Star Wars: KOTOR II: The Sith Lords
The sequel to one of the greatest RPGs on Xbox has hit the shelves. How does it stack up to the original? Use the force, or just read our review.
Star Wars: what can be said about the franchise that revolutionized and popularised the science fiction genre? There have been plenty of Star Wars games, action figures, and other variants of memorabilia thrown at the public throughout the years, some good and some bad. When Knights of the Old Republic was released in 2003 it came with all of the accolades that are expected from a Star Wars RPG.
But when LucasArts announced earlier in 2004 that a sequel was planned and that it wouldn't be handled RPG master developer BioWare, the shudder could be heard through computer screens. Obsidian Entertainment comes in with big shoes to fill as KOTOR won numerous Game of the Year awards - but thankfully gamers can rest easy; Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords has succeeded in almost every way.
If there remains a Star Wars fan who has not played through all 50+ hours of the first game in the series then, well, first they should be shot, but most of all they needn't fret - Sith Lords brings you up to speed on the events of the first game, but more importantly, lets you know what has happened in the five years since. The Sith have dispersed through the galaxy and have begun exterminating what is left of the "Old Republic".
You play as the savior of the Jedi who must reconnect with your powerful force abilities or you may choose to turn to the dark side and help bring down what little remains of the once powerful Jedi order. Considering the fact that five years have passed the cast of characters have been completely reworked - and a completely original story is being told.
Ironically, the key downfall to be levelled at KOTOR2 is its likeness to the original. While the story and characters are different, the interface, fighting system, force powers, and mini-games have all remained largely unchanged - so if you didn't like the first game then you may as well stay away from this one as well. The game still centers on standard themes of other games in the genre. Worlds are populated with numerous NPCs (non-playable characters), all of which can be interacted with in one way or another. Dialogue is handled through lines that are read by cert talented voice actors and directed through a series of menus.
As in the first game, the things you choose to say have a serious bearing on what side of the force you'll wind up at. Character customization is similar to that of KOTOR, except that a larger number of player models have been added, to appeal to those who wanted more then three male and female models. Progressing through the game, you'll be asked to select one of three Jedi classes, either Guardian, Consular, or Sentinel. More customization of force powers and feats is given as experience points for different tasks are allotted. The battle system has also been left relatively unchanged. Battling enemies is done through a semi-realtime fighting system, incorporating traditional turns-based elements. You select up to three attacks to be queued in the on-screen HUD - be it a force power, blaster shot, or lightsaber swing.
While there aren't many new gameplay features on offer, Obsidian has added a few - and thankfully all of them are great additions. The biggest of the additions is a kind of politics between you and your party. In KOTOR2 your actions are judged very heavily by your party. In the original, the members of your group would follow right off of a bridge if you jumped, but here your relationships seem much more fragile. If you perform actions that characters don't like then they'll let you know about it - and occasionally disown you completely. This feature adds a very nice layer of realism to a completely fantastical game.
The next addition involves different forms of wielding your lightsaber. Just as martial arts masters have different forms of laying waste to an opponent, so too do Jedi. There are eleven forms of ass kicking, and your character is capable of learning up to seven, so you must choose with care. Some forms allow you to combat multiple enemies with more success while others may focus on head to head combat. There's also the obligatory addition of more force powers, and feats which round out at roughly sixty or so.
The additions are all welcome but there just aren't enough to make Sith Lords feel like it's original; it feels like it relies too heavily on the original. But the gameplay still has a very nice flow to it, presenting quests and action in a very effective RPG mixture. Sith Lords still makes excellent use of the Star Wars license with the use of familiar planets and species.
Graphically, the enjoyment I got from the game dipped somewhat. Obsidian has left the engine virtually unchanged from the first game. There are a few additions - such as new weather and character animations - but the game only looks as good as KOTOR, which is slightly less impressive than when it debuted in 2003. Astonishingly, the very same pitfalls of the first still plague Sith Lords. Load times are still a bit of a nuisance and framerate issues still run amuck in this sequel. The game's looks won't turn many heads, but it's not ugly either.
The audio portion of the game is what a Star Wars game should be - amazing. The voice acting is so tight, I think I prefer it over some of those hysterically, poorly acted one-liners in the original Star Wars films. The dialogue conveys emotion well, and even helps to dig the game out of a couple of slow-moving plot spots. The musical score and sound effects are chillingly, resoundingly, classic Star Wars.
Ultimately it's a Star Wars RPG, and it's a great one at that. Obsidian has handed in very admirable effort. Some may complain that the game has a way too familiar feeling to it, but it still comes together wonderfully. It would have been nice if the developers had taken a few liberties with the series, or thrown a few curveballs our way - but as it stands we've still got one hell of game here.
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KOTOR2: The Sith Lords
Direct feed trailer (640x480, 1Mbps)
KOTOR II: The Sith Lords
Direct feed gameplay montage footage (640x480, 1.3Mbps)