When the first word on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic came out, we here at The Laser weren't exactly filled with joyous delight. The last several Star Wars theme releases for the PC platform had been less than stellar, to say the least. Some were unoriginal rehashes of older games brought back to life, others were grand experiments in tedium, and the rest were just plain horrible. To add fuel to the fire, publisher LucasArts (the gaming end of the massive George Lucas Empire) chose to release the game for the XBOX on time while delaying the subsequent PC offering for months (ouch!). Even with all of the bad omens hovering around this game, we still thought it deserved a good romp on the old PC gaming rig. What we found was a game that went above and beyond the meager expectations we had initially laid out before it, proving Knights of the Old Republic to be an exceptional release for 2003, as well as one of the best Star Wars games ever.
Set 1000 years before the events found in the Star Wars films, KOTOR takes place soon after the infamous Mandalorian Wars. Although victorious, the Republic Army has weakened significantly due to the years of strife and battle with the bloodthirsty Mandalore Empire. Two rogue Jedi Knights seduced by the power of the dark side of the force have resurrected the remnants of the ancient Sith Empire, seizing control of half of the remaining Republic Forces. The flames of War have once again lit up across the galaxy as the two powers fight for control of the galaxy, with the winner taking all. Players enter KOTOR as a Republic mercenary on board a starship under attack by a Sith Battle Fleet. With no memories of who you are or what you're doing on board the vessel, you must fight your way off of the ship with the help of other members of the crew. From that point on, players are immersed in a rich tapestry of action, adventure, and fun that ring true to those familiar with the Star Wars universe. Travelling from planet to planet and visiting locations both familiar and brand new, players will get the chance to shape their characters' path through the light or dark side of the force, meeting the agents of the Sith head on. To be honest, I never thought that I'd find another Star Wars game to be 'really good' ever again. Knights of the Old Republic was able to change my mind about the declining franchise in a way that I didn't expect. The game is not just good, it's fantastic. Role-Play Game design guru Bio-Ware took us completely by surprise by taking a very intuitive RPG gaming engine and combining it with an extremely well thought out script and plot creation that mimics the original Star Wars concept like no other game.
As with most RPG's, KOTOR allows players to mold a character from scratch from a set of characteristics and abilities. You can choose from several character 'classes', including Scoundrel, Soldier, Thief, etc. Each class adds bonus points and abilities, allowing your character to perform certain tasks with greater ease. For example, scoundrels have the ability to by-pass computer security easier, while Soldiers have better recouping ability after being damaged in a firefight. The interesting aspect of Bio-Ware's RPG engine is that players do not have to stick with their initial class. As experience is gained, players can use the extra points in any fashion they see fit: that includes building up upon the original skill traits for their chosen character class, or adding points to any other set of skills or abilities. Players have direct access to what skills or abilities they can obtain with XP, or they can bypass the whole system itself, opting for the auto-update of character skills. This system allows the game itself to delegate experience into the proper channels for a chosen profession, strengthening the pool skill base of the players chosen class. This goes for the standard RPG classes found in the game, as well as the Jedi-Knight profession that can be obtained later on in the game.
The hands-on/off approach that the XP system uses makes its way into the combat and general scripting system for the various characters that players can control in KOTOR. Combat scenarios can be as simple as letting your party members jump into the fray with their default modes of attack and defense, or you can tailor each and ever one to do a specific task. For example, you might script one character to lie back in the fold and lob grenades at the enemy, while your other two characters take sniper style pop-shots from a distance. Depending on your characters particular skill base, experience, and choice of weapons, you can set up your party to be extremely effective in various types of scenarios and situations.
Speaking of combat, players can outfit their characters with a number of Star Wars based items, providing a large and varied chest of toys to play with. Everything from blaster pistols, droid disabling Ion Rifles, rapid movement vibro-swords, to various forms of grenades and mines can be obtained from merchants and 'loot' stashes alike. Later in the game, the fan-favorite light-saber also makes its way into gaming field in various forms, including the standard blade, double bladed saber (a la Darth Maul) and even a short, parrying version of the futuristic weapon. Players can also obtain special upgrade peripherals used to enhance the skill base of a character, including neural implants, head gear, and utility belts.
While the RPG and combat systems within KOTOR are intensive, you can't forget about the shear volume of explorable locations in the game. Roughly half a dozen worlds can be visited during the course of game, including such notable locations as the desert planet Tattooine, and the forested home world of the Wookiee's, Kashyyk. Each planet has multiple locations to visit, including areas that are unlocked after successfully completing quests found while playing. As for the quests, KOTOR contains a ton of them, ranging from the easy 'search and rescue' events, to puzzle solving, logical thinking, and even an example of applied advanced mathematics. One interesting twist to the quest system on KOTOR are the number of different possibilities and outcomes that can come across from any given event. How you choose to approach a situation dictates whether your main character will progress down the path of the Light side of the Force or the Dark side. For example, instead working out a non-violent solution with a group of Trandoshan thugs, you might opt to just pull out your trusty light saber and hack away. The game gives you several different solutions to any given encounter, and depending on your choice of actions, will put your character and overall storyline on either the path of the Dark or Light side of the Force.
The robust nature of KOTOR with its superb
combat system, challenging quests, and intuitive character creation/skill system
really left us with a pleasant gaming experience overall. Add to that the nearly
50 hours of continuous gameplay, and PC gamers will find themselves with a title
well worth the money. The pacing of the background story is very fast and well
executed, not to mention very proficient with its style of writing. The
developers of the game really put a lot of thought into Knights of the Old
Republic, providing fans a realistic and believable Star Wars based game:
everything from the various settings of the game, the characters, their
adventures, the music, and every visual within the title just screams
authenticity. For Star Wars fans there really been a better game from the Lucas
mythos since Dark Forces II, giving us all a PC game to be joyous about.