Review by emagius
"The only cRPG of note in the last decade and a half"
Over the course of the last ten years, I've bought just about every PC RPG that's had any recommendations behind it whatsoever -- from Diablo to Baldur's Gate to Planescape: Torment to Morrowind to Baldur's Gate II to Diablo II to Neverwinter Nights, the list goes on and on. And yet not *one* of these games was capable of grabbing my interest. Like a gambler throwing it all away I knew that my luck was going to change sometime. When I picked up Knights of the Old Republic, it did.
I didn't have high expectations going in. After all, the game was based on the Neverwinter Nights engine and that game was a snorefest. Likewise, I had no existing affection for the Star Wars movies, books, or other games -- I've never even watched all three movies in more than bits and pieces, and all out of sequence. The box didn't exactly promise much, either.
But once I began playing, I was absolutely blown away by this game. Well, not perhaps not at the very beginning, but within the first few hours, most certainly. The game grew on me as no game has in the twenty-plus years I've been an avid gamer -- I was playing KotOR upwards of eight hours a day. The storyline wasn't astonishingly deep, but it was personal and relevant in the way that Baldur Gate II's detached plot could never hope to be. I cared about these characters; they weren't just little sprites (or polygonal models, in this case) on a screen. The characters reacted to what happened around them, and there were clear consequences for your choices (unlike Morrowind, where everyone says exactly the same thing and doesn't care if assassins attack in their house).
The developers had a clear concept in mind and it shows, despite the occasional bugs (which are nowhere near as problematic as Morrowind's). The NPC AI is decent, the characters more than one-dimensional, the storyline engaging, the battle-system (based on the D&D 3e [d20] system, albeit simplified) somewhat strategic, and the overall experience very enjoyable. When I reached the end of the game for the first time, 35 hours in, I only regretted that the game was so *short* -- and yet I've never had so many quality hours with a computer/console RPG before.
Are there problems with the game? Of course. It's extremely difficult to get your party to flee from combat -- since you only have absolute control over one character at a time, the rest of your party attacks every enemy they see, and if you switch to controlling another character, your first character will rush to join combat. Your only real hope is to find another enemy to lock on to and manually move each party member way over there. Normally, fleeing combat isn't required, as battles are pretty easy, even on the hard difficulty setting (since Jedi abilities are quite powerful), but in the last area, enemies spawn from thin air, wearing away at the party.
A similar problem is tracking -- quite often a party member will get stuck behind a crate or wall and you'll have to manually switch over and direct her around it. Likewise, there's at least one item container in the game that's nearly impossible to open, as your character has to be standing in exactly the right spot or she will continually run around in circles.
You'd also be wise to save regularly. The game has massive memory leaks such that after a couple hours of play, it starts using up over a gig of memory and will eventually crash. I've also noted that every time I win the first swoop race, if the resolution is set to 800x600 the game will lock up in the following cutscene -- this only happens with this cutscene (the others work fine at that resolution). I have an Athlon 64 3000+ and a Radeon 9600 and the game runs nicely at both 800x600 and 1024x768 in most locations, but walking around on Dantooine is painful in terms of frame rate, whether I have special effects on or off. Apart from that, the game looks and sounds great.
In terms of storyline, I do wish the choices at the end were a bit more open -- I understand that the developers didn't have the time to make an oodle of endings just to satisfy every gamer, but there are only two paths you can take and once you start down one you can't make the smallest of changes.
All in all, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the best electronic RPG since the Gold Box games of the late 80s, but a game that is also accessable to a new generation of players. Kudos to the Bioware team for a fantastic product.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 05/29/04
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