I picked up Jade Empire last weekend, and now I’ve finally managed to clock a few hours on it. It came out on XBox a couple of years ago, but is only just now finding its way to the PC. The game is a story-driven RPG from Bioware, very much a descendant of Knights of the Old Republic. Instead of a Jedi in a galaxy far, far away, you play a Martial Arts student in ancient China. There is martial-arts driven magic and a dash of steampunk to keep things interesting. My usual list of impressions from the first few hours of the game:
|On the left is my character Endo. He’s made of 100% beef, but he’s also dressed in a silly outfit. I really wish there were more options for controlling how he looks.|
The graphics engine behind the game is fantastic. It looks better than the much maligned Neverwinter Nights 2 or the much celebrated Oblivion, yet it runs smoother than either of them. It doesn’t just run a little better, it outpaces and outshines the performance of the other two games in just about every way you can measure. The load times are very quick, almost momentary. Framerate is flawlessly smooth. Note to publishers: This is what you get when you let your developers finish the job!
I love martial arts, both as an art form and as a display of athletic prowess. This ballet of violence is hard to capture in videogame form (most fighting games sacrifice the grace of movement for visceral appeal by speeding everything up) but Jade Empire does an admirable job. It really is fun to see the characters do their thing.
|Every time I enter a new area I am astounded at how disgustingly gorgeous this game is.|
As with KOTOR, there is a light side and a dark side path through the game, (called the Way of the Open Hand and Way of the Closed Fist, in this context) which means I’m going to go through this game at least twice. Given the number of varied weapons and fighting styles you can study throughout the game, I imagine the final toll this game will take on my productivity will be fairly high.
The characters and dialog are instantly compelling and wonderfully varied. Voice acting is superb. Some characters are funny, some are charming, and some enrage in a way that only a truly well-written villain can. So far this game is on its way to being the best RPG I’ve played in years.
Note to commenters: No spoilers please.
LATER: In the comments below:
This is what I expected. I had my USB Dual Shock clone all ready to plug in, but as it turned out I never needed it. They did a beautiful job of porting this thing to the PC, and moving from a thumbstick & d-pad to mouse and keyboard. Really, if I didn’t know this game was a port I never would have guessed it. The controls feel smooth and natural. This is a rare thing, and Bioware should get some praise for that. I’ve played a lot of ported games which were just saddled with console-centric thinking, and they were frustrating to play. (A very common mistake is complete confusion over how to use the mouse. Console developers are simply baffled by this strange device. Usually they neglect to offer an option to “invert” the y-axis, which means look up & down is backwards for a large percentage of the audience. Or worse, they stupidly offer the option, but ALSO invert right & left movement. Idiots!) Beyond Good & Evil is an example of a
great good console game which was ruined in the process of porting it to the PC.
Proper porting is tricky business. It means doing more than replacing the thumbstick with the mouse. It means changing how the camera moves and how the user navigates the menus. It means adding options to change the game resolution and a bunch of other stuff to control visual quality and performance. It means adding the ability to re-map the controls on the keyboard. It means you can cram more text on-screen (due to increased resolution) which means you might have to re-think how information is presented to the player.
The team at Bioware made this a clean, seamless port. Nice job.
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