Games based on the Star Wars license vary in quality more than any other license-based product to this day. For each great game such as Tie Figher, there's a miserable piece of crap like Star Wars Demolition. The trend has become worse in recent years with the number of bad Star Wars games beginning to significantly outweigh the good ones. The one thing that all Star Wars games had in common is that they were based purely on action. Revered PC RPG developer Bioware set themselves the goal of changing the way we look at Star Wars games forever by producing the first RPG based in the universe. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic isn't a traditional console RPG, however - it follows the more Westernized PC RPG formula, though this is not at all surprising, given Bioware's previous efforts. After numerous delays, Knights of the Old Republic has finally reached Australian shores. Could this be the end of the Star Wars slump?
Mysteries of the Sith
Knights of the Old Republic takes place approximately 4000 years before The Phantom Menace, in an era when the Jedi and Sith were still prosperous. During the last battles of the war between the Mandalorians and the Republic on the Outer Rim, two Jedi, Revan and Malak, disobeyed a direct order from the Jedi Council not to interfere. The two Jedi led the Republic forces to victory. Revan and Malak were changed during their time on the outer rim, as if the dark side of the Force had awoken inside them. The two claimed to be Sith - Revan assumed the title of master, while Malak grudgingly accepted the title of apprentice. The Sith knew that the Republic was weak from their war with the Mandalorians, and launched a swift attack. The Republic and Jedi Council were at amiss as to how the Sith managed to amass such a vast force in such little time.
The Jedi Council knew that the Republic would not be able to defend against the Sith armada forever. They devised a plan to capture the Sith. A young padawan learner, Bastila, showed promising use of a technique known as battle meditation, which could turn the tides of a battle by predicting what the enemy's next move would be. Using her battle meditation, Bastila and a group of Jedi boarded Revan's ship, but Malak fired on his master's ship before he could be captured, killing Revan and allowing Malak to assume the position of Dark Lord of the Sith.
Malak has relentlessly pursued Bastila since his master's demise. Unfortunately for you, your character happens to be on Bastila's ship during Malak's latest offensive. After meeting Carth, the captain on Bastila's ship, the two of you team up to escape to the nearby planet of Taris, following the female Jedi, honoring your objective of protecting her.
Prior to starting your quest in Knights of the Old Republic, you must create a character; a much more linear process than in previous Bioware efforts. After choosing your character's sex, you can select a face - there are 30 in all, with 15 for each sex. Once a face is chosen, you have a choice of three different character classes - Soldier, Scout and Scoundrel. The Soldier class is concerned mainly with strength for battling, while the Scout class is more concerned with skills. Scoundrel is a mix of the two classes. The class you pick determines your base attribute points, feats and skills, but the game gives you the opportunity to assign more. Character design doesn't stop once the game begins, as you can shape your character more throughout the game through level ups, by altering the powers and feats you are given, and different actions such as conversations and side quests.
Knights of the Old Republic places great importance in conversations for shaping both your character and the path you take through the game. The vast majority of the conversations you will participate in during the course of the game are branching, meaning that different options have different results. Your conversational options also greatly alter your alignment with the Force, as both light and dark side points can be earned depending on the option you chose. Self sacrificial deeds and actions that greatly benefit other individuals are likely to gain you light side points, while actions that will hurt others either physically or emotionally are likely to reward you with dark side points. Your affinity with the Force can also be used to alter your conversations, as Force Persuade can be used to change the mind of some people, though dark Jedi may find that Force Choke works better on the more stubborn folk. Finally, your alignment can also affect the course of conversations - you will find that Korriban will be a very different experience on opposing sides of the force.
The battle system in Knights of the Old Republic is a relatively confusing affair to start, but players will become quite familiar with its bizarre mechanics after a few battles. It's turn based in nature, though you can pause the action at any time and queue up various commands that you wish your team (your character and two of your nine companions) to perform. The types of moves you can perform in action are dependant on the feats and force powers you have selected when you level up. The execution of combat is based around the 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons rules, though the game handles all of the dice rolling for you. The way combat works will not please everyone - some of you may love it, some will be left dazed and confused, while others may consider it a stain on an otherwise great game.
