Release Date: July 16, 2003
There is no question that 2003 is the year of Star Wars in terms of videogames, assaulting the gaming world first with the excellent MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies, followed up by the Xbox RPG Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. While Galaxies caters to the online crowd, allowing the players themselves to shape the events and lives of each other, in SW: KotOR you play the part of a young member of the Republic fighting to keep the evil Darth Malak from using a mysterious object called the Star Forge to conquer the entire galaxy. Set thousands of years before the times of Luke and Leia, SW: KotOR takes place in the times just after the Mandelorian Wars, a time where Sith and Jedi are in great conflict, the fledgling Republic struggles to overcome attacks from both the Sith and from the remnants of the Mandelorians, and the forces of the dark side are in a position to claim the entire galaxy as theirs.
As the storyline goes, during the Mandelorian Wars two promising Jedi, Revan and Malak led Republic forces to victory using unheard of skills with the force and brilliant battle strategies. At the war’s end Revan and Malak had command of 1/3rds of the Republic fleet, going from planet to planet under the guise of mopping up the remnants of the Mandelorian forces. Suddenly and without notice, the fleet under their command disappeared. Many thought the heroes of the great war to be dead, but the truth was far worse.
Years later Revan and Malak emerged from their hiatus totally consumed by the dark side of the force, Revan now the Dark Lord of the Sith and Malak, grudgingly, as his apprentice. The Dark Lord returned with an impossible number of ships under his command, conquering and destroying what he once protected. During a pivotal battle between Sith and Republic forces Bastila, a powerful Jedi, used her Battle Mediation skills to predict the Sith strategies and amidst the chaos Revan’s flagship was destroyed by Malak, killing his own master to take on the role of Dark Lord of the Sith. At the game’s outset you start off as a crewmember aboard the Republic Capital ship Endar Spire. Also aboard the Endar Spire is Bastila, with her Battle Meditation skill that is loved by the Republic and is feared by Darth Malak, who is now consumed with the intent to either convert Bastila to the dark side or kill her entirely to gain the upper hand in the fight for the galaxy. Darth Malak is aware of Bastila’s presence aboard the Endar Spire and launches a massive attack against it, disabling the ship and forcing everyone aboard to evacuate, scattering the surviving crew members across the face of Taris, a two faced world filled with both upper class urbanites and street gangs. Thus, it’s up to the player to track down Bastila, seek what Darth Revan and Darth Malak were looking for on their planetary search, and ultimately put a stop to Darth Malak’s plans for conquest and the annihilation of the Republic.
Combat in SW: KotOR is much like games such as Baldur’s Gate which is in turn based on the d20 Dungeons & Dragons rules. Don’t let that fool you, the game still is Star Wars through in through, but the d20 rule base is considered by many to be one of the best sets of RPG rules. How it translates to SW: KotOR is like this, the combat is real-time turn based, meaning combatant take turns exchanging fire and hits but in the background complex formulas are computed, taking into account the player’s abilities, skills, and attributes to see if your attacks hit, how hard they hit for, and how much of a chance any special things affect the target. Don’t let all of the fancy talk turn you away from SW: KotOR, as it is simply a RPG with a rule set that is complex enough for even the most hardcore pen and paper RPG fans but is flowing enough to cater to those who just want to pick up an RPG and wield a lightsaber.
In a sense SW: KotOR’s combat system is much more strategic than other RPGs. While combat takes place in real time, and at any time you can choose to perform any moves or use any items or weapons you have available, you can also pause the game to queue up a handful of actions for you and your party members to perform, forming as complex and coordinated of a strategy as you desire, then unpausing the game to see how your plans unfold in the chaos of battle. Pure action fans can and already have chastised this aspect, touting the ability to pause the conflict and set up a strategy as a horrible thing, while the RPG crowd cannot find a high enough battlement to shout its praises. In the end it all boils down to what your cup of tea is, don’t expect an adrenaline filled slash and blast fest but rather a game of though and strategy.
