Prince of Qin - Revisited

I’ll start off by saying two things - I’ve never played the sequels to either Diablo or Baldur’s Gate and, once upon a time, I wrote up an interview with the developers of PoQ which, frankly, I was excited about.

I’m an ancient China freak. Romance of The Three Kingdoms, Outlaws of The Marsh - you name it. Confucious may be wise but Zhuge Liang kicks ass and that combination of intrigues, military ingenuity and high adventure just plain sings to me in ways King Arthur never did.

Prince of Qin is a roleplaying action game set in an alternate history where the Crown Prince of The First Emperor of Qin /doesn’t/ blindly follow orders and kill himself when he gets just such a forged command. It’s an alternate history where Taoist elemental magic does work but as many are just as skeptical about the existence of supernatural beings as there are those convinced.

Man is man’s direst enemy along with wild creatures who, in turn, are hunted for bone, hide and sinew to make a wide assortment of items. Wood, stone and jems are harvestable as well. And each individual item, even otherwise identical parts, may well have different properties that, when combined with others, makes for an array of possible item traits. And that’s even before one considers the inlay of gemstones, with their own special properties, or the equipping of sympathetic elemental items that enhance powers (how very Feng Shui).

What makes this game especially remarkable is that it’s created by a mainland Chinese developer who clearly wants to recreate the setting as much as possible. I find myself taking screenshot after screenshot to capture a particular layout or setting (with the thought of recycling it in a face-to-face game of Mystic China or GURPs China at some point). I right click just about every item I acquire, even the most mundane, just to see what the developers have to say about it. I only wish that the maps were mousable and interrogatable as well - there are many items and structures I really want to know more about! Another interesting thing - much of the storyline and many sideplots are about suffering, real suffering, and official corruption. While these themes do stretch back very far in Chinese literature and history (as far back as I’ve read) it’s interesting to see developers in Communist China saying, in a game, what their newspapers can’t even say. Never the less, you’ll see people that have wept themselves blind, many orphans, tales of indentured servitude to build the great wall, Imperial officials who become vain, ambitious or murderously acquisitive and, yes, even a very greedy capitalist character who wants to corner the grain market during a time of war.

As a Prince who shucks his identity to travel incognito you have a rationale to be starting off on a traditional RPG’s rags to riches quest though as a new character you’re probably alot less skilled than such a Prince would be in real life - but this is a concession to the power inflationary/levelling form. You meet characters that know and hate or wish to help you as you travel which really makes the game feel much more coherent and meaningful that others. The level of politics involved also adds a new aspect and the great palaces you visit even early on are beautifully rendered.

Okay, gameplay. To me PoQ strikes a happy balance between the simplicity of a Diablo and the storytelling of a Baldur’s Gate. While I’d probably rather see more of a tilt towards a more tactical Baldur’s Gate (party formations and so on) there are more tactics involved here than the reviews I’ve read have lead me to believe. If you play on Easy, you can pretty much just slug your way through encounters but at higher levels of difficulty it becomes important to keep forging, or purchasing, useful items and selecting a character’s skills and skill improvements with some tactical plans in mind. The elements can be an important consideration if you learn how to play off them well. A pauseable real-time combat engine allows some decent maneuvering and it also has BG-esque autopauses that are customizable. I’ve also yet to see much interaction between party members in a BG sense. They don’t seem to have much personality after they’er acquired.

Animation can be choppy but I didn’t find it nearly the distraction reviews have made it out to be. Some effects, like the Wizard’s tornado spell, are extremely cool. There is some really mediocre voice acting and much of the localization is not great but if you can stand Japanese console games you’ve seen worse. Also there seem to be many trivial discussions one can have with passersby. However, for me, that just adds to the flavor. Just like in Morrowind the best strategy isn’t trying to be a compulsive completist but sticking to one goal at a time and wandering off as a break in the action rather than as a process of excavating every last detail on a map.

There are the usual character classes but with a Chinese spin.

The Muscleman (whom I wanted to think of as a martial artist but unfortunately isn’t) is really a Ranger but less in the elegant Aragorn mold and more of a Little John character type - a big, blunt, bruiser who also can control animals.

The Paladin who’s more of a general Swordmaster. A good all around character that can forge items, heal simple wounds, and become deadly with a bow or sword.

The Wizard, The Assassin and The Witch are all pretty self-explanatory but they have special abilities, in addition to the usual stuff, that can effect elemental attacks and defenses in particular ways. All of this adds into the potential techniques one can adopt for combat.

Frankly, if you’re at all interested in the subject don’t let the reviews put you off. Considering the source and the topics, I find myself quite fascinated by Prince of Qin.

I haven’t tried the persistant universe server, battlenet, yet which supposedly has entirely new missions and maps but there is one and it’s still up. Seems to be having some technical troubles though but there’s a very active bullitenboard. Unfortunately, the fans strike me as more Diablo refugees than scholars of Qin.

Underrated gem of 2002. People are so hard to please.

WOW LONG POST! I need to finish reading it …

etc

I enjoyed it, although I didnt come close to finishing it for various non-PoQ related reasons.

The piss poor text formatting did annoy the hell out of me though. Wait, did I say piss-poor? I meant non-existent. Cant believe Strategy First would release a game with no word wrapping, at all, anywhere.

olaf

I find myself interrested in getting back into this one after listening to the China History Podcast and reading Kay’s Under Heaven. I would love to hear this in Chinese with English text, and play in desktop resolution. Does anyone have any experience with mods or other useful tips for Prince of Qin?

If you like PoQ, be sure to check out Seal of Evil. It’s by the same developers and uses the same engine.

I’ll admit, PoQ is one of those games I always wanted to try.

I’m really sad this isn’t on Good Old Games.

There’s a really good manga called Kingdom that takes place during this time period if you’re interested. Definitely check it out if you can!

Wow, completely missed this game, and i too also like the chinese themed games from Romance of The Three Kingdoms onwards. The IGN review sums it up as chinese-diablo (in effect), which could be ok as the original Diablo (and part II) were decent if action orientated games (i prefer tbs myself).

Another one GoG should look to get (and i need to check if it is even on the wishlists!) by the sounds of it.