The history of Star Wars games on any platform has been full of contradictions and variations. Some SW games are horrible while some are sublime in comparison, a relationship similar to Episodes I through III and the original trilogy. Every time a Star Wars game is released, whether it will be good or bad is always a mystery. Most of the time, series fanatics will love the games because of their loyalty to the narrative, but even they have a limit. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic was one of those games that people didn’t expect too much from – just another Star Wars game – and after the outstanding Jedi Knight series, it seemed difficult to top that level of quality and sheer fun. However, KOTOR was so successful that Lucas Arts is now publishing a sequel to the beloved game: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. For all of those gamers out there that didn’t play the original, this preview can be helpful and informative, and the rest that did play the original KOTOR don’t need to be told how good the game was and how promising this new version looks. Either way, there’s something for everyone in this preview.
In order to have some idea of the game play and the story line of The Sith Lords, it’s important to know something about its genesis. KOTOR begins like many RPGs: you lose your memory and you don’t know who or where you are. And on the way you find people that help you to solve the mystery of your identity, while you save them from doom more than once. The first scenario you encounter is a spaceship that’s under attack. (Star Wars: A New Hope anyone?) Again, you don’t know who you are or why you are there, but you obviously need to get out. Someone helps you escape to a planet in search of a very important Jedi named Bastila (a woman, and one of the coolest female characters in the Star Wars universe). You are not a Jedi when you start the game, but don’t worry. You will be. Up until now the game seems pretty much like many other RPGs, but what makes KOTOR unique is the fact that actions you take or things you say to others affect your tendency toward the Light or Dark Side of the Force. There’s no wrong way of playing the game in that respect – you can become bad or good and finish the game either way. It’s a curious experience, because the decisions you make show many things about yourself and the way you think. It’s a good psychological experience if you ask me.
The game play is another unique aspect of KOTOR; it plays like a hybrid between Final Fantasy and Zelda (which is not a PC game but most of you out there are familiar with it). Final Fantasy is a turn-based RPG and Zelda is a real-time RPG, but KOTOR manages to marry both concepts. Before a fight, the game is paused and you choose your first four actions, then you return to the game and the fight begins. While in the middle of the fight, you can still choose your next actions, up to four. They can range from healing, attacking, defending, etc. You get the strategic side of turn-based games and the fun of real-time battle.
Now to the main purpose of this preview: the sequel to the outstanding Knights of the Old Republic. The story of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords takes place a few years after the events of the first installment. You play the role of a Jedi early on, a hero of the Mandalorian wars. When the story begins, the Jedi are almost extinct, and you are supposedly the last one alive. The narrative, on paper, looks to be like almost all stories in the Star Wars universe. The Jedi always seem to be almost extinct, but they never disappear completely. Thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the gaming experience, because while the plot isn’t very original, the premise is effective and captivating at times.
KOTOR II: The Sith Lords doesn’t need to have an incredibly original story for the game to be great. As with some films in which the script may be sub-par, if you have good actors (and in this case, game play) it isn’t noticeable. KOTOR II is one of those sequels that virtually has it made as long as the developers maintain some of the elements that made the first game so charming. These elements are a mix of story line and game play that can last up to a trilogy and still be effective.
The series has changed developers, however. Now, Obsidian is the team behind the game, but it seems they have done their homework, because on paper The Sith Lords is looking just as well designed as Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic, and that’s no easy task. Obsidian is aiming for a familiar sequel with some improvements.
The game play for Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords doesn’t differ much from its predecessor and that’s very good news, because the mechanics are intuitive, engaging, and fun. One main difference in the narrative that slightly alters the game play is that you are a Jedi from the beginning of the game, however you are again able to go Dark or Light. Even though you begin as a Jedi, you have no lightsaber for a while, but with many Force powers to choose from, you won’t miss it much.
Another important aspect of The Sith Lords is the NPC interaction and the choices you make in these conversations. In The Sith Lords, the conversations are more elaborate and entertaining than in KOTOR. The difference is that now your responses to each event will have a direct effect on your party via a factor called “influence.” This adds more options and, therefore, depth to the already entertaining chats you have in the game.
Back again are the character classes to choose from and the Jedi Powers and Feats. You get to choose one of three classes – the scoundrel, the soldier, and the scout – each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Soldiers have more fighting skills, while scoundrels are better at opening locks and hacking computers. Scouts have better computer skills and healing abilities.
The Feats are special abilities you gain throughout the game as you get more experience points. Although Feats are not granted based on the number of experience points directly, they are unlocked by them. Jedi Powers are gained, obviously, once you become a Jedi. In KOTOR II, since you begin the game as a Jedi, you don’t have to focus all your energies on becoming one in order to have access to your Jedi powers. But a Jedi’s learning is never over; you find new Jedi powers as the game progresses. Some of them are new in the series, and KOTOR II is introducing new Feats as well.
Many RPGs are supposed to take place in open-ended worlds with an open-ended story, but they ultimately fall into a repetitive and linear mode. This game offers a more diverse adventure with more side quests and plot twists than its predecessor. This is saying a lot because Knights of the Old Republic is famous for giving the player the ability to explore its different worlds and have many different experiences on each one. In The Sith Lords, all your in-game actions lead to you meeting some interesting NPCs. If you loved some of the characters from the original (like HK-47, a fan favorite), you will surely like the ones that you meet here. Most of the characters have more developed personalities than before and are more interesting.
In KOTOR‘s graphics, what stood a bit above the rest were the beautiful worlds. You could go from one planet to another with your trusty spaceship, the Ebon Hawk. You have it once again in the sequel. As a matter of fact, your first goal in the game is to reach the Hawk. The variety of worlds and creatures is what makes the Star Wars universe so appealing – you are presented with one compelling planet after another. Beautiful worlds are again rendered in The Sith Lords. Though not all the same planets are returning, some are making comebacks. This is especially important to the story line, because it immerses the player more into the game environment.
Fans of the original may be more judgmental when playing the game, but newcomers to the series will be amazed with Obsidian’s approach to the Star Wars universe. Hopefully, this sequel will be an example of how sequels should be done. It’s safe to say that Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords will satisfy the tastes of most gamers.