The first role-playing game based in the Star Wars universe finds players controlling a three-party team from a third-person perspective. The setting takes place 4,000 years before the first Star Wars film, where the Jedi and Sith number in the thousands and are involved in a war that could upset the balance of the Force. Players choose from a variety of races before they begin, including humans, droids, Wookiees, and Twil'leks, with classes in Bounty Hunter, Scoundrel, Jedi Guardian, Scout, and Soldier.
The journey will span ten worlds as players ultimately decide on a path of good or evil, from the confines of the Jedi Academy on Dantooine to the forests of Kashyyyk, the Sith realm of Korriban, and the desert planet of Tatooine. BioWare moves away from the interface used in the Baldur's Gate series to create a new turn-based combat system using the 3D engine. Mini-games include riding on a swoop bike, battling from behind a gun turret, and other events that offer players a diversion from the main storyline.
A ground-breaking game on both the console and the PC, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) is a superb RPG set in the pre-movie era of the Star Wars movies.
Released by Lucas Arts and Bioware in 2003, the game's graphic hold up well on the PC, though issues with the newer graphics cards are turning up. The sound effects, music, and voice-acting is what one would expect from a Bioware + Lucas Arts partnership; that is to say, they are very good. Due to the game's age, some minor conflicts with modern sound and graphics cards occur, but the very friendly online forums provided quick and easy solutions to the one I encountered.
In this franchise-making game you are a new recruit aboard the Endar Spire, which serves as a flagship for the Jedi Bastila. The ship is ravaged by a Sith assault near the planet Taris, and you become one of the few Republic loyalists to survive the battle above the planet. After much brawling and explosions, you are force to evacuate the ship in an escape pod, which lands on the planet Taris.
Once on the planet you, and another survivor named Carth Onasi, must try and locate the Jedi Bastila, get provisions, and find a way to escape the world; all the while dodging local crime lords, bounty hunters and, of course, the roaming Sith troopers that are tearing the world apart looking for you.
Once you have managed to achieve this feat, the game takes another twist, and sets your character on the path to becoming a Jedi yourself; and a Jedi with a terrible destiny. Aside from the main plotline, there is a plethora of side-quests, sub-plots, and character storylines; but we would expect nothing else from a Bioware RPG.
Most of the secondary storylines were enjoyable to complete, though some of them felt arbitrary or lacked uniqueness (being of the "go thither and kill thater, then come thither and collect thiser" variety). Overall, however, they were of good quality, and the character storylines were very moving (or amusing, depending on the character).
The game uses a modified version of the D20 System of the table-top RPG, with all the benefits and drawbacks thereof. As with Neverwinter Nights, Bioware does a phenomenal job converting the pencil and paper version to the PC; so well, in fact, that anyone familiar with the PnP version will have no difficulty diving straight into the game.
Combat is resolved in quasi-real time, as the action is fast paced (though the player is free to pause and issue commands or access character inventory at anytime), but still takes place within the D20 framework. So, furious "button mashing" will get you nowhere, as each character has a limited number of attacks they can make within a predetermined block of time. Running and jumping does not make you a more difficult target to hit, though it might save your butt if a grenade is thrown nearby.
The AI is adequate for the tasks demanded of it. Bioware makes use of a very flexible henchman behavior system which allows the player to customize what his/her party will do during, and out of, combat. The henchman behavior can even be changed while in combat, and henchmen can be manually "possessed" if you need to fine-tune their actions.
Occasionally, your henchmen will run off and get killed, or else do something obviously moronic. But, given the limitations of programs vs. the human brain, I found the AI very reasonable in its capabilities. By the same token, the enemy AI is also competent, and you can expect the hostiles to use reasonably sound tactics and strategies to defeat the player. The AI is not a master strategist or brilliant tactician - but it is quite capable of handling frontal and direct attacks quite well.
Despite all the great things about this game, there was a few issues I disliked. The first is the extremely limited character creation options. There are only three classes at the games start, though you will gain access to three more eventually (though you can only choose one of the 3 new classes to add to your first choice). This was a big disappointment. After beating the game twice (to see the two main endings), I could not convince myself to keep playing.
The small number of character classes is one thing; the limited options for customizing the appearance of your chosen character is unforgivable. I think that even Jade Empire had a larger list of facial options, and Jade Empire never broke ground in that department! Especially as this game came after Neverwinter Nights, I fail to understand the rational behind the design decision here.
A last quibble is the <gasp> the story. I know I praised the story previously, and I stand by that verdict. However, the whole "redeem the fallen one" plot is getting old. Jedi must have the mental fortitude thistles, as they seem to get philosophically blown back and forth like a bunch of tumbleweeds. However, if you take this game's plot independent from the rest of the universe, it is well done. Better in quality than the second movie trilogy, in any event.
Ultimately, however, I am forced to accept that the negatives of this game are only issues because it is such a great game. Most CRPGs would sell their left bytes to obtain the quality of KoTOR. The Star Wars universe, and the Gaming universe, both profited this release. May the Force be with the Sequels!
Final Score: 5 out of 5
People who downloaded Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic have also downloaded:
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords, Star Wars: Galaxies - An Empire Divided, Diablo 2, Elder Scrolls 3, The: Morrowind, Fallout 2, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, Diablo, Baldur's Gate
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