Sometimes, you just have to play the classics. And knowing I had missed this title in favor of Deus Ex (still my all time favorite title) back in the day, this was a game I knew I would have to eventually get my hands on. However, I also knew that the game is notoriously buggy on anything later then Windows XP. So imagine my surprise when I heard the game was being released in a collection with the sequel! Finally! A version of the game cleaned up and working on newer computers the way they were meant to be played! And at $20 for both this and it’s sequel, how could I say no?
Well, as I finish up the game, I wish I had known better dropping the cash on it. Everything I wanted out of it pretty much did not happen, leaving me with the same buggy mess I would have had had I played the old CD-ROM edition of it my brother owned. I guess for historical points it’s still worth having as the last thing released by Lucas Arts before being shut down, but, I would not really recommend this one. Not when we have moved on so far in the genre, and frankly, I can imagine alphas more stable then this.
Story: The Sith are not just coming, they are here! And in mass force. And no that is not a pun. A war is waging across the galaxy, and already weakened from war with the Mandelorians, the Republic is in dire straights as the Sith push ever onward in galactic conquest.
With this in mind, you sign up help fight and defend the Republic! Your career goes well enough and you find yourself on a ship escorting one of the single most important Jedi in the struggle due to a special practice she knows called “battle meditation” in which she can use the force to guide entire armies like pieces on a chess board. With her assistance, the loss of this epic struggle has been staved off for now. The problem is, the Sith know of her, and in rapid succession, her ship, which you were assigned to, has been attacked! So grab your gear and move out, soldier! The Republic needs you to help everyone off this ship and to ensure this Jedi makes it out of here alive!
Before long, you are discovered to have a great talent for the force and despite being an adult, you are a special enough case for the Jedi to train you as one of their own. But you do not get to finish training as the Force has other plans for you, starting with visions you and the young Jedi you were to guard share of the path to a mysterious artifact known as the Star Forge. And while you are not shown what it is, you know it played a roll in the fall of the two Dark Jedi who started this new Sith army you all now face. With the importance of this device unquestioned, you will spend most of the game hunting it’s location in what follows to be a very direct story line. Yeah, it has one HUGE twist, and most people know it already, but I refuse to spoil it for the few who don’t.
Overall, the story works and honestly would have fit well into the general Star Wars universe, but if you are expecting a lot of curves and intricacies, you are probably looking in the wrong place.
Graphics: KOTOR is a very old game (it came out in 2003), so I did not come in expecting the game to be amazing looking. That said the game aged relatively well in the graphics department. While simple by todays standards, everything looks clean and complete in this package. You will play the game from a 3rd person point of view with a camera you can spin by mouse movement or by A and D if you prefer the keyboard. You have a very clean interface that while it carries the look of the universe well, keeps out of the way of the main game, letting you focus on the task at hand.
The models in the game, as mentioned before, look primitive by today’s standards, but not ugly. They are just simple and overall unimpressive, however. But they are animated well with most movements looking at worst like they belong in a game, but still relatively natural and nothing will break the immersion of the game itself… well nothing in the game itself at least, but we can get to that in a bit.
However, I do have to note resolution as an odd issue with this game. II f you play the game at one of the higher resolutions the game allows (it does not have a lot of selection here), you will find the pre-rendered cutscenes a bit of an eye-sore as the game will drop resolution to play them, and it will do so often.
This makes sense considering they are pre-rendered, but I can not understand why they are pre-rendered. When watching them, they are using the exact same sprites and motions as the in-engine cutscenes, making any real gain for this negligible, but completely ruining the game’s ability to look like one complete package should the player be playing on hardware better then the game originally came out for. And considering they do have resolution options, this hardware was clearly expected to play this game.
Sound: Are you a fan of Star Wars? Because if so, I do not need to say anything more here. The game sounds exactly as anything with this franchise name on it should, from the iconic music to the zap sound of lightsabers crashing together to the blasters going off, everything in this game sounds absolutely perfect for the world it’s taking place in.
The game even spent the extra time to make sure the languages you hear in the movie sound right for the most part, though I do not believe they go the timing as well as they could have hear. Twi’lek, for example tends to drone on a lot longer in this game then it should for, making you want to click to move on (and sometimes miss something as it switches text just before). But as usual for a game trying to be cinematic, the real star here is the voice acting. This definitely stands the test of time, with most characters having descent lines and better delivery. You will probably find a favorite who you will attach to in your group and want to see their personal story to the end because of this. The only one standing out for the corny elements is, sadly the big-bad Sith Lord himself. His actor did a descent job, but some of his lines come off as a little too classic for the part he’s playing.
Gameplay: KOTOR is played from a 3rd person perspective with (for the time) classic camera controls, but do not let that fool you. This game is NOT an action game in any shape of the word. Rather, the 3rd person view hides a rather detailed D20 turn based system. You will run around the maps of each area talking to characters or fighting in a turn based situation for most of the game.
