The first Star Wars console or PC RPG, Knights of the Old Republic, has been hyped to high heaven. I know I have been waiting for it since it was first announced. A melding of BioWare, known for such groundbreaking PC games as the Baldur’s Gate series (a series that brought CRPG’s from the brink of extinction) and Neverwinter Nights, and the Star Wars license could only bring about something great, right? The problem was that this game was originally planned to come out late last year and we are now well through the middle of this year. Finally the game came out on July 16th and I picked it up. This game is set 4,000 years before Episode I, so BioWare has been given a lot of latitude where they do not have to worry about continuity with the movies at all. Although Morrowind came out before it, this is the first true RPG for the Xbox. This game is coming to the PC later this year, but it appears on the Xbox first. How good is this game you may ask? I say it may be the finest North American-made (I say this because BioWare is from Canada) console RPG yet.
This game gets good marks just because of the vast size of the game. Spread over 7 planets that have different environments such as deserts, lush forests, grasslands, etc. It is in the environments where the graphics truly shine. You can see grass move in the wind, watch as the sun burns your eyes as you look into it, see the light reflection in the water, etc. Where this game falters is two-fold: the character graphics and the sometimes stuttering framerate. When you’re in the environment your characters look pretty good, but once you get into conversations (of which there will be a lot) you start to notice that the up-close character graphics are probably not the best they could have been. They are good and serviceable, but maybe having tons of different faces instead of the same ones recycled over again would have done this game some good. In fact, if you’re good enough you may run into a character that does an automatic talk with you and you see the clipping as your body morphs with their own in the same place. It’s obviously something you don’t plan, but I had a few times where this happened.
The other problem is the sometimes stuttering framerate. For the most part this game keeps pretty smooth, but there are parts where it starts to jerk, especially in an enclosed area. It is kind of weird to say that the wide open spaces seem to run more smoothly than the cramped ones, that usually doesn’t happen in a console game…it’s usually the reverse. For how good this game, it is easy to overlook the sometimes flaky framerate. It won’t keep you from enjoying the overall game.
Yes, the sound is good with this one…very good. From the hours (literally) of spoken dialogue to the cool use of the surround speakers in battles and especially lightsaber fights, this game has it all. Even the CGI movies in themselves have pretty good sounds in it. The music is even totally new for the most part. From what I have read the composer tried to mimic John Williams, but wanted to create something entirely new. He seems to have succeeded!
The only minor problems I had was that the sound is pretty quiet in this game. It’s the first time I’ve cranked past 20 on my receiver that I can remember on an Xbox game.
The control system has its quirks in this game, but overall it does a good job. The movement/camera control is very good, it is just that the camera is a bit too close to you in my opinion. It’s harder to make turns in this game than it is in a usual 3rd person perspective game because of the close proximity of the camera. Also from the main part of the game you can switch to the other 2 characters in your party (Black button), choose between characters with action possibilities (L and R trigger will highlight with a circle every person you can do an action with in the area around you), do an action (A button) and heal yourself and do other things (disable mines, open doors, lockpick doors, etc.) in the lower left corner menu (D-pad control). When you go into an action mode (such as opening something) another menu might come up where you can take all things (A button), give something from your inventory back (X button) or back out of the new screen (B button). When you talk to a character you get a number of choices of things to ask or tell that person. This is where the majority of Dark vs. Light choices are made (more on that in Gameplay).
This game is one large bastard. The simple fact is that it will take you a bit to familiarize yourself with the game (especially the combat interface) and how it is played. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is built upon the d20 Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition rule set or so I have read. Honestly I have never played Dungeons and Dragons, so I am not the best person to talk about how well it adapts to these rules and all that. The fact is that the computer is making d20 dice rolls for every action you do.
Example #1: You’ve turned on your stealth belt so you cannot be seen. You walk by a Dark Jedi. The computer will make a roll based upon your attributes and the Jedi’s attributes to see if they sense that you are there even though you are invisible.
Example #2: You are in a fight and want to do a special attack. This special attack is given a modifier (+ or – on roll #) after the dice are rolled. The defender also does a roll to see if they defend the attack. If they roll higher than you they effectively block the attack. The thing is you don’t see these rolls, but they are happening behind the screen.
Because of the two examples above and depending on how much control you want over your party during the combat scenes, the option menu gives you some things you can turn on or off. You can make it so you have total control and pause the game after every round for instance. Every character can have 4 commands in storage.
Example: Let’s say you’re pretty weak. You decide to do a regular attack with your first, a special attack on your second, give yourself a medpak on your third and then strike again on your fourth. You can do that in this game and you can pause it and redo commands at any time using the White button and cycling through your characters with the Black button. It works quite well. Once Jedi powers are introduced you have even more to choose from with your character and other Jedi characters.
