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PC Review - 'Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic'

by Mark Crump on Dec. 12, 2003 @ 12:43 a.m. PST

Engage in this saga set in the Golden Age of the Republic - over 4,000 years before the first Star Wars film, when both Jedi and Sith number in the thousands. With the Galaxy reeling from a recent conflict with the Dark Lords, the ongoing battle between the Jedi and the Sith rages on. Your actions determine the outcome of this colossal galactic war - and your destiny as a Jedi. Read more for the full review ...

Genre: RPG
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Bioware
Release Date: November 18, 2003

Buy 'STAR WARS: Knights of the old Republic': Xbox | PC

Bioware, best known for "Baldur's Gate" and "NeverWinter Nights", have brought their excellent RPG history to the Star Wars Universe and as a result have made a truly fantastic game. Knights was originally released just for the X-Box, but now PC gamers can stop waiting; it's finally here and was well worth the wait. This game is destined to become an instant classic and is a must-get for both Star Wars and RPG game aficionados.

The heart of Star Wars Universe is that heroes are made from ordinary people and that the path to evil (the Dark Side) may not be a deliberate path, but rather one masked under the guise of good intentions. Every action your character makes has a good, neutral or evil outcome which determines if you are to follow the Light or Dark Side. The moral undertones of the story allow you to become completely immersed in the character you play, which is something a RPG hasn't done for me in a while. While playing a Dark Side character is fun, if you choose that route you'll have to do more than steal candy from children; you'll instead crush a rebellion or destroy an entire planets economic system. In fact, I found it quite challenging resisting the pull to the Dark Side (in the end I failed), and it's easy to see how dangerously close a Jedi comes to falling to the Dark Side while attempting to do good.

The game begins with a tip of the hat to the first Star Wars movie (the one released in 1977, not Episode 1). You are a soldier on a Republic vessel that is being boarded by the Sith Empire and you have to fight your way to the escape pods which drop you on the planet Taris. One would think getting off the planet would be easy, but the Sith have the planet under quarantine and any escape is certain death by the planetary defenses. It's up to you to find a way past the defenses and at the same time rescue Bastila, a Jedi Knight who also escaped the ship. Once you've done that, you'll become tasked with finding five artifacts known as Star Maps, which are the keys to finding the Star Forge. It's a big assignment for a Jedi Padawan, so the Council sends Bastila along as your mentor. While the main quest involves finding the Star Maps there are numerous side quests as well. These side quests are so artfully woven into the main quest that they seem less like side quests and more like extensions of the main quest. The Jedi are respected for their impartial nature, and although you'll have plenty of opportunities to ruin that theory, many of the side quests require you to act in this capacity. Near the beginning you'll be asked to investigate a murder and determine who is guilty as part of your Jedi training. Around the half-way mark of the game you'll be asked to defend a Republic soldier who has been accused of murder. As you investigate the murder, it's easy to learn the truth and you'll be faced with a difficult choice once you've discovered it.

The game is well-written and right around the time it begins to sag a little it drops a major plot on you, one that you'll have a hard time predicting. This revelation is a defining moment for your character and how you proceed for the rest of the game. Unlike other games that purport themselves to being a role-playing game, there isn't a single path to finishing the game. It is possible to finish the game as either a Light or Dark Jedi, so most of the missions have Light and Dark ending. For instance, one mission revolves around a person who has been exiled from his community. You can side with the Corporation in charge, kill them and earn Dark Side Points, or you can restore them to their former place in the community for Light Side points. Oddly enough, there is one mission where you can solve a problem peacefully or wipe out a settlement, but neither choice earns you any points. The Force Points are the moral scale by which you are measured; accumulate too many Dark Side points and you'll risk falling to the Dark Side, which won't please your Jedi Masters too much. These are separate from the XP you gain finishing quests and killing enemies, and only serve as a scale.

The supporting cast is very memorable and they all have their quirks and idiosyncrasies to keep them from getting stale. The first character you'll adventure with is Carth, who has a small problem trusting people. Because of the bond you share with Bastila she'll be a frequent party member, and as you'll learn, she clearly has some unresolved issues with her mother. One of the best ones, however, is the old coot Jolee, who used to be a Jedi but the restrictive nature of the Order didn't sit well with him. His view of the force isn't as cut and dried as Bastila's: he feels that taking either the Light or the Dark Sides to an extreme is dangerous, and staying somewhere in the middle is best course of action. Your party can contain both Jedi and non-Jedi characters, but because of the powerful Force abilities of the Jedi, most non-Jedi won't work their way into your party often, which is a shame because some of them, like the droid HK-47 (imagine a homicidal C-3P0), are hilarious.

The combat system is based on the 3rd Edition D&D rules and is a hybrid of turn-based and real-time, where the action happens in real-time, but you can pause the game at any point to assign specific actions to any of your 3 party members queue. There are times it feels more like an action game than a role-playing game, but that's more a tribute to how smoothly it works than a criticism.

