Review by BloodGod65

Reviewed: 04/22/13

Something, Something, Dark Side...

Knights of the Old Republic takes place 4,000 years before the fall of the Republic. In this troubled time, the Jedi fight against the Sith, who openly wage war against the Republic in an attempt to replace it with their own brutal regime. This is virgin territory, given that this era has heretofore been unexplored by the franchise. But Bioware puts this blank canvas to good use, using it to paint their own unique vision of the Star Wars universe.

When KOTOR begins, you find yourself on a Republic battleship being bombarded by a Sith fleet.
In true RPG fashion, you can neither remember how you got there nor what your purpose is. But your amnesia quickly takes a back seat as you scramble to escape as the ship goes down. After getting away, you find yourself on the city-planet of Taris. Upon regrouping, you learn that a Jedi named Bastila was on the ship and she holds the key to defeating Lord Malak, commander of the Sith force that is conquering the galaxy..

Excellent writing is one of Bioware’s hallmarks and KOTOR is no different. Despite the trite amnesiac setup, the story is actually quite interesting. In fact, the game is one of the few that does something new with the whole amnesia thing. While I won’t spoil the details, the game has an unbelievable twist that radically changes the nature of the story.

But it’s not just that excellent mind-blowing twist that makes the story so good. Most of it comes down to good old-fashioned writing and interesting characters. Along your journey you’ll meet a fantastic cast of characters, ranging from a bloodthirsty Mandalorian mercenary, a spunky Twi’lek girl and her Wookie companion, a handful of Jedi, and one delightfully homicidal droid.

Though Knights of the Old Republic takes place in an entirely different universe than Bioware’s previous projects, it is remarkably similar to their other offerings. In many respects, it plays a lot like Baldur’s Gate and the other D&D inspired games. Many of the same underlying concepts that drove those titles are also at work here. That’s no surprise, given the pedigree of the company and the fact that the rule set is actually based on the Star Wars pen and paper RPG.

Your first task upon starting the game is to create a character. Just like those old D&D games, you’ll pick a gender and choose a class. Knights of the Old Republic offers three; soldier, scout, and scoundrel. The three roughly align with typical fantasy archetypes; the soldier gets to use heavy armor and weapons, while the scout is stealth oriented. The scoundrel is initially the closest you can come to a mage, and he excels at computer hacking, demolitions, and other associated skills.

Choosing one class over another doesn’t railroad you into a specific style of play, though it does have some significant consequences. For one, there are unique starting bonuses for each character. For instance, a soldier can wear heavy armor from the get-go. Also, each class gains skills and feats at varying rates. After you choose a class you’ll get to distribute your attribute points among strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma.

Each character also has a number of skills they can invest in. These include things like computer hacking, repairs, demolitions, stealth, persuasion, and self-healing. These abilities are used in specific, non-combat situations, usually as a means of navigating the world. For instance, hacking will allow you to open locked doors you would otherwise have to circumnavigate, or use a computer terminal to overload a computer terminal and kill anyone nearby. Feats, on the other hand, are actual combat abilities. These include weapon specializations and special abilities, such as being able to fire off a flurry of shots or give a greater chance of landing a critical hit. Depending on what class you choose during character creation, the rate at which you’ll be able to invest points in either of these areas varies.

So character creation is largely the same as in older Bioware games. The game itself has many similarities as well. You can expect to explore a large variety locales (different planets, in this case) and take on a variety of quests in each. You can recruit new companions, and enjoy numerous side activities.

Like the Baldur’s Gate games, there are plenty of side quests to keep you busy. These range from minor to the extensive, but completing them usually gives you experience and credits. There are also some diversions to dabble in, including swoop bike racing – which is a lot like drag racing on rockets – and Pazaak, a simple but challenging card game. During trips between planets, you’ll also encounter space battles that play out like shooting galleries.

Of course, you’ll be spending plenty of time fighting as you go about your quest to stop Lord Malak. You can bring two other characters into your party at any given time, and they will fight faithfully alongside you. They follow their own programming until you order them to do otherwise, which is relatively easy given that you can pause the game at any time to give orders. Your characters will shoot and slice away at their enemies, throwing in special feats whenever instructed, until the enemy is dead.

While it sounds dry on paper, combat is more exciting than it was in the isometric games of the past. Part of this is due to the third person perspective and greater graphical fidelity of the game, which just makes it more entertaining to watch. But the combat also moves faster than it did in Baldur’s Gate and its ilk.

Things really get interesting when your character becomes a Jedi. Although you’ll sacrifice some range when switching over to a lightsaber, the powers you gain more than make up for it. As a Jedi you become a walking dealer of death, a Force-wielding engine of destruction that can throw a lightsaber like a boomerang, blow enemies off their feet, destroy droids with the wave of a hand, and shoot lightning bolts from your fingertips.

Alignment factors into what powers your Jedi can use, and your leanings will come from how you resolve quests. Adhering to one side or the other will affect which powers you can use, and how much they will drain your Force reserves. But choosing to be good or bad doesn’t really affect the game all that much. Though you’ll see some slightly different conversations, in the long run things play out the same. So, by all means, feel free to indulge your sociopathic tendencies.

Since this is a Star Wars game, you should know what to expect when it comes to the audio. Plus it’s a Bioware game. All of the old themes are present, although there is brand new music that isn’t ripped straight from the movies. The sound effects are identical to their theatrical counterparts. And, true to Bioware’s reputation, the voice acting is great and the actors are cast to fit their roles perfectly.

Things aren’t quite so sunny in terms of technical presentation. The game looks good – not great, mind you, but good. Character and enemy models are decent, but the environments tend to be a little bland. Combat more than makes up for it; blasters shoot out beams of red light, thermal detonators explode in huge blooms of orange, and watching two lightsaber wielding Jedi duke it out is a feast for the eyes. When your characters are using melee weapons, they’ll swing, duck, dodge, and parry on their own. Despite being fundamentally the same, combat is much more entertaining than it ever was in Baldur’s Gate.

However, there is one persistent problem that significantly detracts from the game as a whole. Knights of the Old Republic is buggy. The whole game is plagued by freezes that pop up during conversations, cutscenes, and everywhere else you can imagine. Oftentimes the action will stop even as the audio continues in the background before it rushes to catch up with what’s going on. The game also crashes on a regular basis. Another issue has the camera freaking out during regular gameplay. It will plunge through the floor, or jump to some abnormal angle that shows nothing but a top down perspective of your character. To get past these problems, I usually had to return to the desktop and re-enter the game. It isn’t an ideal solution, especially considering that these problems seem to become more common the longer you play. Even patching the game doesn’t totally alleviate these issues.

Knights of the Old Republic is a great game, worthy of Bioware’s reputation. It isn’t without fault, but no matter how often the game crashed on me, I instantly booted it back up and continued where I left off. The narrative is interesting, the characters are compelling, and the whole game is well designed. If you can get past those unfortunate technical issues, you’ll find that KOTOR is not only one of the best Star Wars games ever made, but also one of the best western RPG’s released in years.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (US, 11/18/03)

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