Strategy First recently released a new RPG onto the scene with a distinctly Chinese flavour courtesy of Object Software. Going by the title of Prince of Qin, gamers are thrust back in time to the last few years of the Qin Dynasty. The Qin Dynasty was rife with conflict and atrocities and the main character which you play, Prince Fu Su, opposed his father who was the first Emperor of the Qin Empire. The Emperor was a particularly nasty chap ordering the murder of 400 Confucian Scholars and The Burning of the Books. Prince Fu Su saw fit to stand up against his father and incur his wrath, and although popular amongst the people, he received a false edict demanding his suicide. In real life history the Prince actually did kill himself by order of the false edict but in this game you survive and try to hunt down the source of this false demand. No doubt about it, Object have really done their homework with this game, the characters, the locations and the game’s weapons and theology. If you’re a fan of this era in world history it’s an interesting insight into the way things were. Without going into a huge history lesson, I’m sure you all want to know what the game is actually like so let’s press on.Prince of Qin is an action RPG along the lines of Diablo or the more recent Dungeon Siege. Like these games you will have to develop your character’s skill and abilities utilising the game’s leveling system allowing you to up your character’s attributes by a*igning more points which will also give you access to more advanced skills.Henchmen have become an integral part of the more recent RPGs and if you’re wandering around huge locations riddled with beasties you need a trusty partner or two to lend a hand. As you travel through the game’s many locations new member will join your quests to fight by your side. Like Fu Su, your henchmen will also level up increasing their abilities so you know when to a*ign skill points easily as this occurs at the same time. Selecting your other characters is done via hotkeys or you can grab them all by using the ALT key. Your henchmen do have a tendency to get right in there and fight so keeping a tab on them during combat is not that easy, they tend to wander off which means you need to watch their health bar on the right of the screen like a hawk. There are five character classes Musclemen, Witches, Paladins, a*assins and Wizards and each has their own unique abilities adding variety to your party.The game features a variety of weapons all from the Qin period of Chinese history. Like most action RPGs you can pick up weapons from various merchants dotted around the cities but you also have the ability to Forge items using a combination of elements such as amber or bone for example. Forge is a skill but you get that pretty early on once you’ve started leveling up your character. You naturally can’t use every weapon you come across that’s ether being sold or dropped by an enemy, you need to make sure your character’s skill levels are high enough to wield the better items. Wepaons are also seperated into the five elements, (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth with each element have a counter such as fire and water.Although there’s a decent back story behind Prince of Qin you pretty much know what to expect as soon as the game starts as far as missions are concerned. They usually involve taking something somewhere to complete the quest. As you talk to more characters in the world more quests appear and you also increase your character’s wisdom. If you like RPGs that are just all out action then PoQ may not be to your liking. There’s quite a bit of dialogue which is presented at the bottom of the interface and you can choose which responses to answer the NPC characters with. Like good old adventure games, not every answer is the correct response so you may need to try again to get the right answer. Personally I think this system gets in the way of the game play and slows things down, after all this is an action/RPG.Graphically PoQ is really pretty average. The game’s 2D engine does an adequate job but the game tends to look washed out and uninspiring. At higher resolutions the characters are small which means combat is not the easiest to execute, even if they are quite nicely detailed. Object have added a zoom function on the mouse wheel, which although a nice idea for combat, makes the game look terribly pixilated and fuzzy. Overall the graphics are not really up to today’s high standards but they do an adequate job.The character animation is also a little ropey in places, particularly in combat. There’s no real power behind hits, they just sort of have a pathetic looking jab at the enemies. Likewise the magic effects don’t really make you go ‘wow! Look at that!’ . A prime example of dodgy animation is when you’re out exploring the wilderness and a bunch of tigers or white wolves decide you’d make a rather good lunch. The tigers and wolves sort of run out to you and do some sort of weird jumping thing which looks not very terrifying in the slightest.As you move around the game’s ‘fog’ reveals new areas and each character has a sight radius. The game also features maps, one for the local area you are in and also a world map. As each ‘level’ of PoQ is a certain size you can open up the local map and look around at the areas you’ve explored. This was really handy, PoQ can get confusing, especially with all the different names for each area. PoQ is a fairly large game so doing it all on foot is not the quickest. You can hire horses and get them to take you to an area by selecting it on the map and the game will them load up that section of the world.The game’s interface is pretty complex. Windows slide in and out from the left and right of the screen to show the character stats, inventory and abilities. When you have more than one character in your party it can get confusing. You can switch between the characters using the number keys, each number corresponding to a character in the party but it’s still not the easiest interface to navigate, especially if you’re trying to swap items or grab something out your backpack quickly. Having said that, you can a*ign skills to short cut keys and Object have opted for a QWERTY combination which seemed a little alien to start with. Like most of today’s Action/RPGs there are handy keys to help make things easier. Dropped items or items that appear from chests or other objects can be brought up on a slide-out bar on the left of the screen and when clicked your character will dash over and retrieve the object. This system was one of the easiest to use in any Action/RPG as it allowed you to browse the items and select which ones to take instead of grabbing everything. This was also handy because the camera view doesn’t follow the character and you have the freedom to look around, even if it is covered by the fog.The game’s sound, like the graphics, was very average. The voice acting was not too bad but tended to grate after a while and the combat sounds were practicality non-existent which made battles seem rather dull. The music is Chinese themed as you expect and is actually pretty good, setting the right ambience for the game. As you go into combat the music changes to more tense action music but for some reason it would suddenly changed to the combat music even though you weren’t being attacked.As far as action RPGs go Prince of Qin has a good stab at the genre but falls short on a few counts. The idea and story behind the game is particularly appealing and even educational but it’s let down by an over complex interface, uninspiring graphics and character AI that just didn’t quite do it for me. If action/RPGs are your passion then this is worth a look but overall it’s really quite an average game play experience.