Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, more commonly referred to as KOTOR, is one of Bioware’s more popular titles. It’s also one of their best, taking what was by then a tired old franchise reeling from the uninspired Episode 1 and Episode 2 and injecting some much-needed life into it. Suddenly, Star Wars was interesting again, and Bioware came to be known as miracle workers (before their visit to the EAmperor turned them to the dark side).
The story takes place a long time before the movies, so while you’ll visit some familiar locations and see some familiar types of characters, there’s plenty of interesting new stuff that keeps it from feeling as stale and claustrophobic as the prequel trilogy. This also allowed Bioware to construct any kind of story they wanted. Naturally, they went with a “the world revolves around you” story. When don’t they? Basically, if you’ve played one of their games before, you know exactly what to expect—the only difference is that within the context of Star Wars, that kind of story actually meshes well with the world rather than coming across forced and artificial like in their other games.
That’s not to say that there’s no subtlety, though. True to form, there’s a twist in the game, but unlike Bioware’s other games, this twist is actually built up to in order to make it one of those, “I should have seen this coming” moments, kind of like the end of The Sixth Sense. There’s also a bit of a “love conquers all and is way cooler than the light side or dark side” message, though this was seriously under-explored. Still, for the “you’re the hero and everyone loves you” game that this is, it’s written pretty well overall; there are some moments where characters come across as whiny and/or obvious, and those moments almost serve as a warning of the horrible writing to come in later Bioware games, but apart from those moments (that come mostly toward the beginning of the game), the writing manages to be a cut above average.
The characters are memorable for the most part, though some of them (cough Carth cough) can tend to be more annoying than they should be. Still, if you don’t smile a little from HK-47’s dialogue or get a kick out of harassing Bastila every time she wants to talk about something, then you’re truly a soulless individual. There are a bunch of completely different characters who you can bring with you, so everyone’s bound to find someone to like. The ones you don’t like can be left in the ship and safely ignored for most of the game (since everyone shares experience, they won’t have to be leveled up later), and a few of them can even be killed.
Combat is a lot like Baldur’s Gate, with die rolls and saves and all of that fun Dungeons and Dragons stuff. It’s also similar in that you can pause or control combat in real-time, but the combat at its core is still turn-based. There’s even an auto-pause that kicks in whenever an enemy or mine is nearby (there are a lot of mines set all over the world, because apparently everyone in Star Wars is a murderous douchebag) and gets a tad bit annoying after awhile. This, of course, can be turned off. Naturally, once you become a jedi you’re able to level up and select force powers like shooting lightning out of your hands, sucking the life out of enemies, and even a Vader-esque throat crush.
Lightsabers. You get lightsabers! Not only that, but pressing X on the PC version causes you to do a little flourish with your weapons, which means hearing the lightsaber sound while you flip them all around. It may not be safe to twirl lightsabers around willy-nilly, but it’s certainly way more fun than it should be. You’re not only given lightsabers in this game, though—you’re given the ability to customize lightsabers. You can add crystals to them that change their color, add bonus damage, and even have a percentage chance to stun enemies. There are multiple kinds of lightsabers in the game: Darth Maul-esque double-sided ones (only not as hilariously stupid as they were in Episode 1), the normal kind, and even a “short lightsaber” designed for your off-hand when you’re fighting with two.
By the way, you can decide whether to be good or evil in the game. Did I mention that? I guess it’s kind of implied by the fact that it’s Star Wars, with that Manichean, “light side saves puppies, dark side throws them in lava” dichotomy. Still, it’s worth mentioning that you can be good or evil along those extreme lines, and there are two endings reflecting both extremes. The canon ending is that you end up as a good guy, but the canon ending eventually ties into Bioware’s MMO that does horrible, horrible things to the story, which is why I recommend taking this game as the complete story and refusing to acknowledge anything that happens afterward. Or just be evil, because being evil is totally fun.
Graphics are blocky and old, but on the PC, they’re actually still decent enough to be enjoyable. Characters look a bit awkward when they talk, and the “expressive” animations are really exaggerated in many cases (though the combat animations are done quite well), but there’s still just enough detail to get lost in the world.
The music is fantastic, completely nailing the Star Wars vibe while standing out and being unique on its own. A lot of it is understated while being melodic, and it really adds a lot to the game. I could go so far as to say that without the music, the game as a whole would be much less enjoyable. It really is that good.
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