A Jade Empire sequel is perhaps what BioWare needs to return back to its glory days.
When you think of BioWare, odds are the first things to pop into your mind are Mass Effect or Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. You certainly wouldn’t be wrong for thinking of those titles as they are certainly emblematic of BioWare’s golden age and had something for just about everyone. BioWare had their hands in a whole bunch of other sorts of games though. MDK2, Neverwinter Nights, and Baldur’s Gate are also examples of great games that BioWare either had a hand in or just made themselves. Among those lesser-talked about titles lives Jade Empire; the action role-playing game spearheaded by BioWare and published by Microsoft Game Studios way back in the year 2005 for the popular Xbox and later ported to Microsoft Windows PC.
Jade Empire was an interesting beast as it was a departure from the typical BioWare game and took place in a universe largely governed of Chinese mythology. With a similar morality mechanic seen in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, that clearly worked well for that game, mixed with it’s own brand of a more cartoony art style and a more arcadey combat system, Jade Empire would quickly carve out it’s own little spot in the action/adventure RPG genre within the Xbox and PC gaming audience.
"Early in 2019 it was revealed that EA had applied for a new trademark on Jade Empire back in January."
On top of that, it would review fairly well with lots of 8s and 9s out of ten across the board, which put it in a pretty good place to see a sequel. However, that sequel never came, which is odd. With a game that reviewed so well, sold decently considering it’s limited audience at the time, and even continues to get ported to mobile devices to this day, why would BioWare neglect to continue the franchise? Perhaps we won’t be able to know that just yet. But there is cause for speculation that Jade Empire might not be going too much longer without returning in some form.
Early in 2019 it was revealed that EA had applied for a new trademark on Jade Empire back in January 2019. This is the type of thing that could mean everything you think it does, or it could mean nothing at all. Many times, trademarks are filed for preventative reasons, as in, preventing somebody else from taking the name, despite having no real plans for doing much with it yourself.
It could also be just a ploy to generate some headlines on gaming news websites, which it did, and gauge interest online and through social media. These are techniques that big publishers like EA, who now of course owns BioWare, are no stranger to. But of course, it could still very well mean that a Jade Empire 2 or a remake or remaster of the original game is on the way in one form or another.
If this is the case, and BioWare is actively working on a sequel to the original Jade Empire, then we could be in for something rather special as the team has expressed interest in continuing the franchise many times over the years.
"Not too long after that, a former BioWare developer who was likely looking for his next chapter in his career had explicitly listed Jade Empire 2 on his resumé."
All the way back in 2007, BioWare did publically mention that the Jade Empire intellectual property was part of the acquisition by Electronic Arts. Not that this should come as a surprise, as EA tends to gobble everything up when to do one of those, but still the mere mention of that fact is something worth noting. A few years later in 2010, BioWare noted in an interview in the official Xbox 360 magazine that fans should not “count out the studio revisiting this franchise in the not-too-distant future…” and although the developer would not confirm or deny that a Jade Empire sequel was in the works in any capacity, he did go out of his way to opine that Jade Empire was certainly a long-running staff favorite.
They talk about it a lot and, eventually, they would love to revisit that world at some point. Whether he meant as a sequel, a remake, or some sort of spin-off was unclear at the time, but again, that was an assessment that didn’t need to be mentioned at all, and since it was, that says something.
Not too long after that, a former BioWare developer who was likely looking for his next chapter in his career had explicitly listed Jade Empire 2 on his resumé, this of course seemed to indicate that some work had been underway at one point in time while he was working with BioWare. Unfortunately this led to no comment from BioWare, which can definitely be interpreted in many different ways. Perhaps, as Kotaku surmised, this was just a concept piece, or something else of similarly small significance. Or, as they would not quite say, it could have been something much larger. Later in 2011, BioWare’s co-founder went on record with Eurogamer saying that Jade Empire is an IP and a setting that they were and are still passionate about. Adding “Both Greg and I were big believers in the IP… We’re just looking for the right way to deploy it.“.
This was perhaps the most illuminating remark from BioWare yet, as it puts Jade Empire 2 outside of the realm of if, and firmly into the realm of when. However, that was nearly a decade ago, and lots of turnover at all levels of BioWare have occured since then, as well as a cultural shift that seems to favor science fiction games like Mass Effect and Anthem, which are very much at odds with something like Jade Empire. Fast forward to March of 2015, this very topic surfaced where BioWare Edmonton and Montreal general manager Aaryn Flynn directly responded to lingering questions about the elusive sequel, saying that BioWare’s “plate is awfully full right now, but the idea to go back to the universe does come up pretty regularly. […] Mark [Darrah] and I spent a solid two hours in my office talking about it not long ago…“. Which sounds less sure than what we got back in 2011, but still indicates a general interest in the IP.
As many of us now know, Aaron Flynn has since left BioWare. As a nice little bow to wrap all of these moments up, In late 2016, a BioWare-focused article from GameInformer made some some news on the topic by mentioning the Jade Empire franchise and does say that although a small team had experimented with possibilities for a sequel, BioWare eventually decided to focus its efforts on other projects.
"It does seem that with BioWare being in the spot that they are, where their last two major releases haven’t exactly lived up to expectations, perhaps a big shift in direction is just what the doctor ordered to inject themselves with a new surge of energy and start to turn the page just in time for the new decade."
This effort from a small team could have very well been what the former BioWare developer was referring to on his resume back in 2011. So it seems like a Jade Empire sequel is something that might have gone through quite a lot in the last decade, with starts and stops that were responses to various happenings in the gaming market and what BioWare has determined their best course of action to be.
It does seem that with BioWare being in the spot that they are, where their last two major releases haven’t exactly lived up to expectations, perhaps a big shift in direction is just what the doctor ordered to inject themselves with a new surge of energy and start to turn the page just in time for the new decade. It’s tough to say at this point, but with the Jade Empire trademark being suspended as of April of last year, I wouldn’t suggest anybody start holding their breath for anything major for this game just yet.
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