Video Game Review: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

Knights of the Old Republic II The Sith Lords

– Spoiler Review –

Before this review starts in earnest, let me point out a couple of things. Below is a review of Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords with both the Restored Content Mod and M4-78 Planet Mod, which are both readily available for free on PC (at the link). Likewise, Steam’s Workshop allows you to simple update KotOR 2 with TSLRCM and M4-78 without even having to leave Steam, so not updating this classic the next time you play would be silly. Therefore, this review is of the “complete” version of KotOR 2 (well, as complete as the excellent work of the modders can make it!).

The development of KotOR2 was rushed as LucasArts was pushing the developers, Obsidian, to get the game out much sooner than expected to meet the holiday of 2004. Tons of content, including a whole planet, was cut, moved, and barely put together to form as complete of a game as Obsidian could in the rushed time, but they left all the cut content hidden in the game’s source code (here’s a really great and lengthy article at Kotaku with details from Obsidian themselves regarding KotOR2‘s development and also another in-depth behind the scenes look, including Obsidian’s plans for a 3rd game, at Eurogamer). As you can imagine, lots of people, including myself, were disappointed with the released game. It was actually a fairly solid and worthy successor to KotOR, but it felt rushed and full of missing pieces. Since 2004, mostly everything cut found itself put back together by modders to form the Restored Content Mod (TSLRCM), and an entire cut planet in the M4-78 mod. Having not played the original 2004 version for many years, I’m playing KotOR 2 with both the TSLRCM and M4-78 installed, and the review below will reflect their inclusions and just how noticeable any of the TSLRCM content is compared to the original game. In fairness to those who played the 2004 release version (like me) I’m also going through and playing without the mod to compare the experiences.

KotOR2 Screenshot (3)Now all that is out of the way, Knights of the Old Republic 2 takes place some 5 years after KotOR with the galaxy still healing from the conflict instigated by Revan and Malak while feeling the repercussions of practically the entire Jedi Order being wiped out. Your choices in KotOR do not carry over, so there’s some lines of dialogue in the beginning which allows you to choose how events in the previous game unfolded. Either way, you play as the Exile, who is swept up in the Sith Civil War due to their choice to shut themselves off from the Force, and the repercussions of said action, after fighting under Revan in the Mandalorian Wars. Needless to say, this story, though still full of galaxy-wide consequences, feels more personal than the first.

KotOR2 Screenshot (4)Though Obsidian made KotOR 2, not Bioware, it plays/looks/feels just like the first though there are a few improvements. The combat system is largely the same, but the added layers of choosing character behaviors to fit their skills and different Force forms are a really nice touch. Now if you have one of the Exile’s companions proficient with a blaster and don’t want them constantly running into the fray, selecting Ranged behavior means they’ll stay back, take less damaged, and lay waste to your foes. Many a time I was saved by my Ranged companion, while having a Force-using companion on Jedi Support, spamming all their Force powers (including healing) in an effort to give my team the upper hand. Needless to say, paying attention to the Exile’s companion’s skill trees is more important and leads to a lot less deaths than encountered in KotOR. Force forms range from styles of lightsaber combat that give bonuses to blaster defect and minuses to versing many opponents or how efficient you use your Force points. I didn’t notice too much difference depending on which form I was using, but maybe that’s because I always just rush into the middle of everything.

Since there was only a year (well, almost less than that) to work on KotOR 2, the visuals don’t see any real noticeable improvement. Sure, things look slicker, but you’ll only see it if you’re looking. Cities are a little denser than they were in KotOR, thankfully, but everyone has a habit of just ambling about and there’s still lots of cloned faces. Animations of the characters aren’t as stiff this time around, allowing for more natural movement in some cutscenes,

KotOR2 Screenshot (2)But the biggest change you’ll notice (not related to TSLRCM) lies with the even more personal, focused story and party interactions. Yes, the first game had lots of personal focus as well, but it was mainly a romantic personal story amongst all the star-hopping and galaxy-saving. Here, there are romantic plots, but they aren’t as important as the only real love that matters in this game: the one between a parent and their child. Okay, it’s not literally between a child and a parent, but it’s a similar bond (a word you’ll hear a lot in KotOR 2), one that if broken, might be deadly for both the Exile and Kreia. But their bond, and one person’s love for the other, are a strong through-point for the story and certain character’s actions.

While the Exile will shack up with a few familiar faces (HK-47!), the new ones mostly outshine the already outstanding lineup of party members from the first game. Atton, this game’s Han Solo, hides a dark past deep within his mind; Mira, a bounty hunter hunted by the Wookiee who owes her a life debt; Visas, a Miraluka Force user who may or may not be working for a Dark Lord…to name a few. Everyone has a more interesting past then you can imagine, with tons of baggage and none of it good, making them all the more complex and more interesting to get them to reveal their secrets. What if I told you that the Ebon Hawk (possibly including the companions I listed above) was full of Jedi Hunters, Sith Lords, murderous droids, and a person who was an accessory to genocide? And as horrible as they all sound, they’re damaged by their actions and their intent to make good for what they’ve done is entertainingly intriguing. And almost more enjoyable than KotOR‘s largely galactic focus.

