System: Xbox [Reviewed], PC (currently schedualed to ship November 18th) Released: August 17th, 2003 Developer/Publisher: Bioware/LucasArts Category: Role Playing Game (RPG) Rating: T for Teen (Violence) Multiplayer: None
Bioware has been known to make some of the best Role Playing Games in the world. This Canadian developer has taken RPGs to new levels with Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) for the Xbox (to be released for the PC this fall). I am usually a person who likes to play action and strategy games as well as detailed racing simulations on the PC. Thus, it is ironic that I bought and liked an RPG for my Xbox console However, while I rarely have time for a time consuming game, I truly love depth and have been looking for a great adventure that I could play on my Xbox. It turns out that Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, while certainly not perfect, wonderfully implements Star Wars style adventure and combat into one of the best Xbox games ever. First of all, RPGs are complex and they demand a lot of time. It took me quite some time to get to grips with much of the deeper intricacies of the game. This is the first place where KOTOR shines.
KOTOR was made for those who have some familiarity with console RPGs so on the outside it looks and feels simple but, if one so desires, one can go much deeper into the game and get the most out of it. This applies mainly to the combat, but also to the player stats. There is the option to delve into all the hundreds of numbers that go into combat, but one never has to. As mentioned above, I am a detailed person and I love the numbers but, it took me awhile to get into even the basics as I have never really played an RPG before. The first part of the game is basically a tutorial and it is very well implemented into the game play. This is a good thing because the manual does not cover any kind of specifics whatsoever. Basically, KOTOR is a deep game beneath the facade of simple entertainment. Thus, while it is easier for newbies to get into compared to the average PC RPG, there is still quite a bit of learning that needs to happen if one is not accustomed to deep PC RPGs. However, the work required is very much worth the effort if one has the time.
There are two main parts to the game play of KOTOR: the adventuring and the combat. The adventuring half of KOTOR consists of character development, quests, and side-quests, among other things. The characters are absolutely outstanding. They are realistic, believable, and consistent in the literary sense. The people who wrote the dialogue for this game need to be given a raise and hired in Hollywood. Honestly, most of the dialogue is written much better than the majority of movies and books these days. There are nine characters that can join your party, but that really depends on your actions as it is possible that you could deny at least four of them a chance to journey with you. One would never want to do such a thing as each of the characters have their own personalities, backgrounds, and conflicts.
The player has the chance to get to know and love (or hate) each of the characters. They range from Jedi with attitudes to aliens who have traveled far off lands to robots who are as entertaining as they are useful. The player can ascertain information about these characters? backgrounds and help them overcome their struggles with the past. I honestly can not believe how well characters are developed and how interesting it is to learn more about them. These characters are developed at least as well as any characters in the best movies to date. After awhile, these characters come off the screen and become real people. You can predict how they will react to certain situations and how to deal with them under certain circumstances. Of course, this all depends on whether you follow the light side or the dark side on your path to victory.
The greatest feature of Knights is a game play mechanic which is, to my knowledge, extremely unique: through the dialogue options and actions that the player performs, he will follow either the dark side or the light side. For instance, a droid that I needed cost X amount of credits. I was far short of that amount and I had no idea how I could get that much money. So I threatened the lady at the robot store by telling her that I would have a bounty hunter chase her down if she did not give me the droid for free. I obviously got dark side points for this, but it shows the numerous possibilities of actions that one can perform. I could affront the Jedi council or I could treat them respectfully. In everything I do I have the choice of leaning towards either the light or dark side. And this is absolutely awesome because it adds a game play mechanic that is un-paralleled. Right now my character is just north of neutral, but I could replay the game and be a totally light or dark side character as well as anything in between.
The side that your character is on only effects the game play as far as your force powers: light side characters have a huge penalty if they use dark side force powers (e.g. force lightning) and visa versa. However, characters, especially those in your own party, will strongly react to your character depending on what actions you do. I can not say enough about this feature?it makes a very good game into an extremely outstanding one. The plot of the game is absolutely outstanding, and the further that one gets into the game, the better the plot gets. I will avoid giving spoilers, but let it suffice to say that your character begins the game on a Republic ship after two major wars have led many to fall to the dark side. You learn that there is a Jedi who turned to the dark side and it is your job to stop him from destroying the Republic in its entirety. This plot could easily be the script for a movie or book and it is perfectly executed in the game.
