Rewind Review: Star Wars - Knights of the Old Republic
If you are a Star Wars fan then this game has most likely been added to your library several times over with a copy for your Xbox, PC, and even your iPad or other mobile devices. Knights of the Old Republic was truly an innovator of its time as it not only provided players with traditional RPG elements such as exploration, side-quests, and story building, but also the ability to customize your character in a 3-D environment while dabbling with both Light and Dark Sides of the Force. But was this Star Wars gold-release game really all that it was cracked up to be, or does nostalgia make the game shine brighter than a lightsaber in the dark?
The game begins in the same way that many modern create-a-character RPGs start: your character in a locked room, albeit a briefly locked one. Your character, a soldier/scoundrel/scout on the Endar Spire – a Republic ship that has come under attack by the Sith forces of the Sith Lord Malak. After escaping the ship in an escape pod with pilot Carth Onasi you wake up in an abandoned apartment in the Upper City on the planet Taris. After a brief explanation of current events, and an inevitable guilt trip about finding the Jedi you were supposed to escort, your journey begins.
During your adventure you travel to a number of planets from the Star Wars galaxy, including: the Jedi Enclave of Dantooine, the Star Wars near-staple Tatooine, the Wookie home world of Kashyyyk, the ocean planet Manaan, and the Sith temple and academy world of Korriban. There are several other locations to visit, but this is as far as I am willing to spoil for the sake of this review.
For the most part the game provides excellent backstory for characters, and the plot twists are plentiful, albeit falling upon some clichés. The various interactions and choices allow for a dynamic storyline that despite having a linear goal does have a profound effect on the ending, as well as which planets the character still has access to by the end. Overall, the game keeps you both intrigued and immersed, something that even modern games have a hard time doing from time to time.
As you explore the world you will meet many characters – most of them hostile – while also recruiting new members to your party including a Twi’lek orphan, her Wookie companion, other Jedi, mercenaries, and even your own pair of droids. While players might not get attached to every companion they have, it is difficult not to at least enjoy the company of some companions who – at times – will randomly break your otherwise bland dungeon crawling with some witty banter or arguments.
The most enjoyable of these characters in my experience was the character of HK-47: an assassin droid whose desire in (life?) is to kill absolutely everything regardless of whether it is rational or even the slightest bit reasonable. While this might be due to my love of dark humour, it is simply beautiful to watch him cheer you on each time you decide to kill someone who stands in your way.
Due to the nature of RPG games’ reliance on random number generation and stat pools, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic simply does not age. While certain factors such as character pathing during battles, or throwing grenades through solid concrete might not float-your-boat, it does function in such a way that the game is still very much playable despite being spoiled with newer RPGs. While the complexity of SW: KOTOR’s attributes, skills, and feats system is on par with Dungeons and Dragons, the game does offer a “recommended” tool to push you along the way if you are a simple “for the story” type player. Unless you have decided to increase the game’s difficulty settings there is no reason that a player cannot get through the game unhindered with a little grinding. The game also provides the player with multiple pathways to success with many fighting and gameplay styles.
An informative character information screen ensures that players do not make mistakes when experimenting with character builds.
Furthermore, the alignment system in the game does affect more than just your mood. Characters, environments, and even your stats are affected by the choices you make in the game, providing one of the first truly functional adaptive storylines in a video game.
That being said, sometimes the game throws you for a loop. Unless you are planning on being a complete Mary Sue or Gary Stu it is fairly difficult to maintain a Light Side bonus. For players on enhanced difficulties this can mean life or death as certain Force Abilities affected by the alignment of your character, and this can put you in a bad place if you desired a certain outcome in the game. Also, certain character interactions are completely missed if you align yourself with either the Dark Side or the Light Side to the point where certain party members will not join your group.
Remember how I stated that the game has many ways to fight? What if I told you that these pathways are restricted by your character’s class? What if I then told you that your character’s class can only specialize in certain weapons? What if I then went on to tell you that your character will go through a class change that will further limit their options? If you do not mind spoilers continue to the next paragraph, otherwise skip it until the “GRAPHICS” section.
The ugliest part of this game is the Jedi training. A mandatory part of the game’s storyline, the player *must* become a Jedi after their time on Dantooine. This change in class causes any of your previously pooled stats to become completely useless depending on what you have learned or increased up until this point. What could make this worse? The level 20 experience cap is cumulative. This means that if you gained too many levels while on Taris you might be stranded with 15 useless levels in the Scoundrel class and 5 levels for your Jedi Consular class. As such you are forced to skip 90% of what Taris has to offer to make a decent Jedi, or experiencing all that the game has to offer and suffer the consequences of an underpowered Jedi.
Overall, SW: KOTOR has aged decently, although not well. Textures and models - while striking that 2003 vibe - are not painful to look at on PC since the anisotropic texture filtering allows for images that are nearly free of image grain. What the game does suffer from (at least on PC ports) is widescreen. This is due to KOTOR's native 4:3 resolution which can only be corrected by forcing windowed mode via the game’s configuration files. There are mods that players can download to boost the game to a 16:9 or 16:10 resolution, although these mods tend to sacrifice the UI size, making it difficult to understand what is going on.
Battle scenes are perhaps the most disappointing feature when returning to this game from our modern viewpoints. Some areas (such as the scene below) lack enough population to make the game feel like you are a ship being boarded, while others are just wide hallways with nothing much to look at. Once again, this is a result of the limitations of the time, but a remastered version would certainly need to populate the map with more enemies or objects to make it more interesting visually.
This is perhaps where the game has not aged a bit. The music in this game is breathtaking with each track perfectly illustrating the situation you are in. Battle music starts when it should, and victory jingles play after every battle. Note that since the game does have its battles take place in the main world there is no break in soundtracks, each fading in and out when certain events activate.
Dialogue is also well done, each recording done with remarkable voice acting that one would expect from the game's developer Bioware. My only complaint when it comes to the voice lines, however, is that the aliens have very little variety in their files, leading to “achoota” meaning anything from “We’re dying over here, send back up!” to “Would you like to buy some of my wares?”
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is an old game, but it has aged well all things considered. Great storytelling, a balanced class system, and amazing soundtrack have remained (mostly) un-aged in the 12 years since its original release. If you are a Star Wars fan you already have this game; if you are just beginning to dive into the expanded Star Wars universe this is definitely a great place to start.