Though Knights of the Old Republic has often been eclipsed by more noticeable XBOX titles such as the Halo series, the original was one of the most successful games on the XBOX, and has really helped to raise the standards for RPGs. From it we get a new breadth of moral decisions and their consequences, renewed emphasis on quality voice acting, and a large number of ways to vary your game. Bioware's replacement Obsidian now leads your way through a new quest of self-discovery and the fight with against the Sith.
The Star Wars universe is one of the most comprehensive and massive fictional backdrops every created in history. There are over 20 full length novels alone that take place after The Return of the Jedi
and even they, rich as they are, account for only a part of the massive amounts of information. The original KotR had a great story that actually managed to enrich the Star War's universe. Thankfully, Obsidian has outdone themselves with the imagination and depth of The Sith Lords
. I would go so far as to say that KotR II's story surpasses both the original's and Episodes I-II. While people may disagree with the comparisons, I think it's safe to say that KotR II's plot is excellent, even though it does have its flaws.
The story begins in a familiar enough way. You start off knowing next to nothing except that you and your ship have nearly been destroyed by the Sith and you've lost your ability to perceive and manipulate the force. While initially close to KotR's story, KotR II soon deviates in several important ways. The first and probably most noticeable difference is that this is a good deal darker and morally ambiguous plot. The Jedi are all dead (again) and you are an ex-war vet who has been through some real horrors. More importantly, many of the decisions you make are not clearly good or evil and either way, people can suffer. This ambiguity is enhanced remarkably by your chief antagonist, Kreia. Kreia is a mysterious old woman with force powers who has taken the job of training you. She will often challenge your viewpoints, decisions, and logic with counter-arguments. Kreia is not the only one with a myster act going on either. Every member of your team has varying motives and thoughts that they don't want you know. The second difference is the story structure itself. KotR II's story is often presented to you in a more fragmented fashion than before. The original's story was fairly linear and information was introduced to you in a logical fashion. With Sith Lords
, you will sometimes be presented information on a topic that you have never heard about and no idea what to do with. Later on, more bits of information will come in and you'll gradually gain an understanding. Learning the character's back story is often like this, though not as drastic. Another stylistic difference is the use of climaxes. In KotR, there was one big twist where your identity is revealed and the end, where you board the Star Forge and confront Malak, was the climax. In KotR II, there is no clear climax and there are many twists scattered throughout the plot. This does create some problems, as your left with a weak-sauce and indefinite ending and sometimes confusing leaps in logic. The situation is even worse for someone who has not played KotR because of the numerous references back to its events. Even so, I stand by my earlier opinion that The Sith Lords'
story is a piece of excellent craftsmanship.
There have been a lot of StarWar's games, some piles of steaming crap and others truly awesome. One thing they've always had going for them is an excellent sound track and KotR II doesn't break tradition one bit. Combing some old music from KotR with over 45 minutes of original soundtrack, KotR II's soundtrack does an admirable job of breathing atmosphere into the game and helping to distinguish each area you visit. While reviewing Fable
, I said that I sometimes felt as if there was an orchestra that followed me everywhere I went. Sith Lords feel that way too and I loved it. Depending on the area you visit and what you are doing, the music will vary accordingly. For the most part, dark and somber themes are prevalent, though occasionally it may become statelier and, if never joyous, lighter. The battle themes are thankfully varied as well, though I often found myself getting annoyed with them. For example, I'd kill off some Sith trooper in one hit, but the music would've already started up and I would have to wait for it to die down again, only to confront another group.
Now no game can be worthy of even a 5.0, IMO, if it can't be replayed with enjoyment down the road. Video games cost way too much money. Thankfully, Obsidian has done their job well enough that you should be happy to come back for more. This isn't Everquest or Tribes 2
, but every month or two I find myself coming back. This replay value comes from a number of different sources, the most obvious being the fact that you can customize your main character to a large degree. Starting with just your face and name, you will be able to pick and upgrade your armor, accessories, weapons, powers, stats, and feats. All of them can have a significant impact on gameplay. And, of course, you're always making decisions between good, evil, and everything in between. Those choices will have consequences, ranging from NPC behavior, to your appearances, what allies you will have, and even your powers. As with Morrowind and its expansions
, you're given the opportunity to choose a different manner of play each time.
While the customization is excellent, there is another big reason I can come back to KotR II: influence. Influence is simply how much a character is willing to trust you depending on your actions. I mentioned Kreia before. She is neither light nor dark and prefers to stay behind the scenes and manipulate events. Therefore, actions that are strongly in the light or dark side will not please her. However, if you don't entangle yourself with causes or others troubles, but instead manipulate events to your favor, she will like you more. This can open up new dialogue options, effects how your part members are toward each other, and sometimes even grant you new abilities.
After all that ranting on how great The Sith Lords
you might be inclined to straight up buy the game, but unfortunately, there are several flaws and one of the biggest is simple lack of innovation. Those of you who have already played the original will notice very quickly just how much in common the two have, despite some clever new additions and modifications to the combat system.
For one, there's the graphics. The engine worked fine for the original, but some improvements really would have gone a long way toward making this a new experience. The actual visual quality has not been improved and neither has the frame rate, load times, or max level size. Load times are compensated for by increasing the number of large areas, but they're still a pain. Unfortunately, these hardware and programming drawbacks could have been ignored had the presentation been better, but here still, Obsidian offers us nothing better. Characters have very little realistic movement or expression when conversing or interacting. Environments, while looking the part of StarWar's, display nothing that might make them exceptional; little things like these. Overall, KotR II's graphics are functional, but better graphics could have gone a long way towards making the game more immersive and enjoyable.
The A.I. in KotR was never a thing of beauty, but it could be glossed over because the game was the first in the series and something of a new concept. However, this is a sequel, 2005, and post Halo 2 and my good comrades still get it in there heads to randomly run to the other side of the map or into a nice mine field. KotR II's A.I. has barely improved from the original, exhibiting little ability to make decisions. The problem is they are not flexible and therefore incapable of utilizing their own abilities or intelligently reacting to circumstances. While the whole getting lost thing is annoying, the A.I. really detracts from the combat, which I feel could be much deeper than it is. With your teammates, this is not such a big deal because it works best if you control most of their actions anyway. The enemy is another story. Such basic principles as concentration of power or moving damaged teammates out of the way are lost to them. They barely even use any powers or feats, though they occasionally make good use of the grenades.
Yet another shining example of just how little has changed between the games. KotR had its share of glitches, though nothing bad. I think the worst that ever happened to me was when clones of Zalbaar (wookie teammate) started appearing every time I walked in my space ship. KotR II, unfortunately decided to pick this part of the original to expand upon. There are several glitches in game that allow for infinite experience, influence, and light/dark side points. Others include duplicating lightsabers and instantly rechargeable force points. And those are just the ones that you might want to cause intentionally. Some of the screw-ups are less obvious though they can change game play just as much. For example, many of the powers or items do not work as labeled. Take the Sith Marauder's Fury ability. This supposedly allows an extra attack at higher levels, but it doesn't. For the most part, these won't disrupt your play, but they can take away from the experience.
2004 was the year of the sequels, both for video games and for everything else. KotR II is a result of that year's particular fetish and it follows the trend: old concept, low risk, high profit. While that policy has got a lot of gamers up in arms (and rightfully so), Obsidian has managed to make KotR II The Sith Lords
special. In little over a year after the originals release, a new company has taken over a successful game and made somthing that is worthy both as a worthy successor of the original's fame and as an addition into the Star War's universe.