These maps, however, are shockingly small, especially by today’s standards. Considering KOTOR was released first on the original Xbox, this could have been to reduce memory needs on the machine. Still, the result is the same: You have fairly small maps with a few key places on them and links to a few other maps of the same size, making for very small parts of any given planet you are on being available to explore. And while exploring, you will find yourself involved in both the main and a handful of sidequests in each location, which leads me to my first real problem with the game itself: leveling. I did not go out of my way to do any missions I didn’t just find and didn’t even finish many of my quests, but I still managed to max out my level (you max at 20) before I got to the end of the game. If someone wanted to be a completionist about this game, they will probably do this before finishing off the star map quests.
While leveling, you will gain stats as you expect, but you will also find yourself having to choose skills, feats, and powers which will effect how your character plays. If you have played D&D, you probably know how this works, if not, your skills and feats are a set of stats that apply bonuses to your roll to attempt to complete some task in the game. For example, there is a demolitions skill which applies a bonus should you try to disarm mines in the way of your team. The higher it is, the better your chances. The computer skill makes you require less of an item called spikes to hack terminals in the game. All these skills combine to make up your rolls trying to complete actions as your character, but considering your level maxes out at 20, you will not be able to max these skills, so each Jedi should be different when you get to the end.
Powers, as you will gain later, are the Jedi Powers you will get to use. These range from throwing a light saber, to putting up force fields, to lighting, to even using the force in conversation to persuade other characters to what you want. There are a lot of selection, and how you play will not only decide which ones you want, but influence their cost.
As you play, you will be forced to make choices that can earn you light and dark side points, moving how light or dark you are on a slide rule. Powers marked for light will cost less the more you move towards the light side while powers marked for the dark will cost less the more you move towards the dark side.
If all of this is overwhelming or you don’t want to think about it, the game will let you autolevel and have the game decide what gets upgraded, but as a personal warning, I must let you know you will need to have some kind of ranged attack when you get to the end of the game or the last boss will become almost impossible (as reported to me by Max). As for me, I didn’t see any issue with this, but I did find this game falls into the classic trap of “hit this to win” powers being in play.
As for combat, as mentioned above, it is turn based, though the game by default only pauses for the start of the first turn. I HIGHLY recommend you change this to between every round as your AI is incredibly stupid, and you will want the time to give them commands as well. These commands then fall into a bar at the bottom of the screen, showing what commands are lined up for the character you have currently selected. When you are ready, hit space and see how the battle goes on. (You can pause the battle at any time with Space as well.)
Overall, the game has a good play to it, but when you get past it being Star Wars, it doesn’t really stand out. It’s using a dice engine table-top games use all the time and combat really offers nothing but to issue the commands. Add this to some very small maps and a few mini-games (3 necessary in the entire 40 hour campaign), and while the game is good, it isn’t anything special like the fans of the game want to make it out to be.
Bugs: Oh god where do I begin? Seriously, where do I begin. This game didn’t have a ton of different bugs, but the ones it had shined down to ruin the game’s immersion like diseased lightning from a Sith’s grubby selfish and greedy fingers.
- (Not-so) Random crashes: They sure seem random when you first hit them, but I found two points in the game where every time I hit these points the game crashes to the desktop. Once JUST after saving the autosave as you go up an elevator to rescue your ship, and once literally mid-cutscene. In both cases, these were more annoying then game-breaking, but they are there, you will probably hit them, and you should be aware of them before you try to play this game
- Cut-Scene Problems: When this game tries to play a pre-rendered cut-scene, something very wrong happens more often then not. The game minimizes, requiring you to remaximize the game to see the cut-scene and keep playing… and this can happen on ANY and EVERY cut-scene. Seriously, in cut-scenes that mix pre-rendered with in-game, be ready to have to reclick the running copy of your game many times before you get to play again, especially with some videos literally being 3 seconds long! And that’s assuming you don’t have to do it multiple times before a single video will load! Seriously, my current record is 6, and at that point, I was beginning to think the game had broken and I was done playing. This won’t end your game, but it will annoy the shit out of you
Now, before anyone says it, yes I know it’s an old game and a lot of people are already trying to say I should have played it when it was new and it was running on the OS it was designed for… one small problem with idea. I'm playing from a collection released in 2012 where the system requirements read as follows:
Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7
Since WHEN does a collection get a pass for running like shit on one of the 3 listed OSes in the requirements list? I'm sorry, but to release the game in the condition it’s in is inexcusable.
Overall: Let me say this right now. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic is a good game. It’s not a great game, but as a very standard classic PC-style turn based RPG, it is a good game. However, if you are getting into it now, you are asking for a world of hurt in how badly it runs on modern Operating Systems, which is a real shame. Additionally, it’s inexcusable for a version of the game released in 2012 listing said OSes in the requirements. As such I have a hard time recommending this game to anyone but the most dedicated Star Wars fan who wants to relive the old days.