Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Game Info
Platform(s)
Xbox
Publisher
LucasArts
Developer
BioWare Corp
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Violence
 
Grade
The Good

• Built on a solid RPG engine
• Great story and voiceacting
• Excellent hybrid battle system
• Lots of Star Wars fanservice

The Bad

• NPC faces are repeated often
• Minigames are weak

 
Grade
A

I could go into the history of how Star Wars games have been pretty hit-or-miss, but I won't. That would only detract from the details about how Knights of the Old Republic delivers the experience that so many people have been waiting for. Set some 4000 years before Anakin Skywalker discovers the Force, the story is set just a few years after the Republic has defeated the Mandalorians in a costly war. Instead of peace, though, the Republic is faced with the brutal army of the Sith, who have risen to power. When the Endar Spire, the ship you're on, comes under attack, you are forced to flee to the nearby planet Taris. From that point, your character must save a Jedi, escape Taris and... well, I wouldn't want to ruin what is a finely crafted story.

If you've ever played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons or the pencil and paper Star Wars Role-playing game, you'll easily understand the base rules by which this game is governed. Characters have Vitality and Force points and level up through experience, which is gained both in combat and through the resolution of problems presented by NPCs. Each character has Attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Willpower) which define the way they perform actions throughout the game. Before too long, you'll know which Attributes need to be addressed to help your characters survive. Characters also have Skills (Security, Stealth, Demolitions) which become useful tools for survival during the game. With a good Demolitions skill, players can not only deactivate mines, but even take them for their own. A high Security level will allow you to pick most locks.

And, then there are Feats and Powers (for the Jedi). Feats are customizable skills that are automatic, like being proficient with a weapon or armor, or can be used during the game as an action, like Power Blast or Rapid Shot. Along with the Feats, Jedi have a wide array of Jedi Powers, both Light and Dark Side, to learn and use. Jedi who lean towards the Light Side will find Dark Powers cost most Force points, and vice versa.

When you first create your character (which unfortunately can only be human), you're given the choice of either female or male and one of three classes - soldier, scout, scoundrel. Each of these three classes have different default skill sets and gain different degrees of health, Skills and Feats on leveling up. You will have to shape your style of gameplay around which class you pick. Scoundrels will be more suited towards unlocking doors and finding less combat-oriented means to get to their goal, while Soldiers can blast their way through, even bashing down doors when necessary. Scouts tend to be the middle ground between the two classes.

Combat in this game is an interesting hybrid. When you near an enemy, the action will stop, allowing you to equip your team accordingly. You can choose to rush in and attack, move around strategically on your own, or even use items and special abilities. Using the D-pad, players can select Skills, Powers and items to use. Using the X Button, players can even select a series of moves to perform before starting battle. While you can move around the area in real time, your attacks are determined by the proverbial role of the dice (not unlike a real pencil and paper RPG), so the better your skills are, the more successful your attacks will be. But, rather than force you to watch something boring while the battle plays out, your characters display a variety of battle animations, some of which are quite interesting to watch. Since you have a team of three at any given time, you'll need to be sure to plan out your means of attack and even alter the character's A.I. Selecting the Black Button will allow you to switch between characters, which can be useful if one character is strong in a specific skill or needs to be healed during combat. Fortunately, if you have a team member you don't wish to use during the game, they will level up alongside the rest of your characters on the odd chance you have to break them out. Also, the battle interface can be customized to your tastes. You can have the game pause between rounds, when you make a selection with the D-pad or just when you hit the White Button.

One of the nicest aspects of the game is the focus on true role-playing, rather than just running around killing everything in sight for a few points of experience. Players are expected to communicate with both their fellow team members and many of the NPCs to not only move the main story along, but complete a variety of sidequests. Within these conversations and quests, players have many choices and solutions which eventually have an affect on whether they lean to the light or dark side of the Force. You can choose to take the more diplomatic or more violent means to many solutions, so much so that you could feasibly play through the game twice and get completely different paths through your sidequests.

Of course, what would a Star Wars game be without giving the fans something they've always wanted. In Knights of the Old Republic, you get fanservice in spades. Your team consists of a wookie, droids, jedi and even a Mandalorian (without the awesome suit of armor, though). You can also create your own two-sided lightsaber or even equip two at a time. All of the weapons from the movies are available for use. Toss in the hub level Ebon Hawk, which is an obvious throwback to the Millennium Falcon, and just about any Star Wars fan should be pleased.

There are a few diversions in Knights of the Old Republic. Too bad none of them prove to be overly complex. First and foremost is Pazaak, a collectible card game that plays like Blackjack except that you can throw in your own cards with either plus or minus values to win the hand. Between worlds, you might be treated to a Gunner Station game in which you must fire down enemy ships from the gunner station of the Ebon Hawk. This proves to be neither difficult nor too involving. Lastly is a swoop bike race, which would prove to be interesting if it weren't that you race on your own and just try to beat finishing times. Throwing in a few objects to avoid on the track does not make up for an experience that would have been better with opponents.

Visually, Knights of the Old Republic presents a great game world that feels full of life and quite accurate to the style of the Star Wars universe. While each section take a few seconds to load, they're often quite large, filled with NPCs and teeming with detail. BioWare has done a wonderful job in making a lush game world that at times can be quite amazing just to look at. All the fine details make the experience of the game even more enjoyable. During the heat of battle, with blasters and lightsabers flashing away, you'll be hard-pressed not to crack a joyous smile. But, not everything is perfect with the graphics engine. First and foremost, there are a limited number of NPC faces, so expect to see the same NPCs if you plan on spending a lot of time with the sidequests. Also, there is some rare synching issues with allies and enemies popping from one place to another, as if you were playing online with lag. Luckily, neither issue is big enough to detract from the game.

The audio package is a step above the standard that gamers have become used to with the Star Wars games. Sound effects are all familiar - you have your blaster fire, droids squawking and even wookies barking. Musically, John Williams themes have been used and altered to fit the older feel that the story presents itself in. The star of the audio portion is the voice acting, which delivers a full 14,000 line script with very little in the way of trouble. In fact, the superb script and voice work makes watching the story portions of the game well worth the time and effort. Of course, if you just want to read the subtitles, you can skip through the vocal parts as you please. The only issue I found with the audio portion was a few recycled lines in Twi'lek. Outside of that, the characters are teeming with life largely because of the voice acting.

If you're a fan of Star Wars, you NEED to purchase this title. The gameplay experience proves to be as deep as the engrossing story and wonderful script. For those not big on "a galaxy far, far away" but still fans of an engaging role playing experience, look past the Star Wars theme to find an excellent game that proves to be well worth the effort.

- - Kinderfeld

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