There are jaw-dropping plot twists, outstanding character development, generally cohesive events, and a very worthwhile theme, if played via the light side of course. The side-quests are also done extremely well. From what I hear, side-quests in RPGs can at times be annoying. In KOTOR the player may chose to embark on them, but they are never necessary. In fact, it is quite possible to never do a single side-quest. I really like this option because if I want some action, I can just progress on the main quest, but if I want some adventure, I can pursue another great side-quest?it?s just another instance of the fact that KOTOR becomes the game you want it to be. And while it is possible to avoid side quests, this would take a lot away from the game as one would miss many outstanding stories, characters, and rewards. It may take time to do a quest, but the rewards are almost always worth it.
The other half of the game play in KOTOR consists of combat and this is handled equally as well as the adventuring. Just as with other aspects of the game, the combat in KOTOR is customizable. It is possible to fight in complete real-time or in turns similar to what one would find in many other console RPGs. The third and best combat option, in my opinion, lies in the combination of these approaches: play the combat out in real time and pause it whenever desired. The white button pauses and un-pauses the game so that the player can queue up to three actions. Thus, once one action is performed, the character will automatically begin the next action. However, the characters do very well by themselves if the player simply wants to watch the battle unfold before him. In fact it is extremely entertaining watching the characters, especially the Jedi, heroically confront the antagonists. My Jedi character has two lightsabers, one of which is upgraded with items that I acquired throughout my journeys, as well as the force jump power. When I tell him to attack a dark Jedi and the conditions are favorable, he will automatically force jump, land near the enemy, and then do all kinds of awesome lightsaber maneuvers. He may defend with one ?blade? while attacking with the other, or he may attack with both at the same time, or he might do something completely different.
The animations for all of these attacks and defenses are stunning. As mentioned above, it is extremely entertaining just to watch the characters duel it out. It is possible to gawk at these fluid maneuvers because the detail of the battle all happens behind the scenes. The casual player may never know, and never has to know, all that is going on during battle. Knights of the Old Republic is based on the D20 system and, as far as I know, implements it well, though there are some variations from the normal board rules. If one wishes to delve into the details, they can be displayed. It can be very helpful to study these details if one wishes to really get a grasp on how effective a certain character is in combat, but it is never necessary. In fact, the player could set the combat difficulty to easy so that he could easily resume the adventuring portion of the game. Did I say that Knights is awesome because it caters to all people?
The visuals in KOTOR are a mixed bag?there are some absolutely stunning moments while at other times more could be expected. The environments are amazingly vast and interesting to explore. Even though there are many planets, they are all very different and are very full of objects; even the desert of Tatooine feels inhabited without loosing the desert feel. As mentioned above, the character models look spectacular in combat. When speaking to a non-player character, the view angle changes so that the player does not become sick of watching the characters speak. The lip-sync is very well done and while the heads of NPCs look very good, the same faces often appear and the clothing textures of the characters are quite pixilated. Bioware may use a greater variety of faces in the upcoming PC version as well as higher resolution textures, but one can not know for sure.
It should be noted that there are occasional slow downs throughout the game. These normally occur when there is a lot of action on screen and do not affect game play, but certain people may be put of by this, though I never really cared as the frame never dropped below 12 and would only be that way for a second or two. Once again, Bioware has the time and advanced hardware to fix all of these problems in the PC version, though one can not be absolutely certain about this. However, the sound will not need to be fixed?it is absolutely perfect. Blaster and lightsaber sound effects are borrowed straight from LucasArts? database and they sound fantastic. I am fortunate enough to have my Xbox hooked up to a 2.1 speaker system and I feel as though I am right there in the midst of the action.
