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Classic Review: Knights of the Old Republic

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I’m sure at some point in the history of this website (brief as it may be) I have mentioned my golden rule of video game purchasing: namely “If it’s the official game of the movie, it going to suck really, really badly”. Now I probably haven’t mentioned this before, but that rule has an exception – and here it is:

“If the game has Star Wars in the title, even if it’s not the “official game of the movie”, odds are it is going to suck.”

Ok, before all the Star Wars fans yelling in Shyriiwook beat me to a bloody pulp, yes there have been exceptions. Rogue Squadron, the Jedi Knight series and Star Wars Pod Racer were great games. From what I’ve heard Star Wars Galaxies  (pre-crash due to negligence and incompetence) and the Battlefront series were also ok. But this is a handful of games from a franchise which has produced dozens, if not hundreds.

But for me there was one game (well, one and a half: the sequel was unfinished, lets not go there) which was the entire franchises’ saving grace, you know, apart from the movies. Well even those second movies a lot of people got pissed off about. I mean they weren’t that bad but I guess… wait. Where was I? Oh yeah games.

Anyway for me Knights of the Old Republic was the swansong from the Star Wars creative community, something which proved you could create something within the Star Wars universe as unique and enthralling as the original films were themselves. And if you couldn’t tell, this will be a very positive review.

Knights of the Old Republic came out back in 2003 and won a number of awards including a few game of the years. As a multi-world RPG, it was a different breed of Star Wars game. Instead of classic interpretations which either put you into a saber-wielding FPS role or focused on vehicle control, this was the first game which got you further than skin deep in a real character living in one of the most popular conceived universes of all time.

KotOR (as it is abbreviated) is set 4000 years prior to the events in the Star Wars movies, giving them plenty of breathing space to create new lore, new weapons and avoid the plot sinkholes which have plagued other Star Wars titles (Yes Force Unleashed, your timeframe was unforgivably ridiculous – much like your gameplay). And by god did they do it well.

The game takes place back when the galaxy is split between Republic and Sith forces, creating a underlying power struggle to every planet and character interaction. In more recent news, the galaxy is also under attack by a ruthless dark jedi by the name of Darth Malak. Your character wakes up on a republic ship which is under attack above the planet of Taris and shortly finds themselves jettisoning to the planet’s surface in an escape pod. From there it’s a tangled web of intrigue and relationship building/destroying until you make  your way to Dantooine where you learn to become a Jedi. Eventually you face off against Darth Malak in a bid to save/destroy the galaxy (the choice is yours).

Now everyone knows Bioware does great storylines, but for me that began in Knights of the Old Republic. My first play through took me somewhere around 35-40 hours and for the first 8 of those I didn’t even have a lightsaber! Crazy! And yet I was still hooked. The menus are easy to navigate and items are easy to compare, some of the classic things which can let down an RPG. More to the point, the dialogue options are just superb. By integrating light side/dark side points which provide discounts/penalties onto your force abilities, you feel like every conversation is important (whether you are talking to a Rodian or Senator). And there are just so many abilities, from passive improvements (or feats) to force powers to stat points – character customization is king, something which has never really been stressed in a Star Wars game.

And the gameplay itself was just effortless. Sure some people may have wanted a more hands-on experience, my brother complained that “[he] wanted to swing the lightsaber himself, not to tell the character to swing it”, but for me the choreography of the fight scenes more than made up for any lack of immersion due to the controls. And the planets were superb, varied and rich with dozens of side quests and plenty of creatures straight out of the lore. I even saw some Sand People women, who I had almost fully convinced myself didn’t exist (I thought they just spawned every time there was a pod race, go figure).

There was also a fair amount of freedom of direction to the game, something I saw built upon in later games like Dragon Age: Origins. By giving the player a bracketed start/end to the game and then freedom to move between a number of locations during, we don’t feel like we are being pushed in a direction the character we have conceived might not explore (yet). Also having your own starship and being able to use it to cruise around the galaxy is just awesome.

Building your team is definitely part of the fun. On later play throughs I remember planning out specific paths to pick up people I liked, while usually avoiding planets with whiny or goody-goody team mates (I was generally bad to bone, I robbed from the rich and then gave to robbed from the poor). Also with a mix of character class options, you can build yourself a Saber-heavy Darth Maul or your very own lightning focused Palpatine (or a Qui Gon or an Obi-Wan, if you must).

Really this is just one of the most complete RPG world I have ever experienced, and Star Wars only comes into it by chance. It's a must have for any RPG collector, and if you like Star Wars games then odds are this game already takes pride of place in your collection. There is so much more I would love to talk about but I just don't have the space, there are just too many awesome aspects.

In short (because this article was pretty damn long), if you play this game you will see why people won’t shut up about the upcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Oh and did I mention there is no Jar Jar Binks (or Great-Grandfather Binks) in sight? Yeah I thought you guys would like that.

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