Chris Bond

Jade Empire

13th June 2005
reviewer: Chris Bond
rating: 4 out of 5
developed by: Bioware
published by: Microsoft
released: 22nd April 2005
rrp: £32.99
formats: Xbox

BioWare has had great success over the years with Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and most recently Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Now they have created their most originally set RPG to date but who does it fare?

Jade Empire is set in a land heavily inspired by ancient Chinese mythology but not being set in China itself, it gave BioWare necessary room for scope and the inclusion of a number of creative twists. You play a young martial art student on the verge of completing your training under Master Li. However, before your training can be completed, your home is destroyed and Master Li is kidnapped. Needless to say, in true RPG style, you set off in search of your Master and answers. Along the way you are joined and helped by a number of supporting characters, who each have their own stories to tell.

Those who played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic will find much familiar here. The story is engaging, the game is better looking then previous BioWare output and the characters are interesting. Where KOTOR allowed you to follow the light side or the dark side of the force, Jade Empire offers players the opportunity to follow the way of the open palm or closed fist. This gives players a great feeling of control over what happens as nearly every conversation and action gives opportunity to follow your chosen path. Elsewhere though, fans of BioWare’s previous outings may feel disappointed with Jade Empire.

The combat system has been completely revamped from their previous effort, and, unfortunately, it hasn’t been a completely successful transition. BioWare attempted to implement a real-time, free flowing system but unfortunately it only ever feels functional. As you progress through the game you obtain a number of different of combat styles which are meant to be linked to together. Unfortunately, these styles are not properly balanced with some being overly powerful, and others horribly weak. Partnering characters aid in combat, either in attack or by supporting, but again, it doesn’t feel fully polished. In attack, your partner, whilst drawing opponents away will either die quickly or spend the time trying inflicting minimal damage on one enemy, leaving you to battle everyone else.

Elsewhere BioWare have gone out of their way to make this as streamlined and accessible as possible. Character development is never more than developing your three key attributes and improving your fighting styles. The game is certainly shorter and easier than previous efforts, clocking in at around 20 hours of gameplay. Luckily, Jade Empire offers good replay value through the number of possible outcomes. It appears that BioWare was hoping to entice in those who do not usually enjoy the genre but this is a dialogue heavy game that probably wouldn’t be appealing to those who didn’t enjoy KOTOR.

Jade Empire is a thoroughly enjoyable game, mainly thanks to the strong story line and engaging characters, and well worth the purchase. Fans of KOTOR or looking for a deeper experience will feel disappointed with the more streamlined approach adopted by BioWare. Those looking for an enjoyable gaming experience will not be left disappointed.