Two years have pretty much passed since Bioware's Jade Empire hit the old Xbox and wowed console gamers with another hit RPG. Like KotoR (Knights of the Old Republic) before it Jade Empire had a certain feel and power that was distinctly Bioware and definitely something special at the time.
Now it's the turn for the PC to experience Bioware's martial arts and magical romp through a mystical version of pseudo Asia.
There is a limited form of character customisation present, nothing that allows you to change the actual look of your persona, but you can distribute your points between certain core attributes to give yourself more strength, health and so on. Once you've done this, selected an extra combat style (you always have a basic set that you cannot alter) chosen a name, it's off to the main story.
You begin life as a student of an old master, one of the typical stories that often surround these kinds of games. Of course this being Bioware, things do not go as planned and as you delve deeper into the seemingly clichéd events it becomes apparent that the storytelling is far from that.
There's nothing clichéd about Jade Empire's story, it follows the same path as that of the Xbox version and is linear (sorry Oblivion fans) guiding you from point A to B without much room for deviation (there are some side quests and some places you can explore)
Bioware have built on their KotoR dialogue system for the game, offering moral choices and an alignment system. You can waver between the Closed Fist and the Open Palm, one evil and one good respectively. By doing various side quests for good or bad characters you can gain rewards, these are sometimes spiritual and will further propel you down your chosen path, unlocking a few bonuses upon the way.
The combat system works really well on the PC with keyboard, mouse support. WASD for directions and the mouse controls the camera, with various short-cut keys to switch styles and so on. There is also flawless gamepad support for those people who like the console style of control.
The PC edition of the game adds a few redesigns, and of course a couple of new styles for combat: Viper and Iron Palm. As well as a new Rhino demon boss fight. I won't spoil any of the content by elaborating upon it, since I feel these things have to be explored by the player.
For those of you looking for a World of Warcraft combat system, Jade Empire is far from it - for those who've never played it, it's an action RPG and you have direct control over your main character in a fight. You can freely switch between the various (and there are lots) of styles, including transformation styles that allow you to take on new and dire forms (Toad Demon form!)
Bioware have included a simple level-up system that lets you distribute points between styles and other areas, it's painless and easy to use whilst allowing you a fairly finite control over the various aspects of that fighting style.
Jade Empires' transition to the PC has allowed the game to take advantage of much better graphics, things were nice on the Xbox but here they are transformed into a graphical delight. There are some absolutely gorgeous areas and the load times have also been decreased, especially on a high end machine with a good quality graphics card.
Bioware have upped the ante with the locales in this game, the environments come to life with lots of tiny detail and the PC helps here a great deal. As you'd expect there are graphical tweaks and lighting changes, there are better particle effects and the colourful magical powers look just fantastic.
You can also appreciate the detail that has gone into the character models, when the camera pulls in close during conversations the facial animations are a tasty precursor of Bioware's coming new-tech for the PC and console next-generation, you can see where they have improved on KotoR and on the PC version it is even more apparent. The level of animation in the faces matches the detail and the whole thing comes to life in a much more vivid manner.
The animation in the combats of course is top notch, fluid fight movements are presented at every turn, focus mode allows you to slow down time and get a better grip on combat - it also allows you to see the kind of detail the animators have put into the game's motion. It fits the feel of the pseudo-martial arts world Bioware have created and nothing is especially jarring.
The music of Jade Empire is sweeping and majestic, with just the right flavour. The sound effects are certainly top notch and the voice acting has some famous cameos including performances by Nathan (Malcom Reynolds) Fillion and a few others. The game brims with lots of spoken dialogue and it's delivered perfectly with very little in the way of vocal errors or flaws.
The new content adds enough to the old game to make it stand shoulder to shoulder, the graphical additions make sure it keeps the look and feel of the console version but for the PC generation. It is of course still two years old (approx) and has stood the test of time very well in that respect.
All this praise of course has to have a downside and its here that I have to mention the use of grainy FMV that is a left over from the Xbox; it really looks bad when compared to the new shiny graphics. The 1942 style top down shooter that you get to play when you fly from place to place in your 'flyer' slams you out of the wonderful world and reminds you - it's just a game.
I'd have preferred to see a shiny FMV filter for the game's cut-scenes and definitely some pre-rendered footage for the top down shooter, at least you can ignore it after you've played it just the once. I tended to do that in the Xbox version as well to be honest, it was a part I could have done without.
All in all though the PC special edition of the game is a worthy addition to the library of titles and it's a definite must for Bioware fans and action/RPG fans alike.