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Xbox Review - 'Knights of the Old Republic II'

by Corey Owen on Dec. 20, 2004 @ 3:25 a.m. PST

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is the next chapter to the award winning game of 2003. Set in the unique timeframe of the Old Republic, 4,000 years before Star Wars Episode I, The Sith Lords features an all-new more perilous storyline, new characters, classes, locations and force powers.

Genre: Action/RPG
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Obsidian
Release Date: December 6, 2004

Buy 'KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II': Xbox

Whenever you release a game that is heralded by many as "The Game of the Year," and by some as the best game of all time, there will inherently be some doubts as to whether the sequel can live up to those lofty expectations. Throw in the fact that the development of the game has been handed off to a new studio, albeit one made up of talented and experienced designers, and you practically have a recipe for disaster.

Luckily for us, this unproven developer happens to be made up of some industry greats who know what it takes to make an awesome RPG. Obsidian has defied the odds with Knights of the Old Republic 2 and not only created a game that will satisfy those in love with the original, but improved on it in many ways.

The basic gameplay has remained largely untouched from the original. Like many RPGs, you begin by creating your character in both look and stats. You can choose to be either male or female which has some interesting effects on the story. In addition to your gender, you can choose the class your character will be, each of which has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Jedi Guardians are skilled in combat, but have very limited Force abilities compared with other classes. The Jedi Consulars are at the other end of the spectrum. They are weak with a lightsaber, but have incredible abilities with the Force. The final class, Jedi Sentinel, is a mix of both, capable of both close combat and wielding the Force but not excelling with either.

Combat is a huge part of KOTOR2, so it’s a good thing that there’s a fun and intuitive combat system. Aside from the addition of a button that can hot swap between weapons in mid-battle, the combat system is unchanged from the original.

When you first sight an enemy the game will pause and allow you to set up your attack. You can choose to just go in swords blazing or issues specific commands to each party member to perform, each of whom can store up to four combat commands in a queue. The rest of the battle unfolds in a mix of real time and turn-based strategy. The outcome of your actions is determined based on a sort of bootleg version of the d20 rules that drive the Star Wars tabletop RPG, but for gamers who have no idea what that is, they make it very easy to prepare your character for battle without doing any complex mathematics.

There are tons and tons of items with which to customize your character’s looks and characteristics. This time around they have also added the ability to break down items you don’t want to create ones that you do. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Unlike most RPGs where you gain experience based solely on killing the enemies, KOTOR2 also allows you to earn experience by performing non-combat missions for NPCs. These quests are often more thought provoking and usually lengthier than the simple combat missions. These are also where you are more likely to earn Light and Dark Side points. These play a critical role in the story development and in your interaction with your party members. KOTOR2 not only takes your alignment into account during character interactions, but also your influence with party members. You gain or lose influence with party members based on what you say and do while you are around them. Some will like it when you turn down a reward for saving someone, while others will mock your weakness. This can sometimes influence you to make decisions you otherwise wouldn’t make. If you really like playing with a certain character and they chide you every time you do an evil deed you actually start to think, "Hey, maybe I shouldn’t do that." It’s truly a thing of wonder when a game can make you question your moral obligations.

The big question on everyone’s mind, and by "everyone" I mean "you," is whether the story lives up to the original? With such huge shoes to fill, could it possibly hold a candle to the first game’s? The answer, for the most part, is yes. In KOTOR2, much like in part one you wake up not knowing where you are. As the game progresses you will visit your past and slowly come to terms with who you were and what you will become.

This basic premise is very similar to the plot of the original, but the details are what make this an entirely new tale. You will be asked a series of questions near the beginning of the game that determine how the original KOTOR ended. This is a clever idea that allows those who didn’t play the first one to get some of the back-story and those who experienced the original to select whatever ending they preferred.

The new cast of characters is just as endearing as the first, if not moreso, and your character will form tight bonds and uneasy relationships with many of them. It’s a rare treat when you actually care about the NPCs you are playing with and even rarer when you feel the need to stand up for them when other party members attack them. The influence system is a lot of fun to play with, since you can try to corrupt or redeem your party members, and even the gender you choose can greatly affect the outcome of many quests. All of these elements along with the decisions you make along the way make for numerous permutations on how the game can end giving you tons of reasons to play through again and again. Considering that your first runthrough will take you about thirty hours if you do all the sidequests, KOTOR2 has some incredible replay value.

There is no need to worry about getting lost in the story if you haven’t played the first game. While there are numerous ties with the original, they are usually there for fans of the series and they aren’t something that will cause confusion for new players. KOTOR2 is a victim of its predecessor’s success though. If you have played the first game, you know to expect some incredible plot twists, and these are firmly cemented in your mind as you play through the sequel. This in turn sets you up to expect some of the twists in this installment. Now this doesn’t ruin the game, but had this been the first game in the series, it would have had a greater impact.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is a fantastic game, but it does come with a few flaws. The graphics have not been upgraded from the original so the engine is showing its age. They are by no means poor, but the facial animation is only adequate. Battle animations are quite nice, but can get repetitive. The effects are very nice, but they come at a price. When you enter a battle with numerous opponents and the blaster fire starts raining down and the sabers are flying, you will definitely notice some slowdown. It seems as though it is even more prevalent than in the first game.

The cutscenes, just as in the first game, seem a little under par. They are used sparingly and don’t really pop out like they do in most games. I don’t think they are even pre-rendered because you will still notice slowdown occasionally. It looks like they simply used a film grain filter with some high-poly models instead of doing a full blown rendering.

It’s also worth mentioning that KOTOR2 had a few months chopped off its dev cycle so it’d hit its release date, and unfortunately, it shows. Several parts of the game are marked by choppy animation, bizarre bugs, script errors (i.e. Revan’s gender), and the frame rate hitting the basement for no readily apparent reason. At least two different parts of the game have extra rooms or entire maps that’re inexplicably sealed off (i.e. the military base’s sub-level on Telos, which looks like it should be accessible but simply isn’t), characters will often literally fade from existence when their role in a scene is over, there are several subplots that simply don’t go anywhere (i.e. the Bith scientist on Nar Shaddaa), and the game, like a Neal Stephenson novel, does not end so much as it stops.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that KOTOR2 shipped in an incomplete state. What you get when you open the box is an engrossing game that holds up relatively well, but there are any number of nagging problems. Without Xbox Live functionality, it doesn’t seem likely that Obsidian will ever patch the game. We can only hope that they’ll slap something together and put it on an OXM coverdisc or something.

The audio is top notch as it is in all of LucasArts’ productions. The music is all authentic Star Wars and really puts you in the universe from the get go. The effects are equally impressive. There really is nothing like going toe to toe with the Sith using a lightsaber.

It’s truly awesome, but the voice acting is what really shines. There isn’t a single actor in this game that doesn’t jive with the character they are playing, from the main characters all the way down to some random villager who only has one line. This is the game that sets the bar for fantastic writing, and if you’re playing on the Dark Side, you are in for some of the funniest dialogue I’ve ever heard in a game.

Despite its technical flaws, this game manages to impress. This game really has everything you could want, including one of the best if not the best stories of the year, and it’ll certainly slake any gamer’s thirst for adventure. It is one of the best values out there too with its lengthy campaign and high replayability. If you even remotely like RPGs, you should try to pick this up, and if you enjoyed the original, this is a no brainer.

Hopefully, this is a good indicator of where future games in the series are heading, and it certainly showcases the incredible talent that Obsidian has in its ranks. Note to Obsidian: Begin work on sequel for the next Xbox, IMMEDIATELY!

Score: 9.3/10

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