217th played so far
Platform: PC/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2007
We’ve discussed my love for Bioware games before, starting with special pick Baldur’s Gate II, moving to Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. Part of the reason for this fast tracking is, in fact, because this was the game Peter really wanted to play. I’ll leave it to him to explain fully, but in this case the addition of shooter mechanics to the list seems to be what Peter really liked.
For me, my initial reception was a bit mixed. Playing through the intro section on the Xbox for a bit, I found that the shooter mechanics didn’t work for me – to be fair, this was one of the first time I played that way, so practice improved that. It was not the best introduction for me either since it involved a lot of me having to swoop in every now and then when Jeroen got pissed off.
More interesting though, this is a slight experiment into a new way of playing for us. As we both look forward to playing, we’ll be playing simultaneously, me on the PC, Peter using the Xbox 360. Saves time, means we both get a chance (using different character styles) and giving us room to compare.
Although Jade Empire wooed Peter earlier, it seems like this has caught Peter’s imagination enough that he’ll keep playing. There’s a good reason for it. The game combines its RPG and shooter elements really well. The RPG skills are mostly take it or leave it – if you want to, you can let the game auto-level anyway, learn a few mini games, and play it as a shooter with a lot of conversations if you want, turning it into something more approaching a JRPG. Alternatively, you can go in-depth, setting up all your equipment and stats to spec, tweaking it to how you prefer to play.
The shooter mechanics, in the mean time, can be set to use target assist, making the success of your shots mostly depend on your stats, or having you play mostly with how well you shoot yourself. Your stats still play a part, but it’s just as much an action-frenzied shooter mode. The success of your shooring still depends a lot on the upgrades and weapons that your have kitted out your characters with, after all it’s always better to have armour piercing bullets.
One thing that’s been interesting to see here were the differences between the platforms in controls. In particular your tactical options – the PC brings up a tactical HUD when you press the space bar, allowing you to give controls using your mouse, saving you from having to learn many complicated key combinations to order your squad around or use rarely used options.
Still, I suspect that you’ll be disappointed if shooting is the only thing you focus on. The initial area you had into – after a few introducing conversations – feature some bigger battles, but soon after you’re left in the Citadel, the central area the story revolves around. Even if you only do the mandatory missions, you spend quite a bit of time here figuring out what to do and where to go. If, like us, you instead go out to explore and play through side quests, you’ll easily spend five hours here just reading, soaking in the atmosphere and doing many good (or evil) deeds.
The world is filled with many interesting characters. Although you can’t interact with a lot of NPCs – unlike, say, the many NPCs of Baldur’s Gate, Bioware didn’t write conversations for the otherwise unused NPCs, probably to save on voice acting – the ones that are there have a nice amount of personality. Their missions are interesting too – you can tell Bioware has been learning how to write these more as time goes on, as none feel unnecessary in the grand scheme of things and pretty much all are interesting, with few Fed Ex “give this package to someone else” type quests. Even better, often these side quests lead into each other, making the story ever richer.
Still, beyond that mention must be made of the amazing world building applied. This is the second time, after Jade Empire, Bioware got to create their own world instead of licensing their own, and it seems like they’ve made even more of it than before. The codex is invaluable, summarizing the information about everything you encounter in your travel – races, planets, technology, history and so on. It makes for fascinating reading and stays a good reference work.
Your role on it is fascinating. A lot has been written about it (especially in reference to the third game’s ending), but in the early games, it really feels like a race to prove yourself. It’s pretty gripping so far and makes you wonder where it leads.
All of this even ignores the look and feel of the game. As suitable, the game has evolved in graphics, leading to some lovely vistas. The game actually mostly avoid putting in lots of eyecandy – while there are balconies and larger views, these are mostly functional, showing how life on colonies and around the world work. They’re not showing off, they just show what they have, and the hustle of space travel outside, for example, looks as good – not as magnificent, but also not showing off as much. Sound use is good too, but it feels like in this area, later worlds might allow for better views.
As mentioned earlier we played this game at the same time and chose to construct different characters so we could explore more of the development in the game. Jeroen went for a guy, I created a woman. His is heroic and born to fight, mine is a survivor. This was further differentiated in our choices in class and level ups. This works for this blog but also for us since we play very differently. I enjoy shooters a lot more whilst Jeroen likes to stop and think. This game is actually really flexible to your play style and Bioware need to be applauded for this.
To be honest the main differences between the Xbox 360 and Windows versions are the controls. The Xbox version really does lend itself more to the real-time shooting rather than the squad based tactics (although those are not exactly a strength in this game) since switching weapons and activating abilities have not been that well mapped to the controller. Similarly the interfaces for choosing weapons and upgrades is far easier to use on the PC due to the mouse and keyboard. So whatever version you get depends on how you like playing… so choose wisely.
Writing this up after five hours of play really is not enough to start doing this game justice since we only just got off of the Citadel and began or steps into space. This does follow the rukles we earlier set to protect us from giving up this blog after playing games we were bored with (such as Metal Gear Solid and Utopia) but it means we won’t have the best opinion on games such as these… which just means we need to play these for pleasure afterwards.What a drag!