Those of you who have been following Star Wars Galaxies will know of the secrecy surrounding the path to becoming a Jedi, until recently anyway. People discussed at length the possibilities on what you may have to do, secret quests for hidden Hermits or just doing general good deeds across the Galaxy were suggested. When it was revealed that the way to obtain a Jedi is simply to Master a selection of randomly chosen professions, I for one was aghast. So much was hoped for and what they came up with is in-accurate, incredibly dull and makes sure the majority of Jedi will be played by 1337, trash-talking, power-gamers. All I can say is thank the maker for Knights of the Old Republic.
I would actually go as far as to say that Knights of the Old Republic is probably the best Star Wars game ever made, it goes much further than being a replacement Jedi game for Jedi-jaded SWG players. Let me lay the foundations for you, what we have here is an RPG made by the team that made Baldurs Gate 2, in full 3D, set in the Star Wars universe. It sounded pretty good to me too!
Now I like my Star Wars but I admit I know little about what goes on outside the films, KOTOR is actually set long before the Lucas films, in the days when Jedi were more common and not a hunted minority. The Sith are lauding over the Republic with Dark Malak at their helm and the game kicks off with you aboard a Republic ship under attack from the Sith. You soon escape in a pod and set off after the Jedi, Bastila, who also ejected from said Republic ship, on the Sith controlled planet of Taric…
If you have played the Baldurs Gate games then you will know exactly how things work, you create your character at the start from one of three classes and then refine his or her abilities to your tastes. It all gets very Deus Ex as well as you chose between Computer Hacking abilities and Demolition techniques…do you chose duel-wielded vibroblades or a go with a good blaster at your side? You certainly have a lot of freedom in how you want to play your main character.
I don’t think I am giving too much away either by saying you become a Jedi at some point in the game… here things really get interesting. First of all, you obviously get a lightsabre. Like all the games weapons, it’s customizable in terms of its colour and type – be it double or single bladed or duel-wielded! I can confirm they look and sound perfect too.
Where the really cool bit comes in though is your alignment, your decisions in the game result in you obtaining Light and Dark side points. For instance, one early sub-quest (of which there are many) sees you recovering the serum for the rakghoul disease…you can give it to the local hospital, and favour the Light side, or sell it to the local crime lord, Davik, for a handsome fee, and drift towards the Dark side. What this results in is different Force powers being made available to you, Dark-side powers will cost more for a Light-side Jedi to use and vice-versa, and some may not be available at all.
The focus of the game is far from being on you alone though, Bio Ware aren’t that focused! A total of nine other characters can be added to your team as you progress on your journey, although sadly only two of them can be with you at a time. I’m trying to avoid too many spoilers, but you get some great characters to join you, varying fully from Wookiees, to Twi’leks to Droids. If you loved the character interaction of Baldurs Gate then you will be pleased to know it continues here, the game sometimes breaks off while your characters have a chat and open up their personalities a bit more.
What the game really achieves is in creating a believable Star Wars world, scripted events happen all the time and you get totally caught up in your characters journey. The story is tightly plotted out but it allows you to deviate all the time into indulging your own interests. There are numerous sub-plots such as your ability to play out the role of a Bounty Hunter and many sub-games such as the Pazak card-game and Swoop-bike racing.
Combat is treated flexibly, you play as you would in Baldurs Gate, with the ability to pause the time and deal out commands to your party. Sadly it isn’t quite as detailed and tactical as you are dealing with less people with a less diverse range of skills. But still, the action is great and I found the fights very enjoyable, particularly using Force powers as you really do get a feeling of your superiority as a Jedi.
As ever for Star Wars games, the sound is something else…being a game so heavy on dialogue it is a real refreshing change to hear the aliens speak, not in English, but in their native tongue. Obviously you can’t understand a bit of it, but reading the subtitles along with the grunts and rasps goes a huge distance to sucking you into a Star Wars adventure. Most of the human voice acting is fine, but not quite as colourful as in Bio Wares previous games, some is actually quite dodgy, but the poorer moments are thankfully restricted to bit-part characters you may hear speak once or twice.
I have played the X-Box version too and to play the game with some AA is a real breath of fresh air! Getting rid of all those jaggies is a godsend and the game looks so, so much better than what you will have seen before. Some of the animation is a little stiff but generally it looks great, particularly in combat when you whip out your lightsabre and start spinning around, trusting and parrying. Some of the landscapes are wonderful too, landing on Dantooine was a real jaw dropper, seeing flocks of birds in the sun over a lake always sticks in my mind. Throw in some awesome shiney textures and you have more than enough eye-candy.
I have found few bad things to say about KOTOR and I would say this is one of the best RPGs on the PC, due to the fact it isn’t set within the timeframe of the movies also means you don’t have to know a thing about Star Wars to enjoy it as well. One of the very top PC games this Christmas!