Jade Empire - Preview

Jade Empire
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Microsoft
ESRB: Mature
Release Date: 04.12.05
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Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting.
BioWare Corp, the team that developed Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, is bringing gamers another similar experience, except with a twist this time around. Jade Empire takes place in a fictional Chinese setting and follows the story of the rise and fall of the great Jade Empire. Fresh out of martial arts training school, the protagonist will find many choices along his or her path that will either rebuild the once great empire or cause it to be swept into the pages of history.

At first glance, Jade Empire seems to resemble previous BioWare games. The major difference between Jade Empire and Neverwinter Nights / Knights of the Old Republic is the fact that Jade Empire runs on real-time gameplay. The player will be able to select from over 30 fighting styles and use them in real-time combat against foes. The fighting style the character uses is determined by which magic school he or she belongs to. Each combat style has its pros and cons which is also represented by the magic school it comes from.

If pummeling foes bare-handed becomes boring then weapon schools will help keep things fresh for the player. Designed after many ancient Chinese weapons, the player can choose to specialize in using the wushu spear, broadswords, dual wield axes, or even a massive great staff named the Golden Star.

"During the adventure the protagonist will come to realize that humans are not the only residents of the Jade Empire."
During the adventure the protagonist will come to realize that humans are not the only residents of the Jade Empire. Mankind shares the land with spirits, demons, and various other supernatural creatures. This means the protagonist will have a vast selection of followers to choose from on his or her journey. By recruiting different followers to the party, the player may choose to send various characters out on separate missions which will increase experience and yield rare items. Each follower has different ranks in various stats such as strength, courage, and diplomacy. Meaning the player must think carefully before sending a follower out on a mission.

At the beginning of the game the player will have the choice of choosing from a section of playable characters such as Zeng Monk, Tiger Shen, Furious Ming, Wu the lotus Blossom, and a few others, or in true RPG fashion, create a custom character from the ground up. The player has the option to adjust the character's gender, martial arts style, and statistics to whatever they want. The player can even gauge the character's own strengths and weaknesses. The selection of choices doesn’t end at the character creation screen either. There is no limit to the styles the player can learn, allowing the player to develope their character however they wish.

What would a martial arts game be without some form of spectacular inner feat? Magic schools allow the character to develop his or her innate Chi and focus it into raw magical power. While expending Chi energy the player will be able to let loose a fury of long range magic attacks. It is also possible to transform into special forms by capturing the spirit of a defeated monster. Once triggered, the player will actually morph into the form of the chosen monster during combat. There are various different spells the character may learn during his or her quest, some of the basics being Dire Flame, Ice Shard and Tempest. As the game progresses, more advanced techniques will become available.

While the game may resemble Knights of the Old Republic at first glance, when taking a deeper look it is easy to tell the graphics engine has had a major face-lift. Each location is fully 3D and full of color and life. Towns full of citizens scurry about in evening, covered by the glow of traditional Chinese lanterns hanging overhead, displaying lovely lighting effects. Combat moves at a rapid pace while special magic effects fly off stunningly.

Will the Jade Empire survive and regain its former glory or will it crumble and fall like empires before it? All of this will be decided when Jade Empire ships for the Xbox on April 12.

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