I recall one particular scene in Fable II: A woman’s child is taken by Balverines, and the hero chases after them.
The atmosphere is perfect: dark woods, tense music, wolf monsters lying in ambush. And then you hear a high-pitched Scottish accent:
“Hey! You’re that mighty adventurer, aren’t you? Well, I’ve got a quest for you: Kiss my stony arse!”
Dig spots, dive spots, chests, silver keys, silver chests, Demon Doors, gargoyles, gnomes… the Fable series has a lot of treasure. Normally, hidden items encourage exploration, but let’s examine their effect in the Fable video games.
The gargoyles in Fable II ruined the above chase scene and an abundance of others. The concept is that fifty gargoyle statues have somehow gotten scattered around the world, and until they’re destroyed, they’ll verbally mock nearby players. The more gargoyles you crush, the more loot you get.
This isn’t a terrible game mechanic in isolation, but the gargoyles are within earshot during unrelated quests. The statues draw you off path, and the Scottish nagging dissipates your focus on the original adventure.
In Fable III, gnomes serve the same function.
As an RPG, a role-playing game, the player is a character in a story. The chattering gargoyles and gnomes hurt your ability to follow the story like a phone buzzing with notifications hurts your ability to read a book. With so many different types of treasure in the series, there’s not significant gain from adding gargoyles and gnomes. They do more harm than good.
“Don’t you try to ignore me, you pink-bellied numpty!” — Gargoyle
Likewise, your in-game dog barks when he’s found a dig spot. Dig spots are places your character can dig with a shovel to find treasure. Although the dog isn’t verbally harassing you like a gargoyle, the barking still causes a distraction. Dig spots are essentially a noisy version of normal treasure chests.
Next, silver keys and silver chests. The idea is that you collect silver keys, and there are silver chests elsewhere that require a certain number of keys to unlock. Unfortunately, the system requires players to remember the locations of chests they didn’t have enough keys to open, so they can go back to them later. You could (1) memorize chest locations or write them down. This feels more like work than fun. Or (2), re-explore an area to find a chest, which is repetitive.
Maybe the designers intended silver chests to encourage players to go back to old areas. However, shop sales, real estate, side quests, families, and other mechanics already serve this purpose. Maybe silver chests are a way to make the player put in extra effort for special items. But that extra effort could be achieved by having bosses drop the special items or making them side quest rewards. Either way, there are better alternative mechanics.
What does that leave us? Demon Doors, dive spots, and normal chests.
Demon Doors make the player solve riddles before opening. They’re a core part of the Fable identity. These talking doors don’t interrupt quests like gargoyles and dig spots because they don’t make noise unless you purposely approach them. Also, unlike silver chests, Demon Doors don’t cause as much of a “memorize the location” issue because they’re large and easy to spot.
Next, we have dive spots. These are little whirlpools in Fable II and Fable III that indicate something hidden underwater. Dive spots beat dig spots because they’re (1) not easily replaceable with above-ground treasure chests, (2) don’t cause distracting noises, and (3) encourage exploration of water, which isn’t as obviously accessible as land.
Finally, basic treasure chests. Keep them. They’ve successfully encouraged exploration in video games for decades. These unassuming wooden constructs are a bonus for poking around the beautiful world of Albion. Not a quest-derailing distraction.
Fable games aren’t just RPGs.
That’s right. Fable games are action-adventure thrown in the blender with The Sims. It’s not fair to evaluate the treasure system like you would for a standard RPG because Fable games are also simulations: You can get married, participate in an active economy, and have dubious interactions with law enforcement.
Still, the treasure overload distracts from the simulation elements of the game as well. It’s hard to make time to visit your virtual child when you get called off your quest three times to grab a piece of treasure. The player also doesn’t feel particularly compelled to use the virtual job system if they know their pockets will be full after scavenging around the woods.
But how will I get money and equipment?
Plenty of alternative game mechanics: citizens gifts, arbitrage opportunities, jobs, etc. And even without gnomes, gargoyles, dig spots, and silver chests, there’s still plenty of treasure from dive spots, Demon Doors, and normal chests.
I won’t explore as much.
First, less treasure makes the remaining chests feel more valuable. Therefore, remaining chests will become more powerful tools for encouraging exploration.
Second, Albion is gorgeous. You’ll want to look around just for the visuals.
Third, side quests take you back through environments you passed through in the main story line. If you feel like this still isn’t enough, I would love to see the developers make more side quests to encourage exploration. Typically, Fable’s side quests have top-notch voice acting, unique reasons for each task, and great humor. Not the “fetch this item” and “kill thirty hogs” writing that plagues the genre.
Gratuitous treasure is part of the Fable identity.
Okay. Maybe the designers are intentionally catering to a community that feels gratified being bombarded with copious amounts of treasure to the detriment of other game elements. But the audience that prefers being immersed in a game’s story or simulation is probably larger.
This was not meant to be a negative review of Fable. I wouldn’t have played all three games if I didn’t like them. The graphics are charming, the writers have a delightful sense of humor, and the final package is undeniably fun.
One way to make the next game even better is to reel back the treasure system.