Review by Relle

"Overhyped to be sure, but a decent game in the end"

Knights of the Old Republic is yet another Xbox game I waited on to get the PC version. Why? Because I get a *cough* 'discount' *cough* But anyway, KOTOR is something of an oddity: Dungeons and Dragons meets Star Wars meets Shinobi...sorta. It meshes together fairly well, but it's not without its flaws.

Graphics

I have a Geforce 2. Pity me. I do have more to say, thankfully. This game is one hell of a resource hog. Most recent games I can get away with medium-quality graphics and 1024x768 resolution. KOTOR, on the other hand, forces me into low-quality graphics, which makes everything look quite jagged. The draw distance is decent, even with my lousy graphics card, but there's a lot of popup with NPC and enemy models. I can't help but think it'd be a lot more enjoyable to look at if I could afford a new computer...

As of 1-15-04, I now have a new Geforce FX 5600, so I can give a more accurate assessment of the graphics. On the highest detail level with 4x AA and AF, it looks damn good. Going up to 8x on both hurts the framerate a lot on my system, but 4x is smooth as silk...except in areas with fog or when a mine explodes, then everything freezes for a few seconds while the game catches up. I have a feeling it's my CPU and RAM...I need more...

Sound

At first I didn't submit a review for this game due to the sound bug that literally crippled gameplay. Well, LucasArts finally released the patch today, so I've finally got a hook on how this game sounds. It's...well done. The music is great, even with my crappy speakers, and the voice acting is damn good. I have yet to hear a grating or squeaky voice, and all the various aliens speak their native language...well, I'm betting the sound guys just told the voice actors to make a bunch of noises, but still...

Gameplay

The story goes as thus: 4000 years before the original Star Wars trilogy, Revan and Malik, two powerful Jedi, go off to the corners of the galaxy, and come back as Sith, with an invincible army at their backs. Bastila and her Battle Meditation (sort of a Jedi-powered morale booster) are the only things standing between the Republic and total destruction. You're roused out of bed on the same ship as Bastila, which is currently under attack. As far as the plotline as a whole is concerned, it's not bad. Not fantastic, but compared to the last two Star Wars movies, it's gold.

You start out by picking a name, gender and class. Your gender affects relatively little in the game, mostly how your responses to certain individuals play out (for example, as a male, people might be more aggressive or fearful of you, and if you're female, you might be able to use your feminine wiles to seduce people). You can only choose to be a human, so those of you who wanted to be a female Twi'lek Jedi dancer, forget it. Your class, on the other hand, affects quite a bit. Soldiers are the standard offensive type. They start out able to use all weapons and armor, but are stymied in terms of feats and skills. More on that later. Scoundrels are the thieves of the game. They focus more on stealth and round-about ways of getting through the game rather than straight-up combat. Scouts are the in-betweens, the jack-of-all-trades. They get plenty of points to dump into skills, but they don't excel at either combat or stealth.

So here's how it works: you use the left mouse button to run around and the keyboard to move the viewpoint and select commands. You can change the controls so that moving the mouse moves the camera (which stays centered behind you) and holding the right mouse button lets you select objects or important things like doors or people. It's all explained in a nice little tutorial right at the start of the game, so you'll be off and running in no time.

Combat takes place in a psuedo-realtime environment. As soon as you spot an enemy, the game will pause. You'll then have the option to select an attack, force power, or grenade/mine, as well as who to attack. Battles play out in real time, and the animations you and the enemies use are pretty gnarly. You can select attacks on-the-fly, and selecting more than one attack puts it in a 'queue,' whereby when your first attack finishes, the next one in the queue will activate. This allows you to plan your moves ahead, but as always, you can't plan for everything. Fortunately, you can pause the game at any time during a battle with the spacebar, and even save in the middle of a fight. Your main weapons are swords (yes, swords) blasters, and lightsabers. There are variations among these, but they all fall into one of the three above-mentioned categories.

Feats and skills make up the bulk of your abilities in this game. In the beginning you can customize your base stats, and it's best to plan ahead, because you get very few opportunities to improve your base stats. Fortunately, you can acquire some stat-increasing items along the way. Skills range from Persuasion (take a guess what it's for) Security, which is basically lockpicking, Repair and Treat Injury, which control how well you heal droids and organics, respectively. There's also a skill to give you expertise at disarming or recovering mines, or hacking into computers and reprogramming droids at your will. Almost none of these will help you terribly much with the exception of Persuasion and Treat Injury, to tell the truth. Your allies come with their own skills, so whatever shortcomings you may have, they'll make up.

Feats, on the other hand, are some sort of newfangled D&D thing I must've missed. They're a collection of various powers or abilities that you can learn upon leveling up. Some will let you use heavier armor, while others increase your weapon proficiency or give you extra HP, or give you powerful new attacks. Planning ahead here is important too, because you only get a limited amount of feats presented to you upon leveling up.

Naturally, this being a Star Wars game, you can and will become a Jedi during the course of the game. Actually becoming a Jedi is a no-brainer. Your hardest test is one that actually requires reading a book on what it means to be a Jedi. Naturally, with Jedi-dom, there comes a choice: remain on the light, or surrender to the dark side? Throughout the game, actions you perform, from helping a person out by paying their debts to a crime lord, to slaughtering everyone in your path, will give you light side or dark side 'points.' The more light or dark points you have govern which Jedi powers you'll be able to use, and the powers you do use are affected by your alignment.

This game's pretty damn deep. I haven't even scratched the surface of what awaits in KOTOR. I didn't even mention the many sidequests, the interaction with your characters, and the fact that you can actually play attorney in a murder trial. Needless to say, there's plenty there to hold your attention, and lots to while away the hours. It isn't an exaggeration to say this is one of the best Star Wars games to come out in recent years. I do have a few minor complaints, among them the fact that you're slow as hell, even when running. In large areas like Tatooine's desert or Dantooine's grasslands (among others) it takes a long while to get anywhere important, with little to do in between. It's very reminiscent of Freelancer, though it's not so bad as that.

Replay Value

Ideally you could play it 12 times, twice for each character class (once per gender) and once-through on both light and dark sides. However, the game doesn't change dramatically whether you choose a male or female character, and the only changes that happen with the different classes are how you approach battles. So...twice through, and you're good (unless you want to play more, in which case, more power to you).


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/09/03, Updated 01/18/04


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