Many people will compare SW: KotOR to the Xbox’s other major RPG, Morrowind, and both games have their differences. While in SW: KotOR you wont find near the amount of exploration and adventuring you can do in Morrowind, in SW: KotOR you genuinely feel a part of the game itself by both the fact you play a key role in the fate of the universe but also in the way you actually make the choices to shape it. During the course of the game your actions and choices dictate how the story flows, how it ends, and what side of the force you are on. If you are merciful to your foes, follow the path of light, and strive to defeat Darth Malak to save the galaxy you will ascend in the light side of the force, becoming a champion of truth and justice. However, if you force choke a guy just because you don’t think he respects you enough, kill everyone you fight regardless of if there is a peaceful solution or not, and take steps to kill Darth Malak to steal the title of Dark Lord of the Sith for yourself, then you will stray down the dark path and become one with suffering and tyranny. How your character evolves is totally up to you, and it is never set is stone. A dark character can use light powers and vice-versa, but at great expense to their available force powers. A light character might be able to heal all day and never make a dent in their force meter, while a dark character might drain half of their force power by using it a single time. The same goes the other way as well, a light affiliated character can use force lightning or choke if they know the skill, but at great cost to their available force powers.
At the beginning of the game you choose what class and gender you want to be, which are made up of scout, soldier, and scoundrel, which all have their strengths, weaknesses, and unique qualities. As you progress in the game you also choose what type of Jedi you want to be, Guardian, Sentinel, or Consular, also with their own strengths and weaknesses. During the course of the game you gain experience, gain enough and you gain a level which in turn lets you choose new skills and force powers, spend points on attributes, and generally makes you stronger.
An interesting thing about the equip system is the fact that you can mix and match weapons as long as they are of the same type, and the combat changes accordingly. Characters with single blades or sabers will have a different set of blocks, dodges, and moves than someone who uses one in each hand. You can also have a blaster in each hand if you enjoy raining fire on the enemy John Woo style. However, you cannot equip a melee weapon in one hand and a ranged weapon in another.
On a special note, SW: KotOR’s plotline rivals the movies themselves in terms of twists, turns, and sheer quality. More so than any other previous Star Wars game, almost more so than any other game period, SW: KotOR’s plot is a masterpiece that rivals any in terms of brilliance and will defiantly please gamers who love a deep, involving plot.
SW: KotOR’s graphics fall short of what the Xbox is capable of for the most part, but there are many things that stand out to appease those addicted to eye-candy. Aliens who are slimy or moist have a sheen that reflects light, as do metal objects such as a player’s armor or a docked ship. The character models do look like something right out of Star Wars but you will get a sense of Déjà vu when you see the same NPC character model again, only with a different name and on a different planet. The levels also look the part, but unlike the character models the levels are always varied and diverse, from the desolate deserts of Tatooine to the aquatic world of Manaan. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars game without the signature lightsaber and blaster effects and SW: KotOR captures them nearly perfectly.
The audio in SW: KotOR takes some of the best songs from the movies, some high-quality original themes, and all of the lightsaber and blaster sound effects one would expect from a Star Wars game, combining them all to form a nearly flawless audio aspect. SW: KotOR boasts a staggering amount of spoken dialog; everything a major character says is portrayed as both a voice and by optional subtitles. Even the vast majority of NPCs all have their own voice acting, the only ones that do not are the ones that only say a single sentence or so. This greatly adds to the cinematic experience, you gain insight on how the characters feel and think just by the tones of their voices.
On a sour note, SW: KotOR does have a little more than its fair share of bugs. After combat your character may be briefly unable to move, or after a load time you may find your character’s head or entire body missing. There have been reports of people encountering even more serious bugs, but after playing through and completing the game there was nothing that a bit of patience or the loading of a recent save couldn’t overcome. Hopefully Bioware will use SW: KotOR’s Live option to patch the game farther than simple content additions, but if that will happen remains to be seen.
Overall SW: KotOR is an excellent example of how a RPG should be, which is outstanding considering SW: KotOR is the first Star Wars RPG ever developed. Bioware has shown considerable talent in their previous titles, all of which served to polish their skills so that they could make SW: KotOR meet not only the standards of quality digital entertainment but also to meet the often high demands of Star Wars fans. For a great RPG that bears the Star Wars license and wields not only quality gameplay but an excellent plot, SW: KotOR is a must-buy.