Why the galaxy needs Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic III

Feature Rob Leane 24 Feb 2014 - 07:06

Ten years after the original KotOR, Rob looks at why the time is right for an epic new Star Wars RPG

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) is a role-playing game which first hit our shelves a decade ago in 2003. In an age before spoilers seemed to be a major talking-point or concern, peers urged me not to find out the jaw-dropping revelation which occurs in the game. In a time where the best Star Wars game I had played was a frustrating Rogue Squadron demo which came with my parents’ clunky PC, KotOR was an opportunity to step into a whole new galaxy of possibilities and mystery. The narrative, the graphics, the depth, everything about it was way ahead of its time.

It was story-telling on a galactic scale which really blew me away and quickly earned a lot of fans. The opportunity to design your own Jedi, build a lightsaber and set off in the Ebon Hawk to stop an evil tyrant was incredible. KotOR was the first game that made me feel that I wasn’t directing the character, I was the character. It was like playing your way through your own personal Star Wars movie.

Although not everyone who played this game may view it as such a life-changing moment as I did, the general consensus was that it was pretty ruddy good. Copies flew around my group of mates and people I didn’t even know would be able to switch on a PC were getting involved in the action. At the time, it was the most hype I had personally seen for a videogame.

The inevitable sequel followed, and while I still loved it, it was undeniably flawed in many respects. Like the disappointing Arkham Origins game last year, things went awry when the original production company dropped out for this follow-up. Obsidian took over from Bioware and things started to go downhill. Notoriously, the game was rushed. One key producer Chris Avellone confirmed in an interview that he had wanted ‘more time’.

A whole planet, significant locations and famously a droid factory, which was still referenced and present as an un-winnable mission, were cut from the final published version of the game. Although the game was still relatively well received (it has an 85% average on Metacritic), it is presumable that this troubled development is the reason KotOR III never got very far in development.

Star Wars: The Old Republic was launched in 2011 to mixed reviews. It’s a sort-of sequel set three hundred years later in a different gaming format it hasn’t sat well with some fans of the originals. I personally gave it a go, but the MMO just isn’t my style of gaming. My laptop can’t handle it, I can’t afford the extra content and it takes a long time to get anything done. KotOR and its sorry sequel were both romps around the galaxy, popping from one planet to another working to stop the baddies. SWTOR is a Star Wars MMO, a take on the World of Warcraft structure, which certainly built a separate fan base of its own, but didn’t quite quench everyone’s thirst for more KotOR.

Personally, I feel that the time is right for KotOR III to get the green light, and here’s why…

The story is there

Scripting a new KotOR instalment would not be that difficult. The successful framework of the previous two games still stands as a hugely engaging way of plotting a game. In both games you chose your character’s name and appearance, and then they wake up. They’re aboard a space ship with no clue who they are. It’s a minimalist start to a story which gets more complicated and thrilling the more you play through it.

This format encourages the player to implant their own feelings and personality on the character, to become them. I love playing as Obi-Wan in other games and web-slinging around New York in Spider-Man 2 is still a personal gaming highlight, but nothing quite compares to guiding your own character in the Star Wars universe and letting the world unfold around you. Supporting characters like human-hating droid HK-47 and strong female Jedi Bastilla Shan helped create a universe you really wanted to stay in too.

Many think that the sequel should start with choosing either of the two surviving protagonists from the previous two instalments and delving into the mystery of what happened to KotOR’s main character after the events of the first game, but I don’t think that’s fair. New gamers and youngsters joining the KotOR community should have their chance to create a new character and explore the universe too; it’s one of the best things about the games.

With that familiar beginning-point established, writers would of course need to establish what happened next. Despite not wishing to play as the character again, the mysterious enigmatic behaviour of KotOR’s protagonist following the conclusion of the first game is surely the direction to choose going forward. Since the end of their epic adventure, no one has seen or heard from them again. I’m not going to delve further into that, because if you’ve not played these games, you really should, and I still don’t want to spoil it ten years later.

Suffice to say, there’s a mystery out beyond the Outer Rim that needs investigating. In KotOR III it seems pretty logical that your new Jedi would pick up clues about an imminent threat emerging from beyond the known galaxy and would get caught up in a plot to avert it (or help it, depending on your choices). In one SWTOR flashpoint and an associated novel, this loose end has been seen to already, but many believe that much more could be done with it. If EA, Bioware and Disney are brainstorming how to do KotOR III, solving this mystery is surely the direction to choose.

