everything in its power to remove that safety blanket, and for me at least it succeeded with aplomb. Oh, and at the end of the game you have to kill Walter, because the developers got lazy and needed the ending to have emotion in it. That bit is not so clever.

About Lewis Dunn

Lewis got into gaming as a child, when he was handed the portable version of crack cocaine, known colloquially as Tetris. He would spend hours trying to make blocks form lines so they would disappear never to return. At the age of 8 he had his first existential crisis as to what happens to blocks that disappear. Lewis has a deep love of humour in games, with some of his favourites being No More Heroes, Brutal Legend & Portal. Lewis enjoys writing bios in the third person.