Summary: Jakub played more Knights of the Old Republic than is healthy even by pasty white computer game reviewer geek standards. Fortunately, after sufficient prodding with a cattle prod, we got some comments from him about the game. It's a pity he had to fry poor Greedo to deliver the story, but hey, sometimes even the hardcore Quakers get boarded.
King of the Xbox
Xbox has been waiting for a new killer app for nearly two years now, and it finally has one with Knights of the Old Republic. Knights isn’t just the best RPG or even the best game on the Xbox. It is the greatest role-playing game to ever grace this planet. Final Fantasy? Your formulas are old and stale. Baldur’s Gate II? Close, but no cigar. Planescape: Torment? A legitimate contender, but you’ve got no popular support.
Knights of the Old Republic is a new kind of RPG, a hybrid between the console and PC experience. For example, the locations you visit end up being designed in the style of a console. Each area has several different zones with strict boundaries of what you can and cannot do. Like console RPGs (and unlike past BioWare titles), you can’t choose to attack innocent bystanders or rob a shopkeeper. In most games, this design decision often results in frustrating experiences for the player, but not so with Knights.
Even though the restrictions on attacking are artificial, they’re not arbitrary. Unlike some other final games with a lot of fantasy, Knights doesn’t make a point of flaunting villains in front of the player while they’re invulnerable. That’s not to say there aren’t peaceful encounters with enemies, but these serve a purpose other than to have the villain spend a fifteen minute cutscene rubbing in how powerful and evil he is.
On the PC side
There are distinct flavors of the PC experience present in Knights of the Old Republic as well. Typical console RPGs are known for every-second-step random encounters and an exponential progression system where the experience and money gained from creatures increases at an incredible rate. This helps keep player progression per area in line, and also prevents them from moving on into locations they’re not ready for. Weapons come in tiers, each new weapon being vastly superior to the previous one, and being only useful for the current area.
Knights exploits the dialogue trees to their full potential. In fact, the best feature of Knights of the Old Republic isn’t the action, the items, the Jedi powers or even the Star Wars setting – but the storyline and dialogues. Almost every party member has some sort of story to share and most of these lead to very interesting and often elaborate side-quests.
The characters in the party are far more interesting than those in any previous BioWare or Black Isle game. They’re deeply developed, with intricate back-stories and their own motivations for being with the player. Each character reveals a bit more about himself as the player gains levels, if the player can choose the appropriate responses in the dialogue. Mistreat your party members, and they may withhold the rest of their story.
It is precisely the tales of the personal tragedies and triumphs of the party members that add the necessary details to help push the feeling of a galactic war going on. Knights of the Old Republic has everything that makes movies – especially the original three Star Wars movies – great. There’s a terrifying conflict against an invincible yet very human and believable foe, the party members have their own personalities, agendas, and stories. They react to some of the player’s actions with pleasure or displeasure, depending on their alignment.
There are constant tributes to the three good Star Wars movies throughout the game. There is a Dark Lord of the Sith to confront, he has an ultimate weapon, the player’s party has its own smuggling freighter, there is space combat, and gambling. The party deals with everyone from Galactic Warlords and criminal syndicates, to petty yet dangerous foes that wouldn’t register beyond ‘pond scum’ on the galactic scene.
Of course, looming in the background is the all-important conflict between light and dark that comes to the forefront every once in a while. Throughout the game the player is confronted with decisions that decide his alignment and ultimate fate. The choices tend to be very clear and consistent; light-side choices are often more difficult and tedious though morally rewarding, while dark-side decisions are usually the quick-and-easy path with tragic consequences for whoever happens to be in the player’s path. At times, the dark side decisions were way too distasteful for this reviewer, so don’t worry – the BioWare writers didn’t pull any punches. Anyone choosing the evil endgame and not feeling even a twinge of discomfort throughout the rest of the proceedings can thank his parents for the money they spent sending him off to a Hitler Youth camp.
Not all is perfect with the story, and there are certain very glaring and notable deficiencies in the light-dark struggle. Pointedly, at times the game assumes that aligning yourself with the good side in a conflict means that you’re making the good decision – not that you might have alternate motives for such a choice. For example, if on a certain planet you are mistreated by the evil faction, naturally as an evil character you’d wish revenge and thus would have no problems overthrowing them. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t allow any such options and automatically “rewards” the character with those disgustingly useless light-side points.
SIDEBAR: I finished both evil and good campaigns, but haven’t seen all the sidequests.
Show me the luv!
The good news is that we’ll have all the great gameplay of KoTOR on the PC. The game won’t be fundamentally different in any fashion, though the interface will reworked. In fact, that’s the most difficult thing to imagine about a PC version of the game – it works so well with controllers, a viable keyboard and mouse alternative just doesn’t spring to mind immediately.
On the bright side, having seen the “PC” version at E3 (really, an Xbox dev kit running the game on a regular monitor), it will look boatloads better. KoTOR just doesn’t look that impressive on a TV screen, even compared to other Xbox games – but it looked fantastic on the monitor at the BioWare booth.
There’s been no word on extra content, however it should be relatively safe to assume that the downloadable Xbox Live! items will appear on PC.
One of the more interesting revelations about Knights of the Old Republic is that the relative mediocrity of the combat system helps place the focus on the role-playing aspects of the game. In essence, it’s like a re-born adventure game with plenty of action to spice it up – packing 30-50 hours of gameplay (not counting the replay as a character of alternate alignment, which is almost mandatory!)
Is Knights of the Old Republic really the best RPG ev4r or did that Monday of Irish Car Bombs take a permanent toll on the Snake’s intellect? Warm those typing fingers up, because it’s time to Sound Off! in the news comments!
SIDEBAR: I lub my homieworldie.
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