Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
As geeky as it sounds, the Star Wars movies have impacted my life greatly. I spent countless hours as a child watching the original trilogy and countless more as a young teen reading the books. When the prequels came out my childhood memories were tainted and I stopped enjoying Star Wars as much as I used to. I would have never imagined that one game could single-handedly revitalize my interest in Star Wars and enthrall me like the original trilogy once did. Biowareís Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (henceforth KOTOR) is not only the best Star Wars game ever made, but itís also one of the finest RPGs around for a variety of different reasons.
One of the best parts of the game is the multilayered storyline. As the legendary opening text scrolls through space, we learn that KOTOR takes place 4000 years before the movies. The evil Sith are on the rise, led by a powerful Sith Master who betrayed his Jedi Order to join the Dark side. The Galactic Republic and the noble Jedi Order are in trouble, but hopefully the tides of battle will change soon.
You begin by customizing a male or female character by choosing his/her appearance, class, and stats. When thatís over with, you find yourself on a Republic starship being attacked by the Sith. After you make your daring escape, you begin your quest to save the galaxy. Or if youíre more inclined to the evil Dark side, you can conquer it.
The different paths you can take are undoubtedly KOTORís strongest feature. As fans of the movies know, it can be very easy to be swayed to the Dark Side, and the game captures this perfectly. Honestly, why would you pay 2000 credits for a droid when you can simply threaten the seller and get it for free? There are plenty of sidequests that help determine whether youíre on the Light or Dark side, and all of them are entertaining, and in some cases, thought-provoking. Youíll learn this halfway through the game when the brilliant plot twist is revealed and you become conflicted on what to do next. I sure wonít spoil that twist here, so you can thank me later.
The storyline becomes even more interactive with the way you treat your party members. Every one of the nine characters has an interesting story to tell, and you can choose to listen or simply tell them to shut the hell up. If youíre on the Dark side you can even kill them. Of course, most of them will be more talkative if they admire you for taking the path of the Light side, but a few of your party members are on the Dark side themselves. This degree of storyline interaction is something sorely lacking in many RPGs nowadays.
KOTOR starts off fairly linear for the first eight or so hours, but you get more freedom when you obtain your spaceship and can travel to any of the worlds in almost any order (there are seven overall). Each planet has a fascinating backstory that makes the game hard to stop playing. For example, Manaan is a neutral planet occupied by both the Sith and the Republic, and the contempt between the two groups nearly erupts into chaos everyday. All the while, the inhabitants of the planet try to maintain a fragile order of peace. Interestingly enough, your course of action can determine how many of the events happen.
Whether youíre on the Dark side or the Light side, youíre going to end up doing lots of fighting. Judging from screenshots, the combat seems to be action-based, much like the Jedi Knight series. However, itís actually the turn-based Dungeons & Dragons based combat that is present in many other PC games. This means that your stats and an invisible 20-sided dice how much damage you dish out, your evasion rate, and so on.
While I was originally disappointed with the lack of ìactionî, I quickly began to love this form of combat. You can pause the fighting at any time to give your three party members orders. This element of strategy keeps all the battles fresh and exciting. Even by the end of the game I looked forward to taking out hordes of baddies with all the varied special attacks, force powers, and grenades. There are so many different moves and items that things never really get boring.
But if for some reason slugging it out isnít your thing, you can upgrade your skills so you can avoid a lot of the fighting. If you come across a computer terminal, you can have a character hack it and then disable droids, cause deadly explosions, and so on. If that doesnít work, a character with a high demolitions skill can plant land mines for the enemies to step on. Aside from wreaking all that havoc, you can enable stealth and become nearly invisible. The freedom to choose any tactic you want is extremely satisfying. It sure beats walking through a generic dungeon and getting into random battles.
Like many big RPGs, KOTOR features a couple minigames to spice things up. The better of the two is swoop racing. You race against the clock on a vehicle somewhat resembling the pods in Episode I. The times to beat are tough, but that makes the blazingly fast racing all the more exciting. Less exciting are the random scenes where you have to man a turret and take out fighter ships. Itís kind of fun the first time, but the more times you do it, the more boring it gets. This is the only boring portion of the game, so all in all it can easily be overlooked.
The Star Wars movies have always been known for their strong special effects, and the graphics in KOTOR are nearly as impressive. The worlds are all varied, from sweltering deserts to massive forests, and each world looks excellent, mainly due to how enormous the areas look. The bustling metropolis consists of dozens of people walking around in one area alone, with ships flying just overhead. The attention to detail makes the worlds feel real, despite the fact that there are numerous grotesque aliens hanging around.
By now youíve probably realized Iím running out of synonyms for ìgreatî and ìexcellent.î I apologize for this, but I still have the mention the excelÖI mean fantabulous sound. The sound actually manages to be better than the stunning graphics. I once thought Metal Gear Solid had the best voice acting ever, but KOTOR blows that outstanding title away in that department. Not only is the highly professional voice acting excellent, but nearly every single line of dialogue is spoken, a rarity in an RPG so big. The music and sound effects are equally incredible. A lot of it is taken directly from the movies, but all the new music and sound effects are very admirable.
So after thirty hours of ignoring my friends, my girlfriend, and some important schoolwork, I was thrilled to have finally finished Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Not because the game was finally over with, but because I spent thirty hours playing one of the finest games in years. Itís rare that I get so excited over a game, but the interactive storyline, the solid gameplay, and everything else managed to make me a firm believer that the future of Star Wars will be bright one. Bioware set you up perfectly Mr. Lucas; now donít mess up Episode III.