Jade Empire, when first released on the Xbox, was a stunning RPG that mixed the moral conundrums of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic with a Chinese-flavored martial arts fantasy. It was announced that a PC version was in the works, but nothing ever surfaced. Finally, after three years of waiting, PC owners have a great RPG to play, featuring all of the excellent content from the Xbox game as well as adding a few goodies.
As a port of a nearly three-year old Xbox game, Jade Empire holds up decently on the PC. The game has received a nice overhaul in the graphics department, thanks to higher resolution textures and some nice lighting, but the main difference here is in the performance. Load times, something that made the Xbox version practically unplayable at times, are drastically reduced here. Even on a mid-range PC, the game runs smoothly and looks great, keeping up a framerate that the console version never touched. While the technical specs are nothing to write home about these days, Jade Empire has a vibrant art style that really brings the faux-Chinese world to life. The sound design is excellent, as well, with some Eastern-flavored music and great voice acting across the board.
Much like KOTOR, you begin your journey after choosing a gender and class for your character. Characters are divided into fast-weak, medium-medium, and slow-strong archetypes here, and once you’ve chosen you’re thrust right into the story. The narrative itself is linear, but you are given plenty of choices along the way to sculpt your moral compass. It’s a nice technique, and is handled well compared to overly finicky games like Fable. Unlike KOTOR, however, it’s less of a black/white good/evil scenario. Many of your possible responses to events are simply more Darwinian than others. You can be compassionate and helpful, or you can roll with the flow and let fate work its course. On the whole, the morality is handled in a much less childish way than Star Wars. You’ll run along a few situations where the choice isn’t very easy, and you may be surprised where you end up. All in all, it’s a nice system that adds a layer or two of depth to the proceedings. The main area where Jade Empire differs from its roots is the combat system.
Instead of Star Wars’ Dungeons and Dragons inspired dice-roll system, Jade Empire’s fighting is all in real time, with two attack buttons and a block button. You can cycle through styles by hotkeying them to the number row, and there are weapons that you can equip such as longswords, bostaffs, etc. The pace of the game is very different from many RPGs, as it is not a turn-based affair but nor is it a button-masher. It sits somewhere in the middle, which is something that might turn hardcore RPG players off. However, the system is deep enough that everyone should be reasonably happy with it.
However, there are some bizarre issues with the game. There is no inventory, and because of this it feels like your hand is being held the whole time. Buy a new sword, your old one is gone. Forever. There isn’t any armor, either, so you’ll never get the chance to customize your character in any way other than upgrading stats. It’s frustrating, and in the end feels more like laziness than an attempt to make the game unique. By not allowing players to tinker with their characters, Bioware has inadvertently crippled the game’s replay value. There are other problems, too: the game world is minuscule, and entirely linear. In fact, the path is so rigid that some may find the roleplaying elements entirely pointless. The action-oriented combat system is sometimes a pain, as well, because the game throws many enemies your way- like ghosts- that are simply unaffected by 99% of your arsenal. It’s not much fun to get destroyed by a ghost because you never bothered to level up your magic strikes. Still, none of these problems break the game, but they do lower its appeal considerably.
Gamers who played Jade Empire on the Xbox and enjoyed it will find this re-release rather disappointing. Aside from the improved graphics and load times, there’s nothing major to differentiate it from the console version. All of the problems that plagued the original are still present here. However, if you are willing to overlook these flaws (again), it’s a satisfying purchase. The people who should be really interested in it, though, are those who skipped Jade Empire the first time around. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great action game with a unique setting and cast. PC gamers looking for a game that doesn’t require an upgrade or a rebuild should definitely check it out while they’re waiting for their DX10 video cards to arrive.
Seven out of ten
- Looks great
- Amusing morality system
- Frustrating combat
- Not much different from the Xbox version