The gaming world is ready

The original KotOR graphics looked great at the time, but like many early noughties games, they are already starting to age badly. Games consoles these days are now capable of so much more. It seems a natural fit that KotOR III would launch on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as well as being available for super-powerful computers. In age where exploratory games like Uncharted are huge money-spinners, the chance to explore a whole galaxy in a new KotOR could be a huge hit.

The Force Unleashed is the closest we have got to a single-player Star Wars gaming really taking full advantage of modern graphics. Surely the time is right to drop a stunningly beautiful, fully playable Star Wars galaxy into stunning HD. A whole generation of kids would have completely missed the first two KotOR games so there must be a captive market waiting to excitedly create their own Jedi adventure.

Games like Diablo III have proved that it’s possible to revamp a franchise for the HD age without alienating gamers with hours of backstory to learn. If kids can follow modern Doctor Who, with all the backstory that entails, you think newcomers to this franchise could handle having to learn a few details from the previous KotOR instalments. Introducing the idea of KotOR’s protagonist mysteriously disappearing into the unchartered galaxy and the existence of a Jedi exile who followed him, really isn’t that much more backstory than when we had to learn about Revan and Malak back in 2003.

The early hype for SWTOR was built through epic cinematic trailers, which showed just how great the Star Wars galaxy could look with modern technology. The highly-realistic epic battles depicted therein promised a game of stunning force-use and lightsaber battling. Sadly, due to being limited to the abilities of laptop computers, SWTOR didn’t live up to the promise. Bioware must be tempted to build on this visual style with a more powerful and visually-pleasing Star Wars game for new consoles akin to their hugely successful Mass Effect series.

If Bioware could produce a pitch for KotOR III that looked anywhere near as good as their SWTOR trailers, stuffed with Jedi and opportunities for new gamers to join the community, it’s sure to be a popular idea at the Mouse House.

Disney wants a hit

This is completely undeniable. Disney have acquired the rights to all Lucas Arts properties and will be currently looking at how to start turning a whopping profit any way possible. The cinematic world is moving forward with Kathleen Kennedy’s dream choice for director, even the new animated series Rebels is beginning to look very promising. The gaming world needs to catch up.

Movie tie-in games are an absolute certainty, as are more family-friendly Lego games, but those won’t be getting anyone reaching for their wallets for over a year at least. A next-gen Battlefront game is in development too, but that still leaves the problem of Disney missing out on years of single-player Jedi gaming action, which is sure to rake in plenty of cash. If Warner Brothers can make good money out of Batman every year, you’ve got to think that the allure of playing as your own Jedi could do the same for Disney.

We shouldn’t think for a second that Disney will wait for the movies to come out before trying to make money out of cool lightsaber gaming. With the new movies already nabbing the time period directly after Return of the Jedi, the centuries-before prequel option is surely just as attractive now as it was when the prequels were in production.

It’s known that Disney have tasked EA to publish brand new Star Wars games with DICE, Visceral and Bioware. We already know that DICE are working on the new Battlefront game and that Visceral are working on a new open-world idea after the stunning bounty hunter game Star Wars: 1313 was taken off the table.

That leaves Bioware, who have successfully built a huge franchise in Mass Effect since parting ways with KotOR when the second instalment went into production. Bioware also worked with EA on SWTOR, so it’s fully plausible that their new Star Wars project will be something similar. Could it be that Disney are looking for them to develop a single-player console game as a modernisation of their hugely popular KotOR?

Although SWTOR garnered lots of players, it seems likely that EA will want something a bit safer from Bioware this time, which opens the door to the possibility of KotOR III. With no single-player Jedi-creating or lightsaber duelling yet lined up for the new consoles, a whole generation of kids waiting to explore a galaxy far far away, and a loving fan-base eagerly awaiting a new instalment, KotOR III looks like a pretty safe option for Disney, let’s just hope they notice.

The original KotOR was a great gaming experience, and one that really captured our imaginations. By creating a visually stunning sequel allowing another generation to engage with the Star Wars universe, Disney could start making new fans and bags of money long before their new trilogy of films is even made. We’ve got to hope then, that we will hear an announcement for KotOR III, or something similar, in the near future.

Do you want to see more KotOR or would you like something new from Bioware? 

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