This week, readers, I bring you something I never thought I would write: a review of a western-RPG, and a Bioware-made one, no less. Released on the original Xbox and PC in 2003, Bioware’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has received a great deal of praise from Star Wars fans and gamers alike for its writing, alignment system, and characters.
Gameplay-wise, Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) is based almost entirely on the d20 RPG system of Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition. The player’s character is created in one of three classes, and the six stats assigned via a point-buy system. After some story progression, the player character no longer gains levels in their initial class, instead choosing a Jedi class and beginning to level in that class instead. Combat, skills, feats, and stats are all clearly derived from d20 systems; KotOR is extremely easy to pick up for fans of tabletop gaming. Also of note is the alignment system: depending on the player’s actions and dialogue choices, the player character can become either light-aligned or dark-aligned. As the character becomes more strongly aligned, Force powers (essentially spells) of their chosen alignment cost less, while opposing-alignment powers cost more to cast. The alignment system is one of the highlights of KotOR, though the player does have to commit to an alignment relatively early in the game as point opportunities are limited.
Knights of the Old Republic follows the nameless player character and his or her