The graphics are an upgrade over the X-Box version, boasting resolutions up to 1600x1200. Each of the planets you will visit are faithful to the Star Wars Universe, looking just as you imagined them to be; you'll be hard pressed to pick out which one looks best since they are all excellent. Kashyyyk, the home planet of the Wookies, looks fantastic with a village set high up in the trees. Tatooine, while visually appealing, doesn't shake the feeling of simply being 3-4 connected zones and doesn't feel like the endless expanse of desert it really is. The particle effects, the Force powers specifically, are very impressive and provide lots of eye candy. The bump maps are well done, although some species, like the Twi'lek, come across as looking too oily.

The character models are a let down, though. While the locales you visit look fantastic, the character models are on the blocky side, and a lot of the NPC models are reused way too often. Many times you'll see the same NPC model on multiple key characters, making the game seem like "Knights of the Old Clones" at times. While this is most likely due to the reduced memory available for the initial X-Box release, it would have been nice to see improved and varied character models as part of the graphics upgrade for the PC version.

The sound track is faithful to the Star Wars movies, and is one of the rare Star Wars games that didn't just rip off the John Williams score. While much of the music follows the themes he set, they are original enough to feel new and not regurgitated. The sound effects are also well done, with the blasters and light sabers sounding authentic.

The voice acting is very professional and all the dialogue in the game is spoken. Some of the voice work is done with professional and well known actors. Ed Asner, of "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Lou Grant" fame, plays one of the Jedi Council members. The alien dialogue is well done, although it's easy to spot patterns of re-used "gibberish". None of the voice work is at all cheesy and, while long-winded at times, is a treat to listen to.

The UI shows its console roots and can get cumbersome to work around. You don't use the arrow keys to move around; instead you use the mouse to look around and press both mouse buttons to move. The inventory system has been condensed from each member of your group having their own inventory, to all group members sharing a collective inventory. While it can get confusing at times, given how often you will be swapping out party members it eliminates the problem of a non-grouped member holding a key plot device. Unlike traditional RPG's, the screen you use to equip your character is different than the inventory screen. Controlling the gun turrets in your ship is a little rough with the mouse at first, but with practice it gets better. Oddly, for a game that was originally released for a console, there's no gamepad support built into the game.

While the game is well executed and shows that a lot of attention to detail went into the game, it's not problem-free. The minimum specs on the box are a 1 GHz processor and 128MB RAM; the recommended specs are 1.6 GHz proc, 512MB ram and a Radeon 9200 or GeForce 4 Ti. You will want to be on the higher side of all of these. I greatly exceeded most of the specs and other than some initial hurdles, the game ran well. There are reports of other reviewers having technical issues, and initially I was a member of that club. The first night of play the game crashed multiple times, but upgrading to the latest graphics drivers reduced the crashes from often to few. After reading the Bioware message boards it appears as though most of the early reviewers were using out of date graphics drivers, so you'11 want to make sure you are up to date before playing. By the time you read this, there will be a patch out for the game which you should apply. There are reports of people having frame-rate issues, but I didn't notice any stuttering or slowdowns. Even with updated drivers, the game still crashed to the desktop on several occasions. Until Bioware releases a patch that addresses this issue you'll want to save often.

While the quest system and conversation trees are well done, in several quests it's easy to manipulate the system to get a desired result. When you talk to an NPC you can often attempt to persuade them to help you. When I was doing one quest, if I wasn't successful in a persuasion attempt I was able to repeat the dialogue tree several times until successful. There should have been some flag set that I was unsuccessful the first time and block any attempts to re-persuade them while using the exact same methods.

I ran into a lot of pathing issues as well, including one in a cut scene of all places. That one was the most frustrating of the bunch since I had to hard-crash the game to get past it. Most of the pathing issues revolve around the secondary characters not getting out of the way of your character and with some juggling of character locations is pretty easy to work around.

There is also a big bug that's followed the game from the X-Box version. One mission you can disguise yourself by wearing a uniform, but the uniform can become bugged making you susceptible to attacks when you are wearing it, but seen as an ally when not wearing it. If this happens to you, just revert to a saved game (again you'll want to keep several saved games at staggered times in case you get hit with these bugs), remove the item and proceed. While I can understand bugs that are introduced in new versions, it's a shocker to see one that carried over from a version that was released earlier this year.

While there are issues that should have been addressed before the game shipped, when you compare them against how well the game is executed overall, they are minor blips on the radar. Star Wars fans have been clamoring for a decent RPG, and Bioware has certainly exceeded expectations. "Baldur's Gate" has been the RPG that I measure RPG's against, and KOTOR will unseat it from the throne. The writing and voice acting are the best I've seen. No other Star Wars game, including Star Wars Galaxies, has done a better job of completely immersing you in the Star Wars universe. It's impossible to finish the game without somehow feeling like your actions have made a difference. It's not a short game, clocking in at about 60 hours if you do all the side quests. With the multiple paths through the game, you'll want to play it more than once which really gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Score: 9.8/10


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