Fable 3 forces me to make promises to potential allies, even if I don't want to. From the outset, I wasn’t able to be the leader I wanted to be.
Normally I hate it when a game offers false choices, giving me two options when only one will actually progress the plot, the other simply halting things until I change my mind. It’s not really a choice at that point; it’s an illusion and a bad one at that. The first half of Fable 3 avoids this kind of blatant false choice but only because the game doesn’t try to hide its linearity. Instead of giving you two choices, one right and one wrong, it only ever gives you one choice and then just waits for you to pick it. Instead of giving players a false choice, it gives us a forced choice.
The game revolves around you trying to start a revolution and usurp your tyrannical brother. You can’t have a revolution without some sort of army, so the first part of the game has you running across Albion collecting allies. Every time that you complete a portion of the main quest for the sake of some leader of a disenfranchised people, you have to make a specific promise to them. It’s a promise that you won’t forget about them when you become king, it’s a promise to stop child labor in the cities or to leave the environment alone, and it’s a promise that you have to make. The leader asks you to make a grand pledge, and then an icon appears telling you to hold the A button. You can’t run away, you can’t disagree, all you can do is hold A until a paper contract pops up and automatically writes your signature on it. In this way, the game acknowledges that this is not a real choice for the player since it’s not trying to hide behind multiple options, but as I held down the A button and let the game pull me through its story, I surprised myself by wishing I had a choice in the matter, even it was just an illusion.
Context is everything. It was disconcerting to me that these people could ask for anything, and I’d be forced to agree to it. Perhaps the limited choice was meant as a commentary on the nature of political campaigns. It is necesary for the politician to promise everything to everyone, regardless of his or her ability to deliver. But I didn’t want to be that kind of politician, that kind of king. I wanted to be better than that; I wanted to keep my promises, so I wanted to make only promises that I knew I could keep. From the outset in Fable 3, I wasn’t able to be the leader I wanted to be. Perhaps this was supposed to be another commentary on the corrupting influence of power in politics, but if that was the intent, it’s so far buried under the game design that just thinking it seems like a far-fetched excuse in the game’s defense.
Maybe my aversion to this single-choice system stems from a deeper disappointment though. It’s not just that I want to say “no,” it’s that I want “no” to have actual consequences. I’d have earned the trust of a people, but not of a sworn ally. This would naturally lead to more nuanced choices when I become king since I’d have to deal with two groups of people: those who fought with me and those who didn’t. Should I give the same benefits to both groups, or should I give preferential treatment to those who helped the revolution? It would add an interesting conflict in the decisions you have to make as king, but sadly it’s a conflict not actually present in Fable 3.
For a game that prides itself on personal customization, there’s very little customization to be found on your road to rule. You can only be one kind of revolutionary. In fact, it’s so linear that at one point I made a promise to a bunch of soldiers without knowing what I was actually promising because I had friends in the Xbox Party Chart talking over the game. But it didn’t matter, I’d make the same choice even if I was paying attention.