E3: Jade Empire
05.16.04 - 5:55 AM

Based on the myths of ancient China, Jade Empire is a martial arts based Action-RPG. Many members of the MDK2, KotOR, and NWN team are working on Jade Empire to bring the total team count to 70. The game's base attribute and leveling system are deceptively simple. There are only three in-game statistics: Body, Mind, and Spirit. Body affects health and strength, Mind affects Focus, an ability to slow down the rest of the world, similar to Bullet Time, and Spirit affects Chi, or the force of the body to use magic and heal oneself. Bioware has promised much replay value with 30 different fighting styles and 7 base characters. Although these characters have preset stats, the player is able to change them to suit their own needs. Characters attract followers over the course of the game, although they are never under your direct control.

Motion Capturing was done under the control of Giant Studios, the MoCap studio of Lord of the Rings. In combat, players are going to be able to do what is called a "Harmonic Combo", or the ability to dramatically damage opponents with a combination of styles. In the demo, you are able to use a certain style to turn an opponent for stone, and then a much more powerfully striking style to shatter the rock. Some of these combinations are rather obvious, others requiring a good amount of thought. Most cutscenes are done with the in-game engine and look good. Bioware also mentioned Minigames, but showed us only a 1942-style shooter for between-area travel. The story is more serious than many previous Bioware games, but does have a tinge of humor ala Minsc and HK-47.

Communication is branching and affected by statistics. You may be able to charm or intimidate someone into doing something for you. Combat is also collision based; if you are thrown into something, it will take damage. The same goes for opponents. Bioware has also included a physics-based cloth system where clothes and such will sway in the wind. Bioware's first original intellectual property will include a save-anywhere system and 5.1 Dolby surround sound. Jade Empire is set for a Q1 2005 release on the Xbox.

John McCarroll