KotOR2 Screenshot (5)Chief and foremost amongst the Exile’s companions is Kreia, the mentor and guide through the journey of The Sith Lords. If you found Vergere from the New Jedi Order to be an extremely compelling character (before they ruined her in the Legacy of the Force series), then Kreia should not only be on your radar as far as characters go, but you’ll probably like her better than Vergere. Both characters display a unique view on the Force and the amount of time the Exile can spend with Kreia at their side is directly proportional to how much more of her intriguing views you’ll get. What she brings to discussions of the Force is the color gray, which is why I find her such a captivating character. Through most of the books and certainly the movies, the Force is easily presented as Good vs Evil, whereas Kreia and a few other characters in this game embody a new and refreshing view on what exactly makes one a Sith or a Jedi or if those two extremes really matter. While it’s no secret Kreia has been both Jedi and Sith, her time spent as both has given her a new perspective on events and usage of the Force, some of which I couldn’t help but agree with (no matter if they could be considered good or bad things). Her duality’s present in her interactions not only with the Exile, but with the other companions aboard the Ebon Hawk as well, as she attempts to manipulate and coerce them to stay away from the Exile so she can put the Exile right where she wants to. And her endgame, which is related to the Exile and the unapologetic will of the Force, is just as interesting as her myriad of views concerning the galaxy and Force at large.

M4-78But we’ve gotten this far in the review and still no mention of how having the TSLRCM installed makes the game feel? Wait no longer! First off, there’s lots of little additions that almost add up (at least to me) as bigger than the new planet. But if you haven’t played the un-modded version for quite some time, you might miss most of it, which goes to show how seamless it fits. And even if you’ll miss what’s new, you won’t be able to shake the feeling that KotOR 2 just feels more…right. The ending just feels…better now and the large majority of the game has this slightly more coherent feel since lots of little things got put back together again. There are technical changes as well, fixing cut-up, broken, glitchy moments, which makes for a more smoother experience. You’ve not enjoyed KotOR 2 correctly until you’ve installed at least TSLRCM before your next playthrough.

M4-78 (2)The other mod, M4-78, which is the name of the droid focused planet originally cut from the game. Having played it a few times, I’m not too surprised that this part was cut. While I get that the planet is devoid of organic life, instead populated by droids who are just as clueless to the whereabouts and loss of their organic masters as the Exile is, this place is really empty. It feels like you’ll run for hours across blank expanses of rather repetitious areas (something that’s not the case in the other planets), but escort droids to help teleport you around. Due to a chemical leak, initially you’ll have to send in one of the Exile’s droid companions, and it just won’t be as fun if you don’t choose HK-47. Even then, there’s no advantage to sending in any of the droids, so personal preference is all you’ll need to make that choice. The first hour feels rather tedious, sending your droid back and forth without any real indication about where their supposed to be going or which droid their exactly after. There’s a distinct lack of drive to get through the planet because of this and the mystery of the missing colonists doesn’t feel worth unraveling.

M4-78 (4)In the second hour, now that the chemical leak is cleaned up, things do pick up and the mystery actually becomes appealing thanks to the planet’s switch away from aimless fetch quests. There’s tons of combat, pitting you against a legion of rogue AI controlled droids. You’ll learn that the planet’s two governing AIs who communicate with the master AI, M4-78, had some falling out after the Sith arrived and the Jedi Master Vash (originally just found dead on Korriban without the mod) and her padawan tried to save the place. But as much combat as you’ll get, it begins to feel like a slough through tireless waves of enemies, especially on visits on a lower skill level (at least in my experiences). Once you reach the end, there are a few interesting moments of dialogue, no real big choices, and you’re simply done. It doesn’t feel like it adds much to the overall game, per se, and again I can get why Obsidian had chosen to cut it. The modders behind who’ve brought M4-78 are working on a patch to the its content, hoping to get rid of some of the clueless running from the first half. If they can hold true to their word, which they have so far with all the amazing work they’ve done restoring the game’s missing content, M4-78 might just feel a little more worthwhile to play through (I’ll update the review with thoughts on the mods updates once I get a chance to play it).

But wait, there’s more TSLRCM to chat about! Ever wonder why all those other HK assassin droids were after you, how they kept finding you, and why HK-47 seemed to want to know but you were never able to uncover that mystery? Also included now is the HK manufacturing plant side-mission, which I found to be more enjoyable than the whole of the planet M4-78. There’s also a fight between Darth Sion and Atton, one where you can fail and the game won’t be over. These littler parts, including all the cut dialogue, add up to really make KotOR 2 feel like a worthy successor to the first game. In fact, part of me considers KotOR 2 to now be better than KotOR (there, I said it!). If that sounds shocking to you, then you need to experience this game with TSLRCM and you might be swayed to my opinion.

