My first true Star Wars experience was “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2”. I was aware of Star wars long before this game and I believe I may have watched parts of “Phantom Menace” before playing that game but, nevertheless, it was KOTOR2 the game that served as my gateway to Star Wars.
At the time, I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on in the story because I was unfamiliar with an awful lot of the lore of Star Wars. Nevertheless, I was able to finish the game not entirely sure what had happened exactly but still with a sense of satisfaction that made me want to play the first game.
Years later, I played KOTOR1 but left it right around the mid-point and never finished it. I wanted to finish it, but things kept getting in the way.
Cut back to december of 2017 when The Last Jedi came out and me and a bunch of friends went to watch it in theaters while talking Star Wars on the way there. At one point the conversation turned to Darth Revan (namely as to why they kept their name as their sith title. My argument was that A) he was from so long ago that the rule that says you need a new name probably wasn’t set in stone yet and B) They were Revan, such awesome force users and magnificent warriors that they can do whatever they want). In any case, the movie (and this specific conversation) made me want to go back to KOTOR and try to finish it once and for all.
Well, I did. I can finally remove one of the games that have been on my “Unifished” pile for a long time. And the obvious question about this game is: How well has it aged? how much have 15 years affected what is considered one of the greatest Star Wars games ever made and the one that practically defined Bioware for so long?
I will put it like this: The gameplay manages to succesfully adapt the D20 system used by so many tabletop RPGs into a videogame. The problem is that they managed to adapt the D20 system into a videogame.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
For those who do not know, Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic was a 2003 RPG made for the PC and the original Xbox. It was originally announced back in 2000 as part of all sorts of Star Wars related media to accompany the prequel Trilogy. It is said that when Lucas Arts approached Bioware, they were given two choices for the game: They could either make it part of episode II or they could set the game thousands of years in the past and do whatever they wanted. Bioware decided they preffered the second choice.
The story is set 4,000 years before the rise of the galactic empire. The old republic is at war with the Sith empire, which is lead by the Sith Lord Darth Malak, who raised to power when his master Darth Revan (a mighty Jedi before falling to the dark side) was defeated by the Jedi Bastila.
The main character (who you can name and choose to be either Male or Female as well as their class) just happened to be in the same ship as Bastila when they are invaded by the Siths while orbithing Taris and, when it is clear there is no saving the ship, you and republic soldier Carth Onasi have to take an escape pod, hide in Taris and find Bastila before the Sith do it first.
This is how the story starts but, as it is common with RPGs (as well as Bioware games), the story becomes more complicated as you progress. From recruiting allies with their own backstory and struggles to discovering an ancient weapon that will decide the fate of the galaxy. On top of that, there are plenty of NPCs with their own side-missions that you can decide to either help or exploit for your own gain (or amusement).
This last part is important because the game operates using a morality system (how much of a saint/asshole your character is) that will be affected by the choices you make. Do you want to help a village of undesired people find a place where they can have a better life? or do you instead help the one selfish prick who wants to keep things as they are because he has a pretty good deal going on in exchange of some credits? Do you show mercy to a defeated enemy when they ask for forgiveness? or do you finish the job?
This is an gameplay mechanic that has been employed by many other games before and after. However, KOTOR’s Light side /Dark Side systems would later be refined by Mass Effect into the Paragon/Renegade system. Good thing, too, because some of the Dark Side choices are so hilariously cartoonish that you doubt the Sith would approve because they still have something called dignity.
This takes me to the writing which. This is a dialogue heavy game. There are plenty of moments in the game that are heavy in exposition. Setting aside voice acting (which goes from okay to terrible to “oh god, this is the third alien that uses the same track voice. stop!”) I think for the most part the dialogue has aged pretty well. There are plenty of hilariously outdated dialogue and awkward camera work, but for the most part it is serviceable. Where it shines the most is with the dialogue with your party members. Some of them they feel like typical archetypes that have been done before, altough they still at least some characteristics that keep them interesting. It is still interesting to interact with a Mandalorian who holds no grudges over having lost the previous war or an assassin droid who is 100% pure evil… and who is 100% following his programming, 100% happy with his condition as basically a servant and 100% on your side (seriously, there is no moment in the game in which he even conceives acting behind your back. Also, his dialogue is intentionally hilarious). Likewise, altough the story isn’t that great and can probably be summarized as ” Go to [X] find [Y] repeat three times” and you can probably already guess what the big twist is, it is still a fun ride and it remains one of the few games in which the “evil” ending allows you to succeed.
Now the graphics and, honestly… they have aged fantastic.
sure. the explosion effects show their age and they re-use a lot of models, but for the most part the character models look great. Unlike games like Metal Gear Solid, the faces look like people but, unlike Oblivion-era games, they don’t fall into the uncanny valley.
it is set in the right spot. Hell, I am willing to argue this the the 3D equivalent to retro pixel games.
Now for the gampley: I hate the gameplay.
I hate the combat system.
I hate how much you have to walk to go anywhere.
I hate browsing through the inventory that fills with junk that 90% of the time is weaker than most of my gear so there is no point in using it.
I hate it a lot.
Maybe it is because, for some reason, my game kept having bugs that were not there the last time I played this game and that, everytime there was a cut scene, I had to cross my fingers that my game wasn’t going to crash. I don’t know and I don’t care.
I will not bother with the problems with the D20 system, I will just say that your attacks have a random chance to miss and that you will probably miss a LOT in the early game and that it took me until around the mid-game for my character to finally be able to hit the enemies consistently. it’s a good thing you can save wherever and whenever you want, because expect a lot of reloads before finishing some of the tougher enemies.
Outside of enemy encounters, a lot of the gameplay is walking though the area, and there is a LOT of walking in this game. Maps are not exactly big, but they feel big and the only fast travel mechanic is limited to your base and back to your last location from there (there are areas in which this is not available however). This is not a problem in the first map, which is small and you move through it pretty quickly, but once you are in Taris… let’s just say you will know the map really well.
When it comes to the party, you are limited up to 2 companions in your party at any given time, but you are also able to switch companions at any given time. In other words, if there is the need, you can call for your companion with high hacking skills to help you out.
Leveling up always gives you skill points that you can spend on improving different skills, but the max level you can have for a specific skill will also depend on your level (if you know the d20 system, you will be familiar with this), some levels gives you traits that give you specific bonus. For example Duel gives you a bonus when having a meelee-to-meelee fight.
Finally, I wanted to talk about the RP elements in the game, which are pretty good. There were plenty of moments throughout the game in which I was given different ways to deal with a problem. Some of them were simply “Hack computer to kill enemies from here and still get XP” or “repair droid so it can fight enemies for you” but, still, it did allow for some variation that helped to not make the game feel repetitive. The dialogue choices, likewise, did allow for plenty of variations and plenty of side-missions could have wildly different outcomes depending of your choices.
So, going back to my original question… How well did Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic age? is it still a great game? or has time taken it’s toll?
In my honest opinion: It has aged poorly.
The combat system and navigating throughout the maps felt tedious most of the time. Fights did not felt engaging until the mid-point, when I finally were able to hit the enemies. The dialogue, while aged, still felt pretty strong and I enjoyed the story and some of the side-missions. Some things that were revolutionary back then, such as the subtle reveal that Juhanni is queer, feel almost laughable today. Still, when I finally finished the game I did feel satisfied with myself.
Would I recommend it? Yes… if you are a Star Wars fan, I would recommend it. Same if you are a fan of old western RPGs. Anyone else?…… no. This is not mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins. If you preffer more fast-paced games. this is not the game for you.