-Decade old spoilers below-
Ten years and counting is a long time to hold the top spot for anything. Whether it be sports, Guinness World Records, or bragging rights, holding the number one spot for a decade isn’t easy. And for the time being Knights of the Old Republic, which released in 2003, remains the best Star Wars game ever made. Technical improvements in both gameplay and interface functionality have come a long way in the intervening decade, but even lacking said advances doesn’t take away from the game which redefined what to expect in Star Wars gaming and gaming in general.
Having been out so long and covered so much, it’s hard to really say a lot about Knights of the Old Republic that hasn’t already been said. This review will cover the basics, but a larger part will tend to focus on how it stacks up after ten years. Hopefully it’ll help answer the question if it’s still worth playing again/experiencing for the first time amongst a sea of new consoles, endless sequels, and indie’s galore that can take up any precious gaming time already available.
Having a patience issue might go against your KotOR experience. Character movement speed in this game is rather atrocious. It’d be faster to hop-scotch an entire marathon than move at the pace the characters will in KotOR. Alone, this isn’t enough to really count against a game, but the constant backtracking involved with many missions highlights this shortcoming. Nothing’s more intense than walking slowly across Tatooine’s deserts while the fate of the galaxy is at stake! More recent entries in the RPG category still have backtracking, but it’s not a chore because the characters move reasonably faster.
Menu navigation, while streamlined nowadays across most RPGs, feels like opening a dusty old book/map written only in Latin here. The menus are not particularly user-friendly, but they could be worse. There’s no way to directly compare items, no way to set custom waypoints on the map, nor any real way to properly organize all the items you’ve already collected. While these are issues I had, it’s not a focus of the game nor is it anything you’ll spend time or focus on during your playthrough, especially if this isn’t your first go-around with the game. The lack of some features are nothing more than an annoyance that most people, even new players, should be able to overlook.
Roll the dice and we’ll make it I swear! Combat in RPGs never really interested me, the whole turn-based and dice rolling just didn’t appeal to me, so I largely ignored the genre growing up. KotOR was the first real RPG I played start to finish and its combat back then was a more action orientated take on the classic turn-based stuff I’d lacked interest in. Since then, with other Bioware games like the Mass Effect series, combat is more third-person shooter than RPG, but it’s not the speed of combat that is a problem in KotOR. Rather, it’s the clunky-ness. Selecting different forms of attacks, grenades, or squad controlling is a fussy business from time to time, with squadmates defaulting to basic attacks or rushing headlong into danger without prompting. It’ll cause a few unwarranted deaths here and there, just remember to save often and it’s easier to deal with.
If there seems to be all these bad things about it, why call it the best Star Wars game ever made? Where to begin! Character development. The characters within are intriguing and can be molded by your decisions. Well, molded is too strong of a word, but they react to your decisions and dialogue choices, sometimes cutting off sections of gameplay or character development if they don’t agree with you. They feel more real, sticking to their morals, in light of player choices. And each member you pick up, from the unforgettable and scene-stealing assassin droid HK-47, Mandalorian Canderous Ordo, or snappy Mission Vao, they’ll be interesting to interact with from start to finish. Even better are Carth and Bastila, the two (love interests) main characters besides yours, played by character actor Ralph Sbarge and voice acting veteran Jennifer Hale, respectively. The rest of the cast is also full of superb voice acting, making it easier to want to interact with them. So if it seems annoying that the game keeps nudging you into connecting with your crew, don’t pass the opportunities up as it means more gameplay if you don’t.
Plenty of EU authors out there must’ve been scratching their heads and wondering how they didn’t think of such a great plot like the one in KotOR. Set nearly 4,000 years before the movies, there was tons of wiggle room for Bioware to create their own lore for a blank era on the timeline. Darth Malak, the betraying apprentice to the recently deceased Darth Revan, has unleashed a nearly invincible Sith armada to destroy the Republic. Both Revan and Malak were once Jedi, before they disappeared following the Mandalorian Wars some years before, and came back as Sith Lords intent on destruction. The game begins on a Republic cruiser under attack, where the player’s character escapes with one other crew member, Carth. They land on the nearby planet of Taris, searching for the only other person on board who escaped: a Jedi named Bastila Shan. After a (very) lengthy opening level on Taris, it’s determined that the player’s character is strong enough in the Force to become a Jedi and then subsequently tasked with locating Star Maps used by Malak and Revan in the hopes of uncovering the source of the Sith armada and stopping it for good. The planet hopping journey which takes players from Kashyyyk, Manaan and even Korriban is full of rich characters and tons of background on the galaxy, remaining a fine feat in storytelling in games to this day.