Meetra-SurikKotOR 2‘s protagonist/antagonist the Exile starts off the game and ends the game as the Exile you’ve crafted them to be, unlike where KotOR ended with your character being the Revan you’ve crafted. When the novel Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan hit shelves, all that changed. Fans of the KotOR series had been clamoring for a third game for almost a decade and they got a book instead. Whereas Revan became a stock human male, at least the Exile became a human female named Meetra Surik. Thus her adventure in KotOR 2 is a Legends canon light-side one, going off into the Unknown Regions to locate a long-missing Revan after the events of the game. If you haven’t read the book, it’s worth a read to get the continuation to both Revan and Meetra’s stories, even if the book ends on a rather bleak note. It might be a good idea to play The Old Republic MMO to see the ‘end’ of their stories (or look it up on Wookieepedia).

The book’s a tad polarizing to KotOR fans, but it doesn’t feel like it takes as much away from KotOR 2 as it did to the first game. While the first game’s twist of you playing as Revan was dampened by the novel’s Legends canonization of events, KotOR 2‘s twist doesn’t take a hit. However, it’s not that great (or fair) of a twist in the first place: the Jedi you gather on Dantoonie consider you evil, no matter your actions/choices up to this point, because you killed many people/things and influenced your friends to follow you no matter what. The problem here is this: you couldn’t have progressed through the game without doing either, so it feels unfair that they use that against you. I kept trying to yell, “But that’s how you play the game!” and the Jedi Masters didn’t hear me, so once Kreia came in and killed them all, I certainly wasn’t angry at her. But the reasons for her actions bring up an interesting notion: the surviving Masters just weren’t the Jedi needed to face the coming threat and to train the new generation of Jedi, so culling their ranks was a necessary evil (and maybe even the the will of the Force). This viewpoint could even be considered applicable to the Jedi of the Prequel era, something Eleven-ThirtyEight’s Mike Cooper covered in a really great article (go read it!). Kreia then speaks of the Lost Jedi, ones who will be capable of facing an incoming threat, and if you thought it was weird that (nearly) all your organic companions were trainable in the Force, there might be a connection.

Here are a few other things:

  • Update 5/23/16: Review has been fixed to reflect that TSLRCM and M4-78 are actually two separate mods, which the earlier version of the review lumped them both together. Sorry for the confusion!
  • Enemy AI can be tricked more often than not, where bosses can get stuck on corners or behind things, which gives you time to heal/take a breather.
  • The Force cave on Korriban is that planet’s most interesting part, functioning like a longer version of the Dagobah cave and features a pretty awesome cameo(s).
  • By the time you get to Malachor V and Darth Traya’s academy, while there are tons of Force-wielding enemies, you’ll be strong enough that it’ll mostly be a breeze (see photo above). This makes for a slightly disappointing fight through the academy, but for some that might just be the empowerment trip they were looking for.
  • There are many sections in the game where your primary character won’t be the Exile, but instead one of the companion characters (solo or sometimes with 2 other characters). Some sections feel like almost too much if you don’t choose the right character to play as, but the bad AI I mentioned allows you to get away alive in most scrapes. And if you pay attention to how you level up your companions, you’ll not have too much trouble overcoming whatever obstacles you’ll be facing.
  • I played through as both light and dark-side with both mods, and one light-side playthrough without them. The first two were roughly 35 hours each, while the one without the mods was about 30 hours.
  • There’s a great new article over at Kotaku where they sing of the praises of KotOR 2 over the first just like I do in this review.
  • It’s very simple to install the mods: just drag the mod files over to KotOR 2 file area and viola! I had a Steam copy, so I just found this thread about it. UPDATE 7/22/15: It seems KotOR 2 has received an official update on Steam, which includes achievements, controller support, and most importantly: TSLRCM has been added to the game so you don’t have to do it yourself. Now is the perfect time to dig into this game, as the best version is just a click away.
  • While Malachor has been canon since an offhanded mention (as a curse word) in The Clone Wars, we’ll be visiting the planet in the second season of Star Wars Rebels! Yoda instructs the crew to seek out the planet in “Shroud of Darkness” and they’ll be visiting it in the season finale. I’ll update this with links to my review of that once it airs March 30, 2016 Here’s my review Star Wars Rebels S2 finale, where the crew finds a Sith Temple hiding in the depths of Malachor (and other not-so happy things).

KotOR2 Screenshot (6)

If you’re still shocked from me saying I believe Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (with both the Restored Content and M4-78 Mods) is better than the original, then you owe it to yourself to check out this game with the mods installed. I do still hold that the original game has a greater legacy and is favored more memorably by fans thanks to the seemingly botched launch of KotOR2, but this ten year old game finally got its dewbacks together.  Plus, it’s so cheap these days and the mod is free, so minus a dearth of free time the barriers to entry are practically non-existent.

+ Character/Personal Focus

+ Kreia

+ TSLRCM makes game feel whole

+ All the gray POVs

AI issues

Opening of M4-78

Cheap twist

Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth.

Knights of the Old Republic

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