Can we ever be truly free? The fundamental point of a role-playing game is to give us choice: help or exploit, liberate or repress, give or take. But even the best RPGs fall short of offering real freedom, because a game must also have structure and a story to be fun.
Be a hero? No thanks, I'd rather retire and grow carrots. Now that would be an RPG.
Fable does its damnedest, though, and loftily aims to give you huge freedoms with your character, a nameless Hero in a fantasy world who is adopted by the Guild of Heroes after his childhood family and village are destroyed by bandits.
Although most of your decisions won't fundamentally affect the outcome of the game, the choices you make will have wide-ranging impacts on your appearance and the way you're perceived. In this regard at least, Fable is a landmark game.
A gentle, at times dramatic, and always atmospheric opening hour sets the scene for a life of heroism. In standard RPG fashion, it quickly becomes clear that you're destined for great things and a story arc opens up alongside optional quests once you've grown up and completed your Guild training.
In a sense, the quest system is quite neat: it's presented as an array of 'jobs' for the Guild's Heroes to take on. In another, it's easy to see how the developers' desire for a free-roaming world was soon compromised by the limitations of technology and the need for a structure to keep players on track, interested and clear in their goals.
The enormous variety of things to do in Fable's world almost undermines the supposed urgency of some of these missions. As the world opens up with your first few Guild quests, it's easy to become happily sidetracked in the various villages, trading posts and more remote areas.
There's a huge range of interaction to be had with villagers and other friendly folk, from showing off your trophies to earn renown, to flirting with and eventually marrying women (your character is a man - there's no choice there), buying houses, insulting the guards, stealing from homes and shops and shuttling between traders in search of profit.
You can enter fishing or chicken-kicking competitions; gamble in taverns or have bards sing about your exploits; experiment with haircuts and tattoos, and randomly dig for treasure. All this in addition to the regular RPG pursuits of seeking out better gear and engaging in minor quests.
It's while immersing yourself in these rustic environs that you'll start to notice how people's reactions change according to your behaviour and reputation.
Stumble over a wandering chicken in the game's opening minutes and you'll become known as Chicken-Chaser. Happily, you can buy a new title from a specialist retailer, such as Gladiator, Liberator, or, if you feel like a change, Arseface. Passers-by will utter your name in either celebration or fear. "Cor, look at Arseface. Innee handsome!"
Which brings me to something of a complaint.
While the game's significant protagonists, such as the head of the Guild, have suitably dramatic 'BBC' accents, the common folk have comedy West Country voices. And I don't mean slightly West Country like real people from Bristol - I mean comedy, Farmer Giles voices, and it's desperately off-putting.
By reducing villagers to figures of fun, it's harder to care about them and take seriously their occasional need for a hero to save them. Of course, this also makes it a little easier to be evil.
And that's something few games have ever really managed. Either your choices are simply too grotesque to contemplate (genocide, slavery), or the consequences too prohibitive (being hounded out of every settlement). By contrast, Fable delivers a more subtle take on human behaviour.
Plough experience points into Guile, for example, instead of brawn or new spells, and you'll be easily able to pilfer from shopkeepers and homes. Your alignment will shift with each theft, and little horns will begin to sprout from your wicked head. After all, the bumpkins deserve it, don't they?
You can trespass in homes after dark (there's an atmospheric day/night cycle), steal, beat up or even kill villagers, but be warned: these naughty deeds will get you in trouble with the burly guards who patrol each settlement.
A fine will get you off any hook (as will legging it out of town), but the effect on your character is much more interesting: a couple of swift murders and the red smoke starts to swirl around your feet, your skin pales and those forehead bumps begin to swell.
Learning certain spells will also shift your alignment one way or the other - the result of tapping into hellish or godly powers.
This reactive system of deeds and reputation is enthralling, particularly as you'll continually discover new ways in which it works, if you take the time to look.
Unfortunately, it feels separate from the main story arc. You might never take your armour off and admire your tattoos; never remove your helmet and realise you've gone grey as age takes its toll on your body; never overeat just to see what it looks like when you get fat.