So after the disappointment that was KOTOR2 I decided to follow-up with what's generally regarded as Bioware's weakest RPG. Time to complete my Bioware game checklist. Actually, I never did finished the last level of Shattered Steel. I'm writing this having just started chapter three. This game is clearly the precursor to Mass Effect. Yes, the animation is terrible but you can see the beginnings of the cinematic experience forming. I suppose KOTOR had an element of this, but the more direct control of Jade Empire made me think of this in a way KOTOR did not. Let's hit the biggest issue first. The combat isn't great. It was hit in reviews a lot at the time I think and it's what stopped me early on several years ago when I first played. I don't know if I've got better at this, or if Tiger Strike is simply better than Thousand Fist Whatever, but I've waltzed through fights I struggled with last time. I'm playing at Grand Master due to being Part Of The Problem, as well as the fact that without the challenge it all feels a bit pointless to me. The issue is that there's not much to it. There's talk of harmonic combos, but not only can I not get them to work, I can't see where I'd use them anyway. It's far easier to flip around the combat arena (which is a ridiculously small and zoned area), roll into the enemy to stun him and then spam your attack until he's dead. Repeat until everyone's dead prioritising range, then weapons, then fists. Focus seems pointless, as weapons do not work on spirits you're far better investing in the method which works on everyone: fists. So it's all about health and chi and if it weren't for the odd enemy who stun locks you I wouldn't bother with health either. Chi is just so powerful, it seems to heal on a 1:1 ratio as well as providing a damage boost. It's offence and defence in one package. Every so often it has its moments, fights where you recover from a losing position, or enemies whom you need to employ hit-and-run tactics on and you feel smart for figuring it out. Primarily though it's dash in and spam. I also find NPCs generally pointless. while the odd early fight called for some NPC distraction, I think in 95% of cases having Dawnstar regenerating my chi is superior to any other setup. Chi is just that useful, and as you can kite enemies so long as your patience lasts and health and chi don't regenerate outside of fights, I don't see a reason to go with anything else. If health and chi went back to maximum after a fight I might feel I had more flexibility. There's also the fact that they keep introducing NPCs in ways that shows them to be deadly. Then they join your side... The pacing suffers from the same issue most RPGs have, and that Bioware didn't really solve until Mass Effect 2: the civilisation and wilderness problem. That is you will be introduced to a large hub with lots and lots of talking, and then proceed to do several quests with lots and lots of fighting. There's a real lack of balance between the two. The air mini game is, as far as I can tell, a waste of space. Money is ridiculously easy to come by because you can only use a tiny number of gems, so you sell the rest and have more than you could ever need. There are some positives though in areas I didn't expect. Firstly, I actually want to get to the bottom of matters. Okay, not for the story reason of destiny and all that yawn inducing rubbish, but rather Another is Bioware's precursor to Paragon/Renegade in the Open and Closed fists. While it doesn't always work, sometimes doing dickish things for no reason gets you closed fist points, which doesn't seem in keeping with their ways, but it's still a refreshing change from the light and dark sides of previous games. I especially appreciate the ability to meaningfully explain my POV rather than just being a douche. I'm playing closed fist and it's surprisingly satisfying. Loot is surprisingly fun because it's so simple so I don't have to spend time fiddling with it, yet it feels like I am getting to make somewhat interesting decisions with my limited slots because of the fact that any gem can go in any slot, rather than just exchanging a +1 shield for a +2 shield and a +1 helm for a +2 helm, etc. I really like how when you mouse over conversational responses your character's facial expression changes so you can see the tone the response will be given in. It's surprisingly helpful. Also the NPC conversations are better than expected. Okay, Dawnstar's are, because the number you can take with you is pitiful and so I'm making it the childhood buddy adventure. I like the way conversations let you challenge her ideas, and even if it routes you back onto the main dialogue path the response the options you get to reply to her can change depending on what you said earlier in the dialogue. I can't help but feel that it's actually doing what KOTOR2 tried to do, but better. While it remains to be seen what effect if any this has, I feel like I'm slowly changing her views, and as long as I feel I am what's going on underneath doesn't matter. The rest of the NPCs might suck though, it's hard to say because only one NPC at a time is ridiculous. Dawnstar talks about things we've done as we clear up areas, if the other NPCs talk about them too I hate to think how much content is sitting locked away never to be seen. I think it might be their weakest game, but I'm still having some fun with it.