There are games that come along every now and then that have blown my socks off. Silent Hill 2 is one of them, Final Fantasy VI is another. With that, Knights of the Old Republic is firmly in the socks blown asunder camp.
I played this a lot at release, I borrowed the XBOX version off of a mate, but I also ended up buying my own copy for the PC. It means that I have played through it a number of times, attempting different paths. But it is probably 10 years since the last time I donned the Jedi robes and ventured into the Old Republic if we ignore the MMORPG (please ignore the MMORPG).
So buckle up for a longer than usual review.
Taking place 4000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, you take on the role of “Aids Burger” a new recruit in the Republic. The ship you are travelling on is attacked by Darth Malak. Things go tits up, and you awaken on the planet of Taris. Here you must rescue Bastilla and escape before the planet is destroyed.
From here you discover that you are a Jedi, and briefly attend Jedi School (MONTAGE!) on Dantooine, you are then tasked with finding the 4 Star Maps that will reveal the location of the Star Forge. This takes you to Tatooine, Kashyyk, Korriban and Manaan.
The game culminates with a final battle versus Darth Malak aboard the Star Forge.
This is a Star Wars universe event, so there is a twist, and if you have seen ANY of the Films you’ll see the twist coming a mile off.
KOTOR allows you to choose your own story outside of some broad parameters. You can choose one of 3 playing classes, which doesn’t have that much variety, in that your choices are; good at combat, good at the force, alright at both. The combat works in a semi real-time/turn based mode. If you leave people to their own devices, they’ll spam normal attacks and use some intelligence. But you can take advantage of the turn based nature of the actions, and queue up some devastating combos (or spam force wave).
You’re allowed to choose male or female for the main character. The canon story is male, but the female version isn’t lacking anything. The primary difference is that some characters will flirt with you as a female, and as a male you can flirt with Bastilla.
But more crucially, you can choose whether you’re a aligned to the Light or Dark side of the force. Bioware manage to have the right balance of how light/dark affects your story. You’re not tied into being too good or evil, and you can play neutral without losing too much. Dark will give you the awesome auto-erotic Force Choke, Light will give you lame healing powers. However, some moves such as Force Wave (Force Push) will work for both alignments.
So while the choices of Light vs Dark can feel a little binary it works much better than the KARMA system in Fallout because you’re not tied to anything, and you don’t have to be comic book evil to unlock certain abilities. It means if you choose a conversation path by mistake (or because that’s what you want) it won’t prevent you unlocking top tier moves.
In Fallout 3, your big moral choice affected one line of dialog with your dad. In New Vegas it was a little better, in that it’s effect was on the faction you allied with. In KOTOR it affects small lines of dialogue and how your party react to you. HK47 (the best good baddy evur!) loves you being evil, and will disapprove of you being good. Jolee acts as the sagely elder statesmen, so will guide you, but will be disappointed in you if you don’t do the “right” thing. All your actions affect how your party see you, so you’ll probably end up playing to your preferred party. But this gives you a shit tonne of reasons to reply the game and play see parts of the game with different party makeups.
It all makes sense, small decisions affect small things, not everything is a world destroying decision (some are), but this all means that the small decisions have an effect on your world and makes it more immersive.
Obviously, your big choices and alignment build up to a larger picture, and will ultimately influence the endings, which there are two of. But there is a lot of choice either side of that meaning that there are two “core” endings, and then many variables on what happens beyond Light and Dark.
Oh and a secret fun ending (spoilers?)…
The characters are well fleshed out, each with their own backstory that serves as a side-missions. Though getting so far into the main story will bork some of these. For example, not returning to Tatooine before you do the 3rd Star Forge will lock out Bastilla’s story.
You: For an unnamed person you have a fleshed out background. Saying too much would reveal a major spoiler. And by virtue of being you, is the primary character in your team, and you get to choose 2 more (story dependent).
Carth Onasi: Is your Han Solo type. He struggles to trust you, because he has been betrayed by his best friend Admiral Saul. His story is unavoidable because it comes to a head on the Leviathan spaceship after the 3rd planet. He is a decent enough character, but I didn’t really use him.
Bastilla: A powerful Jedi whose destiny is tied to your own. She used her powerful Battle Meditation to defeat Darth Revan, and now she is sent on a mission with you to find the Star Forge. Bastilla is my number 2 pick.
Mission: She is a Twi’lek. She isn’t a party member I care about, she cares about her brother Griff too much.
Zaalbar: Is a Wookie. His side story is unavoidable because you have to use him on Kashyyk. I don’t care about big walking carpets.
