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Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

Platform(s): PC, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: Lucasarts/Activision (EU), LucasArts (US)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2005

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PC Review - 'Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords'

by Alanix on Feb. 28, 2005 @ 12:57 a.m. PST

Five years after the events from Knights of the Old Republic, the Sith Lords have hunted the Jedi to the edge of extinction and are on the verge of crushing the Old Republic. With the Jedi Order in ruin, the Republic’s only hope is a Jedi Knight struggling to reconnect with the Force and is faced with the galaxies most dire decision: To follow the light or succumb to the dark side…

Buy 'KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: The Sith Lords': PC

Q: Why is Duct Tape like The Force?
A: It has a light side and a dark side and it binds the universe together.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

(Cue standard Lucasarts theme music)

Actually, this is the second in a (hopefully) long series of games that takes place thousands of years before the name Luke Skywalker was ever uttered. The first (Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic) was rightfully crowned 2003’s "Game of the Year," and frankly, I feel that this sequel is more than a worthy follower. Those of you who have read my reviews of sequels will often hear me say, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.: In this case, it wasn’t broke, but it was fixed in so many ways, it could almost be a separate game unto itself.

Adjectives, adverbs and pronouns to the wind, we are talking about Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.

The original KOTOR was an amazing hybrid of puzzle solving, combat, role-playing, twitch game, and masterful storytelling. Should we expect anything less from the sequel? Hell, no! And did Lucasarts deliver? Hell, yes!

In KOTOR2, you play the role of an exile. He was a marginal character in the epic war between Revan and Malak (see KOTOR), and is now the alleged "Last of the Jedi."

As the "exile" (nameable, so obviously, he is called "Alanix" in my game), you are found critically wounded aboard the legendary Ebon Hawk.

In an innovative "prelude," you are taught the basic gameplay mechanics while controlling a little droid whose task it is to restore power to the Ebon Hawk, and stabilize our exiled hero, so he will survive the trip to a distant mining colony. This is a nice change of pace from the standard tutorial so prevalent these days. You see, at the outset, the game lets you know that it isn't necessary to have played the first KOTOR to enjoy the sequel, and it also acclimates you to the interface right out of the gate. Suffice it to say, our fine friends at Lucasarts do not wish to alienate (excuse the phrase) anyone.

I will not go much more into the intricacies of the plot because you don’t need spoilers here. The Jedi Council have been scattered throughout the galaxy, and you need to find them, and find out why you were exiled following the Madalorian Wars. Cut scenes will give you a lot of information, but boy howdy, do you have to earn them.

Aiding you in your quest for realization are a number of characters you meet along the way. Each of these 10 brings to the table their own strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Be warned: they are not all what they initially seem to be, and their alliance to you, and indeed the Force, is directly affected by your actions. In KOTOR2, your entire party can become either the pinnacle of good, or the epitome of evil. This gives the game a higher replay value than a standard linear form of gameplay. If you’d rather be more like Darth Vader than Yoda, that choice is available to you, through your interaction with the various denizens you encounter. Helping a poor soul out with a few credits will gain you points toward the light side, and conversely, telling this same beggar to flame off may tilt you toward the dark side. You are constantly faced with such decisions in your attempt to gather the remaining Jedi, provided, of course, that you can find them.

As before, the missions are many and varied, ranging from simple "find this, go there" affairs, to solving murders, to aiding (or preventing) a military coup of a Queen and her retainers. You’ll never know which of these missions is merely a "side quest" or a necessary plot point. It’s best to get involved with everyone whenever possible, and your choices will decide how things turn out. Of course, it never hurts to have a blaster or a lightsaber if the you-know-what hits the fan.

Speaking of lightsabers, this time around, you will have your choice from a number of "forms" of lightsaber discipline, and they are situation-specific. For example, one style may be better suited to attacks from multiple opponents, while another is more appropriate for defense against blasters. Your choices, again, will define your success (or failure). After all, it's kind of embarrassing for a Jedi Knight to be shot with something as clumsy and random as a blaster.

Eventually, at a pivotal point in the story, you will be asked to choose your prestige class, which can be thought of as "getting your Master's degree" in the Force. Depending on your alignment with the Force, you can choose to be a Sith Assassin, Lord or Marauder, or the goody-goody guys can choose to be a Jedi Master, Watchman, or Weapon Master. Your choice here will also affect how quickly your skills, feats and Force powers progress.

The Swoop Bike races are back, but this time, they are strictly optional. Nowhere will you be forced to race to complete the game. The same goes for the old standby card game, pazaak. You can play with anyone who has a deck, and credits won are much sweeter than credits earned, but the card game isn't vital to the game's completion.

Graphically, the game is beautiful! Even at a low detail setting, the areas and characters practically jump off the screen. Light sourcing is at a premium, and the textures are amazingly realistic. At the highest detail setting, you may note a dip in framerate, but it's worth it at times to see the minutiae the designers so painstakingly included.

Sounds are right out of the "Star Wars" box of tricks. All the familiar blaster shots, lightsaber hums, warp drives and droid speech sound crisp, clean and wonderful. The music, borrowed from John Williams' score is perfect, and very mood-setting.

The interface is streamlined, making the entire game playable with your mouse and "WASD" keying. The sub-menus are nicely laid out, giving you direct control over everything your character wears, uses, makes, loses, etc.

As for the combat interface, KOTOR2 is played in what's referred to by Lucasarts as "real-time, turn-based" style. While this may at once sound like a massive oxymoron, it precisely fits the feel of the game. Movement is controlled from the usual FPS key set, and this is all done in smooth real time. When an adversary rears his (her/its) ugly face, the game seamlessly switches to a turn-based affair, which takes the game's core mechanic (everything based on bonuses and penalties of a d20 "to hit") and translates it into a workable, animated battle sequence. None of that "Final-Fantasy-Jump-In-Take-A- Swing-Then-Jump-Back" rigmarole here. When your character isn't actively swinging (or healing or using Force powers), he stands at the ready, muscles flexing, chest heaving, etc. If you need a second to think, just slap the space bar, and everything freezes. You can queue up commands, reassign targets and the like, but none of your commands will actually be carried out until you un-pause the action.

The voice acting is, as usual, stellar. Only one little problem I had, and that was with the decision to cast Ed Asner as the voice of Master Vrook, one of the Jedi Masters you need to find in the course of the game. Nothing personal, but recognizing that gruff Lou Grant voice jarred me from the atmosphere and reminded me I was playing a game.

We now come to my favorite aspect of KOTOR2: the writing. It's been a long time since a game's dialogue didn't sound stilted and heavy-handed. The epic struggles of the universe are told in a cinematic, moving style. The interpersonal conflicts are brought out through rich dialogue and well thought-out storytelling.

In the final analysis, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords is the best RPG to come out since its illustrious prequel, a worthy follow-up to a grand title that has true replay value, gorgeous presentation, and depth that most other games wouldn’t dream of attempting. Buy it, play it, love it.

 

Score: 9.5/10


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