The music is also very well done. Some of the original Star Wars music is present along with some very atmospheric music composed by Jeremy Soule. One can instantly be immersed in the situation merely by hearing the music, even though it is not in and of itself worthy of a soundtrack. As far as character voice-overs, I have never heard them done as good as KOTOR. In fact, numerous characters are voiced by professional actors. The alien voices are also all very well done. Each alien speaks its own native language and it sounds extremely good. While it is controversial as to whether the aliens verbally say the same things repeatedly, there is a noticeable difference as to what is said when they are angered as opposed to when they are grateful. Sound can greatly enhance the immersion of a game, and KOTOR implements this aspect of the presentation extremely well.
The controls and interface for the Xbox version of KOTOR are done perfectly. The characters are viewed in 3rd person and the movement/viewing controls are pretty much the same as any console FPS. The player can not view up or down unless he temporarily enters into the first person perspective. The Menu system is intuitive and relatively simple. One can easily sort through quests, see previous dialogue and battle details, and view all kinds of details about the characters among other things. However, all is not perfect in KOTOR. The development team was unable to play test the game enough due to the time constraints of the development schedule. Thus, there are quite a few bugs, some small and some big. For instance, when characters transfer into a different area, they might be unequipped of their weapons. These kinds of things usually do not affect the game play too much, but they are a little annoying. On the other hand there are some major bugs, but I have never run into any of these. As long as the player saves pretty often, everything should be fine.
When ever we speak about the morality of games here, we often bring up the objectionable content. Yet, while there are some things in KOTOR that would be offensive to some, there are many virtues and values portrayed in a positive light. I have really gotten into this game, and it?s amazing because the choices that I would make in real life affect the choices I make in the game (except for the time when I threatened that lady selling the robot). It is very interesting that the choices that I have made in the game have also helped me reflect on the choices that I make in real life. For instance, while it may be objectionable for some that there is the possibility to follow the dark side, this game play mechanic presents the real life challenge that we face every day: the choice to either follow the way of life or the way of death. It challenges the player to make moral decisions and rewards the player for good. When I free a race from slavery, I?m glad I did it. When one of the characters in my party reflects on his/her personal struggle between good and evil, it makes me think about my actions in game, but also my actions in real life. It?s amazing because this game, at least for me, has encouraged introspection. For example, one of the characters has a conflict with her parent and finds out that her parent is deathly ill. I travel with my partner to see her parent and they begin an argument.
To make a long story short, I interjected and forcefully suggested that the daughter actually listen to her parent?s side of the story. When they finally began to listen, they understood each other and their relationship ended peacefully. While this may seem like an insignificant side-quest, it seriously got me thinking about how important listening is. In fact, it is because I pursued this side quest that I was reminded the importance of truly listening instead of always imposing one?s own opinion. This does not mean that this game should be played just so that a person can be reminded about the importance of listening, but it shows that this masterpiece achieves something higher than just the average game. The best art, no matter its form, brings one to look at reality from a different angle so that it might help one to become a better person. I must say that this game achieves this purpose, and I am a better person because of it. In fact, I have to say that this is true with all of the Star Wars universe?it praises virtue and encourages one to live a more virtuous life. Now, there is fighting (how could the game be fun without it?), but no blood that I could see. There is also some language, but this consists mostly of the D and H words. They don?t pop up too often, and it is often understandable why they are used. There are of course some really rude dialogue options that could be said, but there?s a reason that they lead to the dark side. Of course, it is never obligatory to say these things and it adds to the challenge of following the light side, if one so chooses. Nevertheless, I couldn?t help choosing some of the dark side dialogue options as they were absolutely hilarious.
Once again, it is the light/dark side conflict that makes this game so great. As stated above, this game is really quite praiseworthy when it comes to morality, even if it does have a minor amount of swearing. The Xbox has had very few RPGs and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic wonderfully fills this gap in the Xbox library. It presents the player with the continuous choice between the light and dark side in an epic adventure with a Hollywood quality plot, voice acting, and character development. Combat is nearly perfected and allows the player to fight the way he so chooses. The presentation is top notch, even if there are bugs and blemishes. KOTOR is by far the best RPG for the Xbox and one of the best RPGs ever made. Besides Halo, it could be considered the best game in the Xbox library, though it is definitely not an action game. As long as an Xbox owner has the time that this game demands, it is a necessity to at least rent this game before buying it.