Review by StopSign

"Over all, a fine game."

Over all, a fine game. Perhaps the best CRPG of the year for the PC (not that that's saying much). Lots of interesting character development and backstory. More Star Wars than you'll get from the new movies. The graphics and level layout reflect their ancestry in the Neverwinter Nights engine, however, and the controls strongly reflect that the game is ported from X-Box.

Game Description

You play a character serving as part of an important Jedi's entourage. You are thrown into action when your ship is assailed by the evil Sith forces. First you're to escape your ship. After that, you are to shape the destiny of the galaxy.

Story

The strongest aspect of this game. The story is deep and strong in the force. Characters are fully fleshed out and many familiar locales are visited. The plot is surprisingly non-linear with lots of sidequests. The decisions made by your character have a definite impact on how the game ends. Your companions have involved stories of their own as well. Each character has many side-quests involved with them. My one major complaint with this is that it's not always made obvious as to where or when a particular character's sidequest is to be triggered. Therefore completists might have trouble getting all the quests completed. Yes, there are romances in this game.

The main plot arc is well-written and is seeped in detail.

Character Development

Characters are based on the D20 system derived from those D&D games. Stats are divided into attributes, skills, feats and force powers. Attributes are stats like strength, dexterity, etc. Classic 3ed AD&D stuff. Skills pertain to non-combat activities like hacking coputers or talking to people. Feats are special traits that either augment skills or combat abilities. And Force Powers are like magic spells. Character development is fun, varied and easy in this game. D20 game enthusiasts should note that skill point advancement is cut in half from what it is in the D20 rulebook. For example, a scoundrel (aka rogue in fantasy land) ought to get 8 + INT modifier skill points per level, but actually gets (8 + INT modifier per level)/2. This is because of the limited skill set in the game, I presume, but it isn't documented anywhere. Yes, you're going to be doing a lot of cutting in the game, so you have to build characters according to your preferred methods of mayhem. But KotOR allows you to kill enemies in many varied ways, so it's all good.

Story development of the characters is pretty cool too. Your character's progression on the light/dark path is determined by what you say and do. This has an impact on your appearance, the way other PCs react to you, your force powers and ypur stats. Also, certain choices you make affect the plot. It's too bad most other PCs can't be so influenced.

Interface

The interface for the game is pretty clunky. Movement is managed by a non-standard implementation of the classic FPS movement scheme. You can't strafe in the game, but W moves forward, S moves backward, A and D look left and right respectively. Key remapping can be done, but for some reason, you can't map controls to the arrow keys. If you're left handed, you'll have to use the num pad. The mouse operates a cursor. You can use the mouse to look around by holding the right mouse button down. You cannot otherwise move with the mouse. You activate free-look by pressing Caps lock. To activate objects and select enemies, you single click on them. To use inventory items, you have to double click on them or select them and then select ''Use'' from the menu. In all, this reflects the X-Box control scheme.

Also reflecting the game's console origins is the fact that most every action you can perform in the game is menu-driven. In combat, a menu is used to select what action you want to perform on yourself or what action you want to perform on a given enemy. Actions performed on your self include taking stims, using friendly force powers, and laying mines. Actions taken on enemies include using various attacks on enemies, throwing grenades (yes, there is friendly fire in the game) and using hostile force powers. In addition, you can take stims or medpaks as a free action in the game through the inventory.

There are a couple of problems with this system. The first problem is that you select your actions by scrolling through selection menus. These menus can get very tedious to scroll through. Main problem is that items are only sorted in the order that you pick them up. This gets tedious very quickly as you scroll through scads of stims while looking for antidote packages. Second problem is that there is no way to bind a hotkey to an action whatsoever. This means that every action you must take, you have to select from a menu. This gets tedious when you get to the later part of the game and start using lots of varied force powers. Also, the medpaks as a free action concept from the inventory is a little inconsistent. And you have to scroll through literally tons of items to find the items you want.

Actions in combat are queued up to be played out in turn based combat. You're allowed one type of action per round. You can queue up to six actions for each character in combat. Queueing is one of the coolest innovations in turn-based combat games that I've ever seen. It's essentially real-time scripting on the fly. It's also easy to alter a queue, although removing actions from the queue is a little counterintuitive.

Inventory management is very rough. The items you pick up are roughly divided into categories -- weapons, armour, etc., but there's no sorting within these categories. This gets really rough with the class of ''Quest items'' Often, important information is recorded in these items. This becomes annoying when you're looking through your thirteen datapads, looking for a lock combination. One of the disadvantages of pool-based management, I suppose. Also, since all inventory is pooled together, it makes the STR attribute that much less useful. Just a heads up to you pack rats out there.

Gameplay

Aside from interface issues, the game is pretty fast flowing. Combat is fast and demands some good strategies. There's a strong prefernce for melee weapons in the game over range, which is pretty strange in such a tech-soaked universe. Force powers are fun to use and, for the most part, combat is great fun. Bioware does have a few annoying scripting issues to iron out.

First, character development is level based. That is, you advance plot-driven character development based on your main character's level. After your main character gains a level, a little timer goes off before you're treated to the mug of a pensive NPC and a little message saying ''XXX look concerned. Maybe you should talk to him/her.'' It's a little disruptive and artificial. Especially if you're scoping out a bunch of troopers.

Second, there is a tendency for characters to get into trouble. They'll run through detect mine blast zones. They'll run up to droids with big-assed carbonite projectors. That sort of thing. They really could have given the characters not under the players control a little more sense.

Third, there's a tendency to script in super-powerful bosses. I mean, there are several times when you'll be slapping some boss around like nobody's business and then he'll suddenly pop up with this super power that will paralyze your sentinel character, who has a will save modifier of 28 and immunity to paralysis. Lame.

Graphics

The game is based on the NWN engine and it shows. The game is quite pretty for such low polygon counts, but the levels are suspiciously, um, ''flat''. Rows of stones serve as impassable barriers and that force jump power often gets you into lots of trouble by breaking out of bounds. There are no bridges in this game. Character movement is fluid and natural unlike, say, Morrowind. Some worlds look a LOT better than others.

Sound

The sound in the game is pretty good. All your familiar Star Wars sounds are there, from the sounds of blaster fire, to the hum of light sabres to the satisfying crunching explosion of thermal detonators. The music is alright. It could have been better, but it's Star Wars. EAX sound effects are currently bugged and can reduce your game speed in echoey corridors to a crawl.

The voice acting is really strong in this game, however. The main character doesn't talk very much, but this is made up for by characters like Jolee and HK-47. Bioware's come a long way since the days of Anomen (*urk*)

Conclusion

I heartily recommend this game. In spite of the caveats I mentioned before, I really enjoyed playing it. It's a chore to keep all your characters under control, but for the most part, any problems I had were minor. If you use EAX, I might recommend waiting for a patch. Play time is about 30 hours and replay value is high, as there are 3 main classes and 2 sides to the force, so you'll be getting your money's worth with this game.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/05/03


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