Canderous: Think Boba Fett, he is a bad ass Mandalorian Bounty Hunter. He is initially evil, but the more you dig, you discover he is actually a great guy who cares. He just comes from a tribe that likes war. He is knowledgeable and great in a fight. If the other characters weren’t so much more fun he’d be a top pick. As it is, he doesn’t feature much in my game.
Juhani: Is a jedi that has fallen to the darkside. You can permanently kill her, or you can save her. She is worth keeping around due to the conversation paths she opens with Bastilla. She is effectively my 4th choice character.
Jolee: Is basically Mace Windu with a purple lightsaber, but is a “grey” jedi. Meaning he is neither Light nor Dark. He is an interesting party member and having him in your group will open a fun sidequests. He is my 3rd choice pick.
T3-M4: Is a trashcan. Think R2D2, but shitter. Didn’t use him other than the 1 time you have too.
HK-47: HK is bae, HK is life. I love my little Assassin Droid. Even rolling a good character HK steals the show, but if you align with the dark side, HK really is the most fun you can have with an “evil” character. He gives Kefka a run for my favourite baddy.
Characters level with you too. This means that nobody is left behind. You don’t suffer Final Fantasy VII syndrome with Yuffie and Cait Sith on level 30 while everybody else is in the 60s. It means realistically everybody is as useful as each other which allows you to choose the party based on what story you want to develop, and not being punished for under using the Walking Carpet.
The puzzles are fantastic, and better still, they are mostly optional.
The court cases are great, here you have to decide on facts, and make decisions based on the evidence and competing information whete you have to write things down. You need to whittle down the answers, you have to cross examine witnesses.
The trials do feel as fleshed out as a Phoenix Wright trail, which is impressive for a side quest.
There are flaws to KOTOR I’ll admit it:
The speech/persuasion stat doesn’t really work as much as I’d like. In all RPG games I tend to create Aids Burger, the Melee Powerhouse, with exceptional speech skills. In KOTOR I had very high Persuasion (speech) plus some buffs from other skill, and I was still unable to win speech challenges. This is down to RNGesus. It was infuriating to keep losing challenges due to the unseen dice roll, rather than the skill itself. I hated it in Fallout 3, and it annoyed in KOTOR.
Fighting can be buggy as hell. I killed the Rancor on Taris by standing in a doorway and throwing grenades. The Rancor would run at me, then turn around, and go back to his spawn spot. Keep doing this, and you’ll down him without taking damage. I also killed Malak by running away, and throwing the lightsaber at him.
Force Wave can effectively be renamed the “WIN EVERYTHING EASILY FROM THIS POINT ONWARDS” as you endlessly spam all enemies and rarely take damage again. Once unlocked, you win every fight just standing back and “waving” them. It isn’t “really” a negative as I fucking loved doing it, but the move is a little overpowered.
The underwater walking is a chore.
These are a mixed bag:
There is Pazaak, which is a simple enough card game. It is only really useful on Taris when you need to cobble together a little bit of money. The rules can be a little disorientating at first, but you quickly pick the game up. And if you stick with the card game it opens up into a more fully fleshed game as you advance your deck. Though, Triple Triad is better in Final Fantasy VIII, and so is Tetra Master in FFIX.
Swoop Racing is a precursor to the Pod Racing in the Phantom Menace. It is a glorified drag race, where you have to hit speed boasts, and avoid obstacles on a straight track. It is easy enough to do, it is a fun distraction, and it opens up some dialogue trees on the planets you visit, as well as rewarding you with a tonne of money. The load times on the Swoop Racing are a bit annoying, the races last 23 seconds, the loading either side of this, and the conversations to get into and out of races is around 3-4 minutes.
The Space Battles, are a bit shit, and feel completely tacked on. Sometimes when flying between planets (or at points in the story) the Ebon Hawk (your ship) will be attacked. Here you use a crappy mounted gun to shoot the enemy ships. It isn’t “bad”, it just isn’t fleshed out, and wouldn’t make the game better or worse by not having it included.
KOTOR is fantastic, every choice you make feels like there is a consequence, no matter how small. It gets the large binary good/evil choices right and it offers flexibility.
If you have never played it you should, it can be awkward to get a hold of PC copies that’ll work, and some XBOX discs don’t work on some XBOX360s.
Go play it, it is Mass Effect with added Star Wars, and therefore the BEST THING EVUR.
Pros: HK47. Everything else, the music is your standard Star Wars awesomeyness
Cons: Lack of mission markers can be a little frustrating, the Twist is obvious, Space battles are tacked on
Back in the Day
KOTOR was universally acclaimed, it won over 40 games of the year, HK47 won best “Original Game Character of the Year”, and IGN ranked KOTOR 3rd best game of 2000-2009 behind Shadow of the Colossus and Half-Life 2.