Knights of the Old Republic isn't just limited to fighting and chatting - there's a few mini games featured in the game, including Pazaak; which is a card game played on many planets and Swoop Racing; a racing event popular with the less wealthy classes in the galaxy. There's also a small turret shooting mini game during certain sequences featuring the Ebon Hawk.
While Knights of the Old Republic's elements combine together to deliver an excellent game, that game is riddled with bugs, many of which could potentially ruin your experience with the game. Though my own personal experience with Knights of the Old Republic I saw only one bug occur in over 30 hours of play (game froze when placing a mine), many other players have seen a variety of bugs, ranging from simple game crashes, all the way through to serious game alteration bugs (see the Knights of the Old Republic thread in our forums for more). It's disappointing that Bioware couldn't iron out all of these errors.
The main quest in Knights of the Old Republic will last players about 20-25 hours, but full completion of the side quests will pan that out to 40-45 hours. Considering that the different sides of the Force and your character's gender have a big impact on the overall experience, you can expect to get your money's worth out of Knights of the Old Republic, with the main quest requiring completion as many as 6 times to experience every aspect of the game's narrative. Be warned - Knights of the Old Republic is far more linear than many of Bioware's traditional PC RPGs, with the first 4-6 hours of the game leading your party on a straightforward path. Once you're clear of the first planet, you will find that the game becomes much more open, though there is only room for three different outcomes at the end of the experience.
The graphical presentation of Knights of the Old Republic has come under both scrutiny and praise from many sources. PALGN tends to lean towards the former of these two schools of thought. That's not to say that Knights of the Old Republic is a bad looking game by any means - it's just that it's not the total package, i.e. a beautiful looking game with a solid framerate. Knights of the Old Republic's locations range from the jaw-droppingly beautiful to the rather bland. Sharp textures and bump mapping feature prominently in levels throughout the game, while lighting is restricted to altering shadows. It would have been a lot nicer to see some real time lighting effects from light sources such as the lightsabers. Character modeling and animation leaves a little bit to be desired - characters have great fighting animations, but their walking and running animations are quite sloppy. Facial features on all characters seem to fall below the recent standards set by other titles, though they serve their purpose. Knights of the Old Republic's framerate leaves a lot to be desired, as it can hop between 10 and 60 fps depending on your location, though it usually averages out to about 20-30 fps. This doesn't really impact on the gameplay, given its slow nature, but it is a pain nonetheless. The game features a 60 Hz mode, for all of those concerned with experiencing the game the way the developer intended.
Looks pretty, but the framerate is hazardous
The soundtrack of Knights of the Old Republic is a hybrid of classic John Williams pieces, and new music Bioware composed themselves. This mixed soundtrack suits the game perfectly - the classic tunes play through the slower bits of the game, such as exploring the Dune Sea on Tatooine, while the new stuff plays in cut scenes and other dramatic events. The voice acting is another delicacy in Knight's of the Old Republic's aural package - every line of dialog, except the player character's lines, is voiced, and the quality of this acting is top notch. There are also a few known actors in there, including Ed Asner (Mary Tyler Moore) and Phill LaMarr (Metal Gear Solid 2). Many classic Star Wars sound effects feature prominently throughout the game - everything from the lightsaber sounds to Wookiee barking. Knights of the Old Republic has full support for in-game Dolby Digital, which should provide for an even better experience for the well equipped.
A New Hope
Knights of the Old Republic instills great hope in us. Not only does it prove that a Star Wars RPG can work, and work well, but it also shows that there are still a few good games left to be made out of the license. Knights of the Old Republic provides a great RPG experience - an excellent narrative, a great skill system, interesting quests and a competent battle system. The game may not be for everyone, as those who don't enjoy Star Wars and previous Bioware efforts should probably consider passing on this one (though if you like one or the other, you should cope). The numerous bugs that have been found in the game since its release are also a cause of concern, even if we didn't run into that many during the course of our review. However, Knights of the Old Republic is the best new release for the Xbox this year and therefore definitely in the running for Game of the Year for 2003.