Prince of Qin is a bit like the ancient Chinese culture the game revolves around. It’s interesting, mysterious and a bit confusing at times.
Played in a top-down Diablo-like interface, the game follows an interesting Chinese story and adds a "what-if" factor. The story goes that in ancient China there was a great warrior who was the son of the emperor. His name was Fu Su and he was the Prince of Qin. Charged with defending the northern boundaries, he was far away from the throne when his father died. Plotters who did not want him to take the throne sent a fake communication from the emperor ordering the prince to take his own life.
Now if your boss in modern times tells you to kill yourself, you would probably have some choice words for them. However, in ancient China people really took things like that seriously. So the real Fu Su killed himself. The game assumes that Fu Su decided the letter must be a fake, and begins to investigate the matter. Of course you run into soldiers who are like, "you should be dead, so we need to kill you" and others that are probably part of the conspiracy.
There are a myriad of quests to take along the way, and many of them are just seeping in Chinese history and culture. That is one of the most interesting things about the game. You have to think like an ancient Chinese nobleman to get the best rewards. For example, when you do a good deed and someone offers you a reward, if you accept it you will get the reward like normal. However, if you turn it down, they will often increase the reward, which you will again turn down. Finally they will literally beg you to take a huge reward, saying they will lose face if you take nothing. Then you can accept, and not only do you get a bigger reward, but your fame increases as well. You have to learn to be humble almost to the point where a modern person would think you are stupid.
The interface is easy to use. You click on a person and if they are an NPC, you will strike up a conversation with them. If they are an enemy, you will attack. You can’t accidentally attack someone who is not an enemy, even if you try.
Eventually you will recruit other people to join your party. You can have five people, including your main character, traveling with you. Different classes can use different weapons and skills. Fu Su is a paladin who can use blades and a shield, plus protective magic. You can also have a muscleman in your party who is basically a fighter. The assassin class is great with deadly ranged weapons. And there are wizards and witches which are similar, but have access to different spell types. Having one of each in your party seems to the best way to go, as I was pretty much unbeatable throughout much of the game with my balanced group.
Your paladin can also make things, like armor and weapons from the things he finds laying around. This forging skill is a nice touch, as it allows you to craft new items like helmets and boots for people joining your party. It’s also a skill used in the plot quite a bit, as you are asked to make things for NPCs.
The game also stresses the Chinese principal of the five elements. Wood, water, earth, metal and fire combine to support and oppose each other. Sometimes you will find an object like a staff that has a non-working special ability, like extra damage. If the staff has an affinity to wood, you would need to wear a ring with an affinity to water to activate the special ability because water supports wood. Likewise, armor with an affinity to water would prevent some damage from fire attacks, since water blocks wood. It’s a bit confusing, but you can play the game without working with the elements, just without much help from the really powerful offensive and defensive powers of objects you find.
Between the quests, the intense combat and even the riddles in the game, you will be compelled to keep playing.
However, the game has some real flaws as well. Some of them are minor and even mildly amusing, while others seriously take away from the gameplay.
The biggest flaw, and the most maddening, is the lack of information in the overhead map. You use the overhead map to get around the game world, but locations you have not visited yet are grayed out. Without even a name to go by, when you are on a quest to go to a specific place, you don’t really know which direction to travel. You would think the crown prince would know at least the names of the cities in his realm. This is compounded by mini-map problems within cities. Each one shows where you can exit the map, but not where the roads lead. You have to run across the entire map to see. Finally, the game restricts you from visiting some cities until certain chapters in the game, but there does not seem to be any pattern to it. Some cities close to where you start are inaccessible while you can visit others on the far side of the country if you can randomly find your way there using the clunky interface.
The other problem is that the game has some of the worst voice acting I have ever experienced. Every Chinese person in the game has a thick British accent! And to make matters worse, they read their lines in a monotone voice and the translations make no sense whatsoever sometimes.
A couple of examples of dialog that will make you scratch your head are: "We can’t live together in this life, and I hope to continue our happy fate in the next," "I want to take his life because I want to!" "But generally speaking, it is not proper to burn so many books and kill so many people," "We may well bolt the door and beat the dog," and the true classic "I am…a fat lamb? Only if you have the capability!" Anyway it’s annoying and a bit funny, but does tend to distract from gameplay a bit.
Another true strength of the game is the ability to play in multiplayer. If you have the bandwidth, you can host a game, or just find one, with up to 500 other people in it. It’s pretty interesting and you can work together or against one another.
In the final analysis, Prince of Qin is an excellent title with a few tragic flaws. It will keep you entertained and could be considered one of the sleeper hits of the year.