Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - Staff Retroview  

No More Training Do You Require
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Superb use of the license
+ Addictive storytelling
+ Wide gamut of abilities
+ Meaningful choices
- Unspectacular combat
- Huge inventory
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   The history of RPGs developed using a license from another part of popular culture is dispiriting, to say the least. BioWare fortunately had the great boon of not being forced into a direct adaptation of any film in the Star Wars series. An already-sizable extended universe in which to set its game was also quite helpful. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic succeeds at a great number of things and demonstrates how a licensed property can shine if a talented developer is given freedom to work with it. Knights of the Old Republic isn't just a fine Star Wars game: it's an RPG anyone with the slightest interest in the subject matter should investigate.

   The Republic is in dire straits as a powerful Sith surge relentlessly pushes its forces across the galaxy. A planned offensive to eliminate the Sith leadership was only half successful, and Darth Malak is using every resource at his expansive command to ensure that what befell his master does not happen again. A young Jedi named Bastila led the attack on the Sith leadership, and her ship is under attack as the game begins. Escaping from the Sith forces is not so easy as simply getting off the imperiled vessel for Bastila, and the planet Taris is subjected to increasingly invasive measures due to Malak's insistence on finding her. Finding and saving this crucial Jedi is the job of a soldier who also escaped from the ship with no memory of getting onto it in the first place.

   Familiarity with the Star Wars universe is helpful in taking enjoyment from the game's proceedings, but the writing does a good enough job of explaining what is going on to make newcomers feel knowledgeable too. Event pacing stays consistently strong, and what might have come across as a glorified fetch quest in the middle of the game is much more thanks to many happenings not directly related to it. The characters that join the party have stories that can be learned through conversation, fleshing their initially undeveloped personalities out considerably.

These grunt Sith must love conformity, since they wear the same thing no matter where they These grunt Sith must love conformity, since they wear the same thing no matter where they're found.

   The seemingly unimportant protagonist has plenty of development as well, but most of it is supplied by the player in a wide variety of scenarios that require moral choices. Constantly called upon to deal with situations verbally, the player usually has clear-cut choices in how conciliatory or caustic the conversation becomes. Sometimes being selfish and aggressive will produce extra fighting, while other times it only affects the protagonist's personal morality, but the opportunity to significantly alter the course of events is always there. Whether choosing what to do about Wookie slavery on Kashyyyk, slaughtering Sand People on Tatooine, or lying to members of the Jedi Council about readiness for action, Knights of the Old Republic is full of opportunities to steer sections of the plot in different and interesting ways.

   The experience gained through some of these conversations, along with that acquired in battle, does not automatically make characters increase in level. The player has the choice of when to grant a level along with the pick of what new skills will be learned, making this an important aspect of the game. Since it is impossible to learn all the skills characters have access to, their development requires some meaningful thought. The current affiliation of any Jedi also makes a difference in their development, as Force abilities associated with the light or dark side are harder to use by characters on the opposite end of the spectrum. Paying attention to how characters grow is quite rewarding, and the game is kind enough to make sure those not currently in the party gain experience too so that they're not impoverished later.

   The actual combat in Knights of the Old Republic is nothing exceptional, though its application of D&D rules does nothing particularly wrong. Fights proceed by choosing a target and performing whatever action the player selected in what can play out as either a real-time combat engine or one that pauses after every turn, and the player can often sit back to watch as characters go after every enemy in the area. The party AI isn't necessarily brilliant, but it does a good enough job that many enemies are shredded with relative ease. Sometimes it can take much longer to kill enemies than would be ideal due to the invisible dice that determine the proceedings making some unfavorable rolls. Usually battles are fast and visually appealing, but they're not terribly demanding.

On second thought, maybe discharging all those weapons near the controls of a ship I On second thought, maybe discharging all those weapons near the controls of a ship I'd rather not have spin out of control wasn't such a good idea....

   Enemy AI assists in the generally undemanding nature of combat by making foes too stupid to help each other. It is quite possible to see enemies a little further inside a room not move a muscle to help their comrades who have rushed just outside the doorway to fight, and the mere idea of an alarm meaning that they should start moving en masse is, to the troops crowding certain areas, complete nonsense. This poor AI is quite helpful at times however, since even on the easiest difficulty setting strong adversaries can get very lucky and rip the player apart, though the constant accessibility of the save option means lost progress due to such a thing need not be great.

   Most aspects of Knights of the Old Republic's interface work very well with a mouse. Movement and the selection of things with which to interact proceed with great efficiency. The only real issue with the game's interface comes from the inventory's enormous assortment of items that will be gathered as the game progresses, and while this is lessened considerably by the ability to show only certain types of items at once, the plethora of material can be a bit overwhelming. There are certainly thornier issues to accuse a game of than having too many items, and this one is not terribly difficult to work around.

   The Star Wars universe comes with certain universally recognized musical cues, and Knights of the Old Republic incorporates a few pieces of John Williams' famous score into its audio, starting with the fanfare that accompanies the opening text scroll. Jeremy Soule was tasked with the formidable job of composing new music that would not sound out of place while retaining the appeal of Williams' work, and he succeeded in doing so. While most of the music is new, almost all of the sound effects are taken straight from the Star Wars movies, and the unmistakable noises of lightsabers extending or blasters firing further make clear how the game is a full-fledged part of the series universe.

How do droids fare in the rain?  Korriban doesn How do droids fare in the rain? Korriban doesn't get any, so there's no way to tell.

   Every line of dialogue in Knights of the Old Republic is voice acted, but not every species in the Star Wars universe speaks Basic — known as English to those playing the game. Rodians, Twi'leks, Wookies, Hutts, and other species all speak using the invented languages of the films, which can get rather repetitive when those tongues were not designed to be heard at great length. The English voice acting on the other hand is quite strong overall, and the responsible actors ably bring their characters to life.

   Knights of the Old Republic's visuals looked excellent in 2003, and have aged very well. The various planets visited during its quest all have a distinct appearance, and combat animations are entertaining to behold. The only real bother comes from the strangely limited number of models for NPCs, which often makes people seem to have identical twins across the galaxy. Aside from this oddity the game remains captivating to behold throughout.

   LucasArts generally exercised greater quality control of Star Wars games than most licensed properties receive, though that didn't necessarily translate into titles that were actually good. I've played a few other Star Wars games in the past, and while the SNES platformers were pretty good, this one is even better. Knights of the Old Republic may just be the best game in the franchise, and succeeds at being a top-tier RPG even if one has no interest in Star Wars. BioWare did the license proud.

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