So much of game’s story screams Star Wars, while it retains its own identity and strikes out on some interesting and new tangents, especially surrounding its twist. It almost feels more mind-blowing now, as I’m older and can understand its repercussions with both the story and RPG conventions. With regards to conventions, most RPG’s allow the player to create and mold their nameless character as they see fit, making them a hero or villain new to the game world. To suddenly use that blank slate as a story twist and show the player that their ‘Killjoy the Invincible’ is actually a pivotal character from the game’s background was a bold and interesting choice. I’d consider it a benchmark twist in Star Wars that can be argued as better than Vader’s revelation to Luke.
The twist took a lot of players unawares at the time, but its impact has been lost over the decade due to a sequel novel titled Revan which constrains the character to a set persona and life course, and the canonizing of certain events leading up to The Old Republic MMO. This canonization could rob some of fun of the choices to be made throughout KotOR, as it originally felt like playing through your own Star Wars saga (something The Old Republic has used as a tag-line) back in 2003. It’s not hard to ignore the canon version of the story, as the now non-canon choices can be considered fun what-ifs, like the Infinities series of comics. (Update: Technically nothing in the game is canon anymore, since the EU reboot into Legends. However, the light side ending is Legends canon now, in case you were to read the novel Revan or go on to play the MMO)
Like I mentioned earlier, you have decisions to make and a variety of dialogue options to choose from which can affect what you can all see and do in the game. While the now official version of this game is a Light Side male playthrough, don’t forget the Dark Side. A playthrough without even doing all the side quests can run you up to 35 hours, where doing as much as possible could be almost 60 hours. There’s enough changes, especially the ending, to warrant at least one light and one dark side playthrough. But that fails to even mention getting to playing as a male or female. Certain character interactions change depending on gender, but the overall endings for both light and dark remain largely the same.
Here are a few other things:
- Levels and worlds largely feel empty. What should be a bustling Anchorhead instead is full of a several clones of the same non-descript aliens and humans. In fact, some of the NPCs ‘populating’ areas have the same dialogue. While mostly due to the limitations in tech 10 years ago, this does break immersion and makes these places feel bland.
- There are diversions, like the complicatedly simple card game Pazaak that lacks the word fun and some very basic swoop “racing,” but both feel unnecessary. Pazaak I avoid like a plague.
- The AI, whether friendly or foe, isn’t always bright. Your on-screen partners will occasionally block you in and refuse to get out of the way, and while switching to the other characters easily remedies this, in combat this is inexcusable and led to several deaths. Also, they’ll get stuck on invisible walls/corners and prevent you from leaving an area.
- The graphics aren’t bad though animation’s can be stiff and clunky. There’s also occasional frame-rate drops when the action gets heavy.
- Selkath as a species was canonized to T-level when they appeared in several The Clone Wars episodes, with their biggest appearance being a Selkath bounty hunter in season 4’s “The Box.” They also appear in the Dawn of the Jedi book and comics. They are my personal favorite from KotOR and I am holding out hope they’ll get some on-screen time in the Sequels.
- One of my favorite conversations with Canderous involves his encounter with a Yuuzhan Vong ship, though he nor anyone else knew who they were just yet. Great nod to other EU material and even better way to show how amazing a warrior he is to have survived the encounter.
- Drew Karpyshyn, senior writer of KotOR and writer on The Old Republic, has since written several Star Wars novels including the Darth Bane series and the TOR tie-in/KotOR I and II sequel Revan.
- The Infinite Empire, led by the Rakatans, is finally seeing the light of day in the Dawn of the Jedi era.
- Comic series Knights of the Old Republic, written by John Jackson Miller (who wrote the rather well-received Kenobi), bridges the gap between the Tales of the Jedi and the game.
- Easily the most influential game ever to contribute to the EU, spawning two sequels, numerous tie-in books and comics, etc. It’s mind-boggling to consider how much this game was accepted in the greater EU (something I go into a little more detail in my article about EU and Gaming) and I wonder if the games EA will make in the next decade will ever reach KotOR’s height.
While some of the advances since 2003 cause parts of Knights of the Old Republic to feel their age, there’s not enough to derive from the experience it sets out to create. Heck, there’s much older games out there that show lots more age than KotOR and they’re just as easy to recommend. With still memorable characters, story, and choices, if you’ve never played Knights of the Old Republic it’s time to finally give it a shot, but I think if you even wait another decade, I could still recommend it.
+ Characters, like HK-47
+ Great length for great content
+ The twist
– Minor annoyances
– Underpopulated cities/areas
Ryan is Mynock Manor’s Head Butler. You can follow him on Twitter @BrushYourTeeth.
This review is based off a Steam copy of the game. I do not have an iPad, so this review does not reflect any of the touchpad version’s functionality.
KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC SERIES REVIEWS:
Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords