Jade Empire

Review

posted 5/23/2005 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
One Page Platforms: Xbox
Jade Empire was one of the games I was looking forward to this year. After seeing it at last year’s, E3 I was almost counting the days until I could play through the game. After putting it through its paces, I’m happy to say that the game met and exceeded all of my expectations. The review is running a little behind as I wanted to get a little separation from the game so I didn’t gush too much. I’m not sure if that’s going to hold up or not.

The game is set in an alternate universe which is based around Chinese mythology. The folks at Bioware have done a great job of creating an immersive environment for gamers to explore as everything is nearly spot on. You start off as a martial arts student at a small school in the back waters of the Jade Empire. Your character is the favored student of the school’s master but for unknown reasons. As the game starts, the village where the school is located is attacked by a group of assassins and your mentor and master is kidnapped. It’s up to you to rescue him and figure out why he was kidnapped. Not surprisingly, there’s more going on than meets the eye and you’ll end up changing the course of the entire Jade Empire (because if you were just rescuing one guy it would be a kind of boring, short game).

Before you start the game, you choose one of the six preset characters. There really aren’t six unique options but rather three styles with a male and female version of each. The choices are magic, strong, and fast. Each character comes with one martial style and one support style which determine how you want to play the game. Once you’ve picked out a character, you can either stick with the pre-set name or enter one of your own. There’s a little room for mischief here (I almost named my character Hung Low but decided against it) but once you’ve picked which character you’re going to spend 20 or so hours with you set their initial attributes.

It’s not an RPG without talking about the attributes in the game. Your character has three main attributes: body, spirit, and mind. Body is your measure of your health, i.e. how much damage you can take. Spirit drives chi the game’s interpretation of mana or how much magical energy you can control. Mind drives focus, which how well you can wield weapons and detect traps. These attributes then influence a second set of attributes which impact your interactions with the NPC’s in the game. Body and spirit drive intimidation, your charm is a combination of your spirit and your body, while intuition is derived from spirit and mind.

Gamers who played Bioware’s last masterpiece, Knights of The Old Republic will be familiar with how Jade Empire plays, as the game uses an upgraded version of the engine used. Moving through the universe and conversing with the inhabitants of the world is exactly the same as KOTOR. This isn’t a bad thing as the system works well and is very intuitive. Where the game differs from the previous title is in the combat system. Rather than going with the turn based system from KOTOR Jade Empire implements a real time combat engine. Instead of issuing a set of actions, you control the actions of your character in real time.
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