Review by delateur

Reviewed: 12/08/03

Are you an RPG and/or Star Wars fan? Then look no further!

Star Wars: KOTOR, for those of you who haven't already heard the amazing hype surrounding it from the XBox players who have had this amazing bit of gaming goodness long before we PC owners, is a full-on RPG by Bioware. If you're familiar with Bioware, then rest assured that every bit of excellence to be found in other Bioware titles of note (Baldur's Gate series, Neverwinter Nights, and Planescape come to mind) is here in Star Wars: KOTOR, and a few new twists besides! Read on, and I'll give you the skinny on the good and not so good in this game, and even give you a few pointers near the end on how to start this game off right without giving you any spoilers in the process.

Story: 9/10 - Ok, basically for this, the only reason I can think of to knock a point off is because I wanted more! Other similar titles by Bioware seem, to me, to have had more sidequests and interesting plot tidbits than this one did. That's not to say that what WAS here was not great. Every last bit of it was enjoyable, but when I got done with my 50-60ish hours of time playing through this, I felt myself wanting a bit more. I kicked myself for every little thing that I found out later I could have done differently, and maybe a bit more fully, but that will make my next time through, with an entirely different combination of classes for the hero, that much more enjoyable, so it's not all bad. :)

Gameplay: 9/10 - I was very impressed with how Bioware sucked all of the turn-based nature out of the ''visible'' realm and put it behind the scenes. Combat looks fantastic, and not being distracted by quickly scrolling text telling you that you hit, or criticalled, etc. is very nice. Just some small floating red numbers give you an indication of how much you're doing, and of course the rapidly diminishing health bar, which is much easier to keep track of. A bit disappointing is how useless you will find ranged combat to be, until much later in the game when you get your hands on some highly upgraded weapons, and even then, the upgradeable melee weapons will still be better. Grenades, on the other hand, are very annoying. You'll often find that when you drop quickly, it's due to concentrated grenadiers launching three grenades at a time from different areas while someone up close keeps you tied up in melee. Overall the combat works well, but you will notice the imbalance of certain things rather quickly. The class system is well done, also. There are only 3 normal and 3 Jedi classes, but the hero gets to pick one of each, and so can turn out very well rounded. More on that near the end. Your nine teammates will run the gamut of options that you could choose yourself, as well as adding some droids to the mix (when you get the droid on Tatooine, use him OFTEN, he's hilarious!). All in all, you can make a balanced party pretty easily, but remember that in some parts, you have to go it solo, so ensure that you're up to the task of taking on some heavy opposition by yourself. Oh, and at any time, the maximum number in your party is 3, including yourself. Now let's talk about minigames. The three main minigames (swoop bike racing, the card game (Panaak, or somesuch?), and controlling the Ebon Hawk's guns are the games you'll get the most time and repetition out of. There are also a few puzzles here and there, but they're mainly based around text based computer screens, and not nearly as engaging. The card game is a twist on blackjack, with custom cards helping you to get close to 20, without going over, and the shooting game, well, it's a bit sluggish, and not overly challenging, so I found that more of an annoyance than anything. Swoop bike racing, however, was a blast. I won each circuit on every planet I was on, just because it was so much fun to get better and better times. The last aspect of the game is just talking to people, opening containers for loot, and doing your quests, either side or main. While this sort of falls into story, let's just say that Bioware's feel comes through, in the interface and in the dialogue choices. You really get immersed in how you're developing, and your dark/light meter moves accordingly as your choices reflect your personality.

Interface: 8/10 - It's solid, it does the job, the menus and screens are pretty intuitive, informative, etc. Not much more to be said, really. The new feature of upgrading your items at a workbench is pretty nice. You can do this with upgradable melee, ranged, armor, and lightsabers (all lightsabers are upgradable, but only certain types of the other 3 are). As you progress, you'll spend much time tweaking your lightsabers to perform just how you want them to, and it's engrossing. I had a great time finding and swapping out crystals, and each upgradable piece you come across will tend to be an improvement over any of its predecessors you've found before.

Graphics: 9/10 - The graphics look great, if your computer can handle them. The engine seems to place much more demand on my system than the actual graphics would seem to indicate they should, but the glistening and bumpy effects (T&L and bumpmapping for the techies out there) look really nice on high settings. I ran at 1600x1200, with high graphical effects and everything else off to maintain a decent framerate with my Ti4600. I was able to use shadows, but not soft shadows. It was plenty realistic and quite nice, but the framerate did drop a bit here and there when there were lots of enemies on the screen. It's on par with the best stuff I've seen out there, and given that it's 3rd person and not top down isometric like Bioware is used to doing, I'm pretty impressed. One downside, however, is that the same faces are used over and over again. While you will meet tons and tons of people, a little more detail and attention to the faces of the main encounters would have been nice. It's not horrible, but it's noticeable.

Sound/Music: 8/10 - I really thought the voices were all top notch. I especially liked the English actress, who did the voice for the first No One Lives Forever's Cate Archer. She's fantastic. :) However, really, every voice is done well, even the aliens, although you'll notice very quickly that the same alien phrases are used over and over again, and quickly become repetitive, depending on the race you're listening to. Some were quite annoying, while others were not nearly as grating, but eventually I ended up skipping the voices after I'd read the subtitles for the aliens. The sound effects are everything you'd expect from Star Wars. Same goes for the music. It's a whole new score, but still has a great Star Wars epic feeling you should enjoy.

Replayability: 7/10 - Personally, I like to play good guys, so the appeal of being dark and seeing a dark ending isn't really up there for me, but even given that, I'd say it's got at least 2-3 replays, just trying different class combinations and maybe trying to solve a few of the larger quests a bit differently or catch the last bits of storyline for a few of your companions. That's pretty great for an RPG, really, and in this genre, probably the only game that does better than this is NWN, with its module feature and community contributions. If you want to explore all the dark outcomes, then you can probably get another replay or two out of it before you've seen it all. Definitely a nice investment of $50 for the time you'll get out of it (each replay will probably take you 40 hours minimum).

Final comments: Ok, here's the non-spoiler suggestions if you're just starting out. Don't start as a soldier! A soldier does one thing, and that's kill stuff. It sucks a lot of the versatility out of a game like this if your answer to everything is ''blow the hell out of them and let the Force sort them out!'' I recommend a scout or scoundrel to start with. From there, you can pick any Jedi class you like to balance yourself out. The only exception to this might be a Soldier/Consular. That would effectively give you a ''softer side'' later in the game, but those primary levels give you your starting disciplines, so figure out what you're interested in. I personally went Scout/Sentinel, and it worked out alright. Overall a well rounded class with decent Skills/Force/Feats. Also, you may want to save your experience after you hit around 5th level, even though you'll have enough to probably get to 6th or 7th before you become a Padawan. Just remember you have 20 levels maximum. Jedi levels, overall, tend to be far more powerful in the long run, and you'll get your automatic Jedi abilities much sooner if you stop at around 5th in your advancement. If you go to 8th in your primary class, for instance, you won't see your final key abilities until you hit 20th, near the end of the game, and I'm guessing you'll enjoy them more the sooner you get them. :)

So, there you have it. It's also worth mentioning that the game IS very buggy, as you may have heard. The first official patch will be out in a couple more days, as of the writing of this review, and that should address most of the bigger issues. I, personally, experienced a few bugs here and there, but nothing bad enough to ruin the game for me, or to suggest to you that you shouldn't run right out and get this one! It truly does bring back all the goodness of the first Star Wars movies and put you in the driver's seat. For a fan of Star Wars and RPGs, it doesn't get much better than this!

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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