Final Glimpse: Can tougher enemies and new fighting styles give this port the moves it needs?
This February, get ready for martial arts action in a richly detailed world inspired by traditional Chinese mythology. You'll use a variety of weapons, magic and hand-to-hand attacks against demons and other opponents, and since this is an RPG, you'll be able to upgrade your skills as you progress through the rich storyline and many side quests. If this seems familiar to you, it should. Bioware, the company that brought you Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, and Neverwinter Nights, is updating their Xbox hit Jade Empire with improved graphics and new content before porting it over to the PC under the title Jade Empire: Special Edition. While the Special Edition will remain true to the original Xbox release, Bioware promises plenty of changes in an attempt to make the PC version stand out.
Although the main storyline and quests will be identical to the original, Jade Empire: Special Edition adds several elements unique to the PC release. The first thing that veteran players will notice is that the primary control scheme is now mouse and keyboard, with a traditional WASD layout for movement while the mouse is used for attacking and changing fighting style. The game allows complete reconfiguration of controls in addition to gamepad support. It will also offer a new world view map that tracks player progress on a larger scale.
Jade Empire: Special Edition implements several new fighting techniques to expand the already robust list of nearly twenty fighting and magic styles. With the Iron Palm style, players can deliver devastating but somewhat slower strikes. The Viper style includes poison-delivering strikes that may not kill instantly, but that can be used strategically to continue delivering damage over time. The PC version maintains the ?transformation style? system in which defeating a monster allows the player to absorb some of that monster's abilities for a time, adding a rhino transformation style related to the new Rhino Demon enemy.
The Rhino isn't the only addition to the cast of characters. There will be at least one new playable character, and it looks like Monk Zeng, who was previously only present in the Xbox Limited Edition, will join the roster. Players will retain the ability to build their own character from scratch and choose fighting styles according to their preferences. As already mentioned, the cast of bad guys will now include the Rhino Demon, a powerful, two-legged beast with thick skin and powerful charging attack capable of a trampling his enemies. Devs have also mentioned a human-squid hybrid Tentacle Demon but haven't confirmed it for the final release.
One of the few critiques players leveled at the original release was directed at the fighting system. Updated AI and an increased difficulty level in the Special Edition are Bioware's attempt to address these problems. While difficulty at the lower choices haven't changed, the new release ramps up the challenge on ?hard? to keep even the most skilled players on their toes. In addition, all the AI in the game has undergone a revamp to make it more dynamic. Enemies will now block and dodge and in general fight more intelligently. And players who relied on certain exploits in the original may be surprised to find that their favorite tricks no longer work.
In the graphics department, artists have re-worked every game element, adding detail right down to the blades of grass in order to take advantage of the power of current PCs. Contrary to what some might say, Jade Empire has never run on the Knights of the Old Republic engine. Bioware developed a brand new engine for the game that allows for some eye-catching effects like physics-based cloth effects and advanced control over facial animation and lipsynching. The updated version also adds dynamic lighting effects, widescreen and hi-res support, but not at the cost of excluding older computers, since minimum system requirements allow for a P4 at 1.8 GHz processors and GeForce 6000 series video cards.