E3 2004: The RPGs

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It was another great year for RPG fans at the Electronic Entertaiment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, California. A couple of us from GameBanshee were able to attend again, so it's time to spill all the RPG information a person would want within another multi-page article like I've done for the last few years. This year, you'll find extensive details about nine different role-playing games, including Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, The Witcher, Dungeon Siege II, Champions: Return to Arms, Fable, X-Men Legends, and Wish. In addition, you're in store for an extra bonus - I'll also be sharing details throughout the article about the exclusive after hours Jade Empire/Fable party that we were able to attend! So without further delay, let's get on with it...

Jade Empire

Since I already mentioned that we were able to attend Microsoft's exclusive Jade Empire/Fable party, let me begin with a quick preview of BioWare's upcoming RPG. Before you begin playing, you'll be able to choose from seven different characters (Wu the Lotus Blossum, Monk Zeng, Lu the Prodigy, Scholar Ling, Radiant Jen Zi, Tiger Shen, and Furious Ming), each of which start with different amounts of Mind, Body, and Spirit statistics. If you're not happy with the beginning stats, though, you can always customize the three primary abilities by allocating a certain number of points however you like. That way, your character will excel in whatever type of abilities you're most interested in, yet you still keep the character's overall look.

Initially, your character will only have access to a few combat styles. However, as you play through the game, different combat styles will open up to your character. For example, in the build we were able to play, our character obtained a sword off the corpse of an assassin. Once in our possession, a new sword style opened up, complete with its own separate moves and combos. Each of these styles can be advanced throughout the game, with much more powerful (and spectacular) moves becoming available at higher levels of expertise. During a demonstration that BioWare's Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk gave, three extremely powerful moves were shown. One involved the character petrifying the enemy, then shattering them into a pile of rubble. Another move threw a powerful kick that literally made the recipient explode into a shower of blood and gore. Using a sword, Ray and Greg showed that you can even decapitate your opponent, killing them instantly.

In addition to combat moves, your character also has access to a certain amount of Chi, which allows you to use magical abilities. One such ability is called "Focus", which is similar to the "Bullet Time" feature of games like Enter the Matrix and Max Payne 2, except that your character continues to move at regular speed while your enemies are brought to a crawl. Transformation styles are another set of abilities that use Chi. After your character defeats a demonic creature in Jade Empire, there is a random chance that the demon will drop its spirit. Once a demon's spirit is obtained, you are able to transform into that particular creature and use all of its attacks. Although Chi is used up at an extremely fast rate while morphed, such transformations can turn a very difficult battle into a much easier one. In the event that you run out of Chi, you can find small blue globes that will replenish it after defeating some of the more common enemies in the game.

Similar to past BioWare games, Jade Empire allows you to pause at any time to make tactical decisions during combat. However, when not paused, all combat is carried out in real time. Therefore, being quick on the controls while using your special moves and combos can give you a considerable advantage over your opponent. Dialogue is presented in the same fashion as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, with different dialogue choices being offered depending on whether or not your choices have been for good or evil in the game.

In addition to dropping Chi-replenishing globes, some of the more significant enemies you'll face may even drop magical gems that can be used in your personal dragon amulet. Each of these gems possesses a magical effect that will be granted when placed within one of the sockets of your amulet. During the E3 build, we were able to obtain a few gems, including one that added +50 Health and another that granted temporary invulnerability. This adds some interesting depth to the game and we look forward to seeing some of the gem combinations players will be able to come up with for their character.

Another interesting facet of Jade Empire is the Marvelous Dragonfly, which we were able to see in some of the cutscenes of the game. This machine will be your character's method of transportation in the game, and although BioWare isn't saying much about it, they did hint that you'll even be able to upgrade it. In one demonstration we received that was exclusive to the private Jade Empire/Fable party we attended, we were even shown that the Marvelous Dragonfly can be used during a mini-game BioWare will be making available to players. The mini-game, which I honestly thought was a joke when I first saw it, looks very similar to the old 1942 arcade game where you controlled a powerful airplane that fired bullets at other enemy aircraft that would fly on to the screen. Essentially, you are given a top-down perspective of the Marvelous Dragonfly and can battle oncoming fighter aircraft and even drop bombs on the countryside below to take out siege towers and the like. The mini-game was fairly lengthy, with the finale involving a battle with a Siege Golem. Such a mini-game obviously doesn't fit the RPG theme and may not be for everyone, but it should provide some enjoyment to those players who like classic arcade shooters like 1942.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

Not only is The Sith Lords a sequel to one of BioWare's finest achievements and one of the best games ever made, but it marks Obsidian Entertainment's ambitious debut into the world of game development. Although the original KotOR set the bar very high, we're happy to report that Obsidian is making fantastic progress on the sequel - complete with an intriguing storyline, more environmental effects like rain and lightning, sixty new feats and force powers, several new joinable NPCs, and plenty more.

LucasArts' Producer Mike Gallo was present to walk us through the demo, which began on Telos - one of seven planets you'll journey to throughout the game. To begin, he showed us a few combat maneuvers with a lightsaber (which you won't obtain until later in the game) and the new Force Sight and Force Crush powers. Force Sight allows the player to view other characters by their alignment, so evil characters will appear red and good characters will appear blue, and Force Crush is a powerful combat power that allows the character to raise an enemy from the ground and twist their body mid-air for massive damage. Pretty nifty.