Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
If the Star Wars films take place “a long time ago,” then Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords takes place “an extremely long time ago.” This RPG is set thousands of years before Luke even touched a lightsaber, which allows for some freedom in the storytelling instead of being confined to the films. It’s no surprise then that the storyline is the best part of the game, even though uneven pacing and some bugs make the interplanetary journey a little bumpy.
Much like its predecessor, KOTOR II begins with a troubled spaceship. The customizable character, who I’ll just refer to as the Jedi, is the only survivor. This character is conveniently suffering from amnesia, so his (or her, if you’d like) side of the Force, dark or light, has yet to be
decided. Shall the Jedi become a liberator or a persecutor? Is he or she willing to forgo any financial rewards in order to overcome the dark side? The numerous side quests and dialogue options determine the Jedi’s affiliation, which affect how certain events unfold, who joins your crew, and of course, the ending. It’s all very compelling, but the problem is that the beginning few hours are rather dull.
“Not even a homicidal assassin droid manages to make things exciting.”
The amnesiac protagonist has been taken from his or her ship and brought to the cold, lifeless Peragus Mining Facility, floating off somewhere in space. All the miners appear to be dead after a series of suspicious droid malfunctions. The Jedi soon meets up with Kreia, whose Force affiliation is as mysterious as her ghostly eyes that she hides with a hooded cloak. Throughout the game, Kreia is one the most fascinating characters because she looms somewhere between the dark side and the light side, but it isn’t for hours later that all this becomes truly engaging. Until then, this odd group just wanders around the Peragus Mining Station, and not even a homicidal assassin droid manages to make things exciting. It all takes far too long, and the next area, the almost equally boring Telos Station presents more of the same, but at least in this area there are some entertaining decisions to be made here.
Didn’t I already save the galaxy?Fans of the first game might be confused as why to there’s a sequel. After all, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic seemed to wrap things up pretty conclusively, whether the path of the dark side or the light side was taken. This game handles that predicament fairly well, and it helps that the player can decide what happened in the last game through some choice dialogue decisions. Despite that, it still kind of takes away from the first game since all that hard work to save or destroy the galaxy has been for naught. At least some familiar faces and places from that adventure make memorable appearances.
These two large, dull areas take around six to eight hours to complete at a modest pace, but thankfully, things pick up drastically soon after this thanks to some welcome plot development. Regardless of the outcome the player chose in the previous game, the galaxy is still in trouble. The Republic is crumbling, and a new Sith threat is becoming known throughout the galaxies. As fate would have it, the main character is the answer to fixing things. Four different planets can be completed in any order, and the Jedi’s relationship with the party members begins to grow as the secrets of the Force unravels itself. The Jedi can bicker, empathize or even flirt with certain characters. Kreia’s interaction with the Jedi is just one of the many relationships that make KOTOR II addictive. The dullness of the first couple areas can almost be overlooked since the excellent writing makes the Star Wars universe even more convincing. There are some amusing droids that are more than a typical bunch of bolts, and the main character can even convert some characters to become righteous Jedi or evil Sith. In a great addition to the series, picking the right dialogue option can cause the Jedi to gain or lose influence with the party member he’s talking to. With the occasional lengthy conversation, it isn’t uncommon to both gain and lose influence at the same.
“The dullness of the first couple areas can almost be overlooked since the excellent writing makes the Star Wars universe even more convincing.”
The four different planets are all varied in aesthetics and problems that the Jedi needs to sort out, but they all one thing in common: lots of fighting needs to be done. Combat is similar to the previous game, where a party of three takes on a variety of foes in pseudo-turn based action. At first, the fights look real-time thanks to convincing animations that flashily display parrying, striking and so on, but the player can pause the game at any time and issue new orders. Damage is decided by invisible dice-rolling, which determines damage and such, much like in a table-top RPG. Healing, force powers that boost the party or hurt the enemies are just some options during combat. There are plenty of techniques that can be utilized, but there’s little reason to go all-out in the fights since they’re hardly ever challenging. Even with the difficulty level cranked to the highest setting, only a couple fights required me to use all the options available. Things are even easier when a group of Jedi with heavily modified lightsabers become available.
“Patches fix most of these problems, though it is still disheartening that such a big-budget game can feel so rushed.”
One of example of the game’s lack of difficulty comes at the end of the game during a climactic duel. The baddie was being trounced with no problems whatsoever, but then a cutscene came up and one of the characters said the enemy is too strong. It was humorous, considering my party had nearly full health and the foe was helpless, and this was on the highest difficulty setting. Perhaps one of the reasons for this disappointing ease is the revamped item modification and creation system. By utilizing the skills improved with each level up, new upgrades can be crafted, and in some cases, this can make some weapons ridiculously powerful. It’s a rewarding system, but it would be better appreciated if the combat wasn’t often so easy.
Another problem with the combat is the bugs and glitches, but this also pertains to nearly all aspects of KOTOR II. It isn’t terribly uncommon to begin a fight, only to realize one of your party members is nowhere to be seen. Instead, this character is stuck several rooms away for no particular reason. The camera angles during some of the conversations are occasionally a bit off, which can take away from some of the dramatic effect. Also, a completed quest refused to disappear from the quest log, and most strange of all, an important character, whom is an enemy of the Jedi’s, is just standing around in one area. He can’t be spoken to. He just stands there looking terribly out of place (and he is out of place, since his unresponsive appearance contradicts the narrative). These glitches are mostly amusing, although they can be more serious. There’s an entertaining mini-game called swoop racing, which is something similar to the pod racing from Star Wars: A Phantom Menace. The race can be forfeited if it looks like the best time won’t be beaten, but doing so breaks these side quests. By forfeiting, it becomes impossible to beat the top time ever again. Patches fix most of these problems, though it is still disheartening that such a big-budget game can feel so rushed.
Another spot where the game feels rushed is in the design of the different planets. For example, Nar Shaddaa is an enormous metropolis full of quests that affect the influence of the Jedi over his or her companions. While it makes sense not to have every planet as sprawling as that hive of scum and villainy like Nar Shadaa, the character influence opportunities become rarer on the other smaller planets. The pacing of the character development is also a little aggravating, because after completing Nar Shadaa first, characters didn’t have many new things to say for the rest of the game. The same dialogue options were available even after I completed other planets, and it stalled one of the most enjoyable features of KOTOR II.
While Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords has more than its fair share of problems, it still has a lot in its favor. After helping a random innocent person instead of killing him, that memorable Star Wars music begins to swell, and it’s hard not to thing think that Obi Wan Kenobi, bless his soul, would approve. The interesting decisions and the gripping characters still manage to hook their addictive claws into the player and almost make it easy forget about the game’s many shortcomings. In this case, “almost” is good enough.