Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
BioWare and LucasArts bring you one of the most anticipated Star Wars games ever. We collect our thoughts and write them down, in our full review!
By Tony Scinta
BioWare and Star Wars is the best pairing since Pamela Anderson and the string bikini. On the one hand, you have BioWare, the proverbial Yoda of RPG developers. On the other, you have Star Wars, the movie license of the gods. Their lovechild, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, is - in the parlance of Kikizo Games - a "digigasm."
"The dark side powers tend to be sexier than their light side counterparts, but not necessarily more important."
Light or dark, the choice is yours. The decisions you make will not dramatically alter the course of events - the game is fairly linear - but they will affect the gameplay experience and ultimately the final outcome (there are separate endings for the light and dark sides of the Force).
KOTOR brims with situations that force your character to choose a light, dark, or neutral path. For example, you might see a Rodan merchant getting strong-armed by a pair of Sith apprentices, which leads to several possible actions.
You can decide to intervene on his behalf (light side) or let the Sith run their racket (dark side). If you intervene, perhaps by striking down the Sith or persuading them to desist, you might be confronted with yet another choice. Take the merchant's money for yourself, accept a small reward, or let him go with only his appreciation as compensation? Only the latter option is truly consistent with the ideals of a noble Jedi, but the choice is yours.
These choices then mold the moral constitution of your character. Players who habitually derogate their team members and refuse to spare lives will become the spiritual forefather of Emperor Palpatine, whereas those who exercise compassion and restraint will develop a sticky-sweet aura of Jedi goodness.
Generally, the game allocates light side and dark side points based on your actions, but not all decisions will lead to points. Of course, the constitution of your character is more than cosmetic. Light side Jedi can wield light side Force powers with greater facility and less consumption of Force energy, whereas as the opposite is true of dark Jedi and the dark side powers.
Each Force power features different levels of proficiency. For example, the first level of the defense-boosting power grants a +2 to your overall defense, the next level a +4, and the final level a +6.
"Combat involves a strategic mix of Force powers, blaster shooting, and time-tested lightsaber dueling."
In addition to the 10 light and dark side powers, there are several "core" Force powers. Among them is the Force push, a speed-enhancing power, and a mind-affecting power (a.k.a., Jedi mind tricks).
The character creation system in KOTOR involves either a quick creation option, in which players are handed a ready-made character, or a custom creation option, in which players can exercise complete control over their character's skills and attributes.
The custom creation option allows players to choose from three general character classes (scoundrel, scout, and soldier), each with its own strengths and weaknesses, which can then be enhanced with a limited number of attribute points (e.g., strength, wisdom, dexterity). Players also can customize their character's facial appearance, but unfortunately "Princess Leia in Jabba Bondage Gear" was not selectable.
The action in KOTOR takes place from a third person perspective. Combat involves a strategic mix of Force powers, blaster shooting, and time-tested lightsaber dueling. The game uses a variation of the 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons rules for combat. If this means something to you, outstanding, if it doesn't, this is hardly the place for a thorough explanation.
In laymen's terms, the battle system is a combination of real-time and turn-based combat. Players can enter commands on the fly - lightsaber flurry, force choke, heal - or pause the action and register up to 8 commands to be carried out in sequence.
This may sound only slightly more exciting than Bingo night at the old folks home, but it actually works remarkably well. Planning your attack - mixing a dash of Force power with a heavy dose of lightsaber abuse - is quite engaging and far more rewarding than the stilted real-time combat of a game like Morrowind or the listless turn-based drudgery of the Final Fantasy series.
"The only place KOTOR truly falters is in the graphics department."
Originally, we were concerned because the game takes place 4000 years before the original trilogy. Would we even recognize the Star Wars elements? Would KOTOR be a generic space RPG in the creative vein of Battlefield Earth?
But those concerns were ill-founded. KOTOR features Jedi, Sith, lightsabers, light speed, Wookies, and nearly every other cherished element of the immortal Star Wars universe. Add in a solid story with clever plot twists and dozens of engaging side quests, and you might as well superglue your hands to the controller, because they're not going anywhere else.
The only place KOTOR truly falters is in the graphics department. Technically, the game is a feat of Death Star proportions. Bump-mapped textures, reflective surfaces and superb lighting - including the most dazzling sun we've ever seen - are a nice showcase for the Xbox hardware.
"Even the alien dialogue is delivered in the native tongue - the authenticity really immerses you in the Star Wars universe."
The main shortcoming is the anti-aliasing. There isn't any. KOTOR has more rough edges than Natalie Portman's performance in Episode II. And the jaggies really hurt the game's appearance, despite the quality textures, high polygon counts, and assorted special effects. It's like a beautiful crimson Ferrari that got dragged through a firepit and showered with cat droppings. You still know it's a Ferrari, but the physical allure is almost gone.
Nonetheless, KOTOR still manages to be breathtaking at times. Several outdoor environments that truly look astounding. There is some slowdown, particularly when the action heats up, but it never really detracts from the experience.
As you might expect from a Star Wars game, the sound is magnificent. The rousing John Williams score is used sparingly, but KOTOR's original music fits the mood and stands up reasonably well to the classic Star Wars themes.
All of the sound effects are pitch-perfect replicas of the originals, from the growl of a wookie to the crackle and hum of a lightsaber. The dialogue is one of KOTOR's hallmarks. Over 10,000 unique lines of dialogue were recorded, and not one of them was voice-acted any worse than the best lines in most other games.
Even the alien dialogue is delivered in the native tongue. Some of the alien dialect is re-used, but the authenticity still contributes to the illusion that you really are a part of the Star Wars universe.
"The world has needed a Star Wars RPG. In a sense, it was worth the wait, because KOTOR is a masterpiece."
In a sense, it was worth the wait, because KOTOR is a masterpiece. It is a flawed masterpiece, but a game can afford a few flaws when it has Jedi knights, Force powers, Wookie sidekicks, and a borderline insane "interpreter" droid. BioWare's hard work must be rewarded. Buy this game now.