The major part of the game is the main menu itself. You bring it up with the Start button. Here you are given 8 different tabs. From left to right they are Equip (where you equip stuff in 9 body parts), Items, Attributes (where you level up and put points where you want and also shows the level of Dark or Light you have), Skills/Feats, Messages (where you can see a good portion of the recent messages), Journal (where all your active and completed quests reside), Map and Options screen. Each one has a plethora of things to do in them and it’s good for you to get familiar with them because you will be using them regularly. Much like the main gameplay area, you can hit the Black button and switch between characters to equip them as well as other things.
The key to this game is completing quests. You will get many side quests during the game that you can choose to not even take. Then there are the key quests that you must take. In many ways this is a linear game (there is a set path), but you are in charge of what you do. You are also in control of whether you want to base your game on the Dark or Light side of the force. Before I got the game I figured for sure I would go down the Dark path, but as the conversation options came up I found the Dark path to be way too dark. I am sure many of you went down this path, but I chose the Light side for my first time through. The manual makes it perfectly clear that you have more options and powers with the Light side over the Dark side, although the Dark side force powers in the manual sound awfully cool.
Depending on what you choose in certain conversations you can get Light Side or Dark Side points. This goes toward your overall status and then you’re fully realized when you finally become a Jedi roughly 10 hours into the game, give or take many hours depending on all the side quests you take. The Attributes menu is where you can see where you sit on the Light/Dark path.
Once you get it, much of your game will be based on the Ebon Hawk, your ship for this game. It moves you from planet to planet and is basically a center to do anything you want such as buy items, change characters, etc. It is also important to note that from the Map screen you can instantly transport to your “safe haven” in order to get health up and then you can transport yourself back to the same place you were before. In some ways this is a cheat because you can just jump yourself back to the haven without using any health items. There are places in the game where you cannot transport back and forth though (usually on the big, difficult jobs), so this cheat is kept somewhat in check. The saving option is simple. You can save whenever you want or the game will autosave every 15 minutes (or every load screen that is beyond the 15 minute interval).
Leveling up can be automatic or manual. The way to do it automatically is that your character’s portrait in the game screen with show an “L” with an up arrow. You go into the menu, go to the Attributes section and hit Y to have the computer automatically level up your different abilities. You can also do this manually. Let’s look more closely at your abilities. There are 6: Strength (physical power), Dexterity (agility), Constitution (health and resiliency), Wisdom (willpower and perception, Intelligence (knowledge) and Charisma (ability to lead). When you start out the game you can choose from 3 classes and male or female for each one (there are differences between male and female in the game): Scoundrel (my class), Soldier (combat class) and Scout (Explorers). Each class has it’s speed of upgrading abilities and feats, which is the major difference between the three (there are others). From there you can have the game automatically give you the character’s points based on the 6 attributes or you can put them on yourself. Each time you level up you can also do this manually. Each combat and some conversations net you XP points, which are used to level up your character much like traditional RPGs.
When you reach Jedi ability you are able to choose 3 paths: Jedi Guardian, Jedi Consular or Jedi Sentinel. Each one slightly corresponds with the initial classes you chose, although you can choose to go a totally different direction when you choose your Jedi area. This is also where you learn what the colors of the lightsabers actually mean and how exactly lightsabers are made. As you move through the levels, you gain more Jedi abilities (and advancement on abilities already taken) as well as add to your 6 main attributes. After you have reached Jedihood you basically will not be using any other weapon other than the lightsaber (you can have a dual one like Darth Maul or two lightsabers in each hand although there are various penalties involved) so those other weapons such as the metal swords and blasters become useless to you for the most part. However for the rest of your non-Jedi characters you can equip them with whatever (you have 9 total characters you can bring with you, but you can only have 2 at a time).
The quest for Lord Malak is long and difficult, but it is well worth your time.
Considering this game will take about 40 hours (give or take) if you do just the main quests, this is one long game. The other key thing is it has great replay value in the fact that you can go at it again from the other side of the force (and get a different ending). And if you’re truly a person that needs to complete everything you can go at it on every class and sex through the game. This game just oozes replay value and you will totally enjoy going through it at least once.
There is Live downloadable content in this game, but the form of which is only conjecture at this point. Rumors are that items and weapons will be downloaded, but that they won’t be making an appearance until around or after the time the PC version of the game comes. In many ways this is bad as many people will have beaten the game by then and may not want to play it again even though the replay value is there.
This game is well worth the $50, I have no problem with recommending it.