The Mass Effect series has arguably defined RPG’s for this generation of video games, but as you probably know, one of developer Bioware’s earlier successes came from an already-existing IP with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It wasn’t exactly the first game to include moral choices, but it certainly helped popularize them. Upon its release, the game was critically heralded. The question is, upon the game’s 10th anniversary does the game still hold up? The short answer is yes.
It is clear from the beginning that the developers over at Bioware did their homework on the Star Wars universe when developing Knights of the Old Republic. Then again, given that the game was based not only off well-established space opera, but a d20 role-playing game as well, they already had plenty to work with. Thanks to all of this, the lore is complete and deep enough to draw in both long-time Star Wars, sci-fi fans, and just about anyone else.
Across the game’s seven planets, the game simply oozes atmosphere. This is my first time playing the game, and I almost felt like a kid again watching Saturday morning serials with my dad. The sweeping soundtrack adds a layer of mystery that goes hand-in-hand with the story and the astounding twist that comes right in at the story’s climax. The environments are small and linear compared to what we see in Mass Effect, but thanks to the well-done world you still feel like you’re there, even when the graphics don’t really look all that great (but you weren’t coming here for graphics, anyways).
My play-through clocked in at 52 hours, so needless to say, there’s plenty to do. Pretty much all of it is worth doing, too, because the quest structure is very well done. Eschewing the extremely generic fetch quests that perforate many games, even today, this game gives us fetch quests with character. No matter what I was doing, I felt like I was doing it with purpose. Even when the voice acting and script didn’t hold up, the game was always making an honest effort to make me care about what I was doing – be it grabbing some mundane artifact, or saving the galaxy.
So, the story, fiction, atmosphere, and world are all well-done, what about the game play? Here is where things become a mixed bag. The leveling up system is great, giving you plenty of options as to what you want your character to specialize in – from something simple as shooting a blaster better than anyone, to fixing up a broken droid with minimal resources, to setting a mine that no one else can set. The best part is that you can take your character on his or her own route without feeling that you’re missing out, because the party of nine characters means that you can give each of them a specialization, rounding out the skill set at your disposal.
Not only do you see a wide array or job-oriented skills, but an array of special powers to grant your characters as they level up. They can master two-weapon sword or light saber fighting, gain access to precision sniper shots, or acquire bonuses on some of the skills listed above. Once you gain access to the force, things get even better. You can unleash the iconic lightning blasts; choke move, or light-side support powers to heal your entire party. Since there are only four Jedi in your party, you need to pick these powers a little more deliberately.
The force powers are given a little more depth since the ones you excel at are determined by your force alignment. There are plenty of moral choices to make throughout the game that fall in line with either the light or dark side of the force. For example, if you love to be an evil jerk, your force lightning will perform a little differently. If you are a kind-hearted saint, your Force Valor power will also perform a little differently.
The morality system is a little bit skimpy, however. It is just a little too black and white, almost humorously so. Let’s say you have an option to help an assassin droid disable his assassin protocols because he has become self-aware and no longer wants to kill. Your dialog options are pretty much “Sure, buddy, I’ll help ya!” and “I will destroy you instead because it is evil!” With games like The Witcher 2 out there that give us plenty of subtle options in handling any moral dilemma, this just felt really sophomoric by comparison and was quite the testament to how far games have come.
In addition to the “ehh” moral decisions, there was also the combat. Once again, with games having advanced quite a bit since then, the combat feels really clunky. Functioning something like a primitive Dragon Age: Origins, you don’t attack enemies directly, but take “turns” as you select powers and attack moves for your character to perform and then watch him carry out your orders.
May sound simple enough, but when my character would either not listen to what I asked him to do, or my party just stood around doing nothing as I was sliced to ribbons by Sith light sabers, this really made the more difficult parts of the game difficult for all the wrong, frustrating reasons. It didn’t help that the most “epic” parts of the game were all combat oriented, either. Thankfully, these problems weren’t constantly rearing their heads, but they didn’t help.
With Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you have to realize that you’re playing a 10-year-old game. The game sometimes stutters when things get intense, the combat is ehh, and the moral system has all the subtlety of an atomic bomb. However, thanks to the great RPG mechanics, great story, and atmosphere to make the universe even more appealing, Knights of the Old Rebublic is most certainly popping in again if you’re in need of some Star Wars RPG’in – or any RPG’in at all, for that matter.