When you think of Bioware, you usually either associate the company with either hilariously over the top fantasy romance, gritty bloody or D&D Fantasy and sci-fi moral guided RPG shoot from cover games.
But there was a time where they worked on a game with a very different setting and combat system. This is the game, and the settling is the sadly rarely used Chinese Fantasy. Jade Empire is a very different beast for what we now expect from modern Bioware games. Originally for the first Xbox and ported to the PC around 2007 back in the days where STEAM was also very different and oddly enough not well remembered.
I had fun playing Jade Empire. It was something new, despite the now dated graphics. It was something fresh despite the system limitations like being limited to a single companion and being one of the shorter Bioware games I have played. A good game always has a rock solid foundation. Very few games bother to cover China at all. The combat system in this game is very unique and reminds me a lot of the more modern but quite different open world game Sleeping Dogs. You fight with WASD, general movement and using techniques (spells) that are fueled by a chi (mana) meter. This makes fighting a lot more fluid and interesting that the usual turn based stuff older RPG games are associated with and there is a simple wonder of going all Bruce Lee (and yes, one of the male main character models pretty much is a tribute to Bruce Lee) and kicking ♥♥♥ while staying mobile.
You aren't limited to your fists, there is the usual slightly bland array of metal weaponry and Chinese Magic style techniques some of which transform you into mythical fantasy beasts of the era. The companions themselves, whilst limited in combat are quite interesting like with all Bioware games. There is even the token 'Drunken Style Master' who helps boost you with buffs of well wine really. One of my personal favourite quests in the game is a much more interesting Arena quest that makes the younger Oblivion one seem hilariously bland and boring in comparism. Oh and John Cleese has a cameo too in which he plays an Arrogant ♥♥♥♥ of an Elizbethan Explorer who debates and fights you.
Sadly there are some flaws. Like I mentioned before the game is short, I played it one and off for an hour or two for the last few weeks and just shaved past the eighteen hour mark before completing it. Once you finish the Imperial City portion of the game pacing gets incredibly rushed and the scant quest based hub areas vanish completely. The storyline demands you to get it done and over with.
And the Gem system really could have done with some more thought. But these things are pretty minor. The most disturbing issue was the fact this game is one of the older titles that is broken due to STEAM constantly changing but I found a player bashed up fix in the STEAM community forums which was easily to install and get working in about a minute.
So final opinion really, if you are looking for something new and interesting in both setting and combat system RPG wise and don't mind the length and the age of the game you will enjoy Jade Empire. If you don't click with Martial Arts, Fantasy China or would rather have a more relaxed combat system I might suggest looking into amazingly well written Planescape Torment instead which is different enough to take a break from the more boring old school RPG games.
Worth picking up in a sale if it sparks your interest? Go ahead. Even outside the sale, the price is still pretty cheap and it will run like a charm now even on what we would consider old hardware in space year 2013/14.