A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a little company called Bioware, who were really good at making role-playing-games. One day, back in the early 2000s, they made a deal with LucasArts to make a Star Wars game and the result was a game that, to this day, is widely regarded as a classic – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
I find it rather fitting that I finally got the chance to play Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic just as I was finishing my playthrough of the developer’s most recent creation, Mass Effect Andromeda. It allowed me to not only appreciate just how far things have come since its humble beginnings, but also see just what made their games so well-regarded in the first place. Make no mistake, this is vintage Bioware and by god is it good!
The first thing anyone going into Knights of the Old Republic should know is that, while it has the trappings of Star Wars, its inner workings are that of classic tabletop RPGS like Dungeons & Dragons. The success of almost everything you do in the game is decided by how high your stats are and by what attributes and feats you pick. You are given an opportunity to choose and add more of these every time you level up but generally you are at the mercy of the game’s random numbers generator. This probably makes it sounds like the player has no control, but that is far from the truth as what you can and cannot do is determined by how you choose to build your character. This means you can be a lightsaber wielding combat specialist who fights everything they see, a technician who relies on hacking everything to solve their problems or a Force master who uses their mystic powers to control their surroundings and influence their opponents.
The place where this emphasis on stats becomes most obvious is in the combat system, which can feel a bit hands-off at times. Battles play out in real-time, with players selecting which targets to attack and what abilities to use and then watching as the characters performs those tasks. Some preparation and forward planning is required to get the most out of it as actions are queued when selected, meaning that players must wait until the character has completed all previously assigned actions before they can stop and use that healing item they so desperately need. It isn’t quite as involving or action-packed as the combat systems in more recent games, but it is stimulating enough to be engaging and can be a real treat to work with once you’ve levelled up to the point where the random numbers generator is always in your favour.
By far the most compelling thing about Knights of the Old Republic is its story. After building their character, players begin by waking up on a besieged starship and are quickly thrown into a quest to stop a nigh-invincible Dark Lord with an army-building superweapon. Along the way, they will bring together a motley crew of varied and interesting characters and find themselves travelling to locales across the galaxy, including some that should be familiar to those who have seen the films. While it starts a little expository and can take a little time to get going at first, the characters and universe soon reveal themselves to rich and deep with Star Wars lore, with the whole thing eventually leading to the one of the biggest twists since ‘Luke, I am your father’.
This all translates well into the quest design, which is heavily story-driven. A particular highlight is an early mission where players must decide which of two murder suspects is guilty by asking them questions. It even offers some choice regarding how things play out, usually split between Light side (aka good) or Dark side (aka evil) options. This allows both the main story and side quests to generally have multiple possible outcomes. It can be extremely binary at times, with Light side options generally bending over backwards to please everyone and their Dark side counterparts usually involving just killing everyone. However, given the simplistic morality of the source material this is somewhat expected and even then there are enough shades of grey to offset this.
Regarding how it looks and sounds, Knights of the Old Republic definitely captures the look and feel of Star Wars. There are some great character and environment designs that fit right in with the universe and the soundtrack is worthy of John Williams himself. The PS2-era graphics may look a tad dated by today’s standards, with some blocky models and muddy textures, but they are well animated and look great for their time. Furthermore, the game runs smoothly at 60fps, even when played on the highest graphical settings on a half-decent laptop. The only graphical problem I had was a bizarre glitch involving the game’s grass – for some reason, it wouldn’t render properly, causing it and everything behind to appear invisible. The result was several moments where characters would appear to have no lower bodies, which was weird but easily fixed by simply turning the grass off in the options.
On that note, the game isn’t perfect, by any stretch. Knights of the Old Republic is now 14 years old and it is definitely showing its age. The combat, despite my praises, can still feel a little uninvolving at times. There are a couple of moments where the difficulty spikes with little warning, which can be hard on players who aren’t adequately prepared. The menus are clunky and unwieldy, with little room for its vast amount of text and no way of comparing stats. There are no quest markers, making it hard to know exactly where to go at times. There is just a list of little faults that this game has that most modern games have ironed out. However, it should be noted that most of these flaws are really just a consequence of the game’s age – the design isn’t bad, just archaic and slightly outdated. Even then, this is only a minor issue for what is generally a stellar experience.
In summation, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic is every bit the classic it is lauded to be. It has some wrinkles here and there, but overall it has aged better than many other games I could mention. Even after all these years, it is still a shining example of the RPG genre and well worth the time of anyone who chooses to give it a try. What else can I say – the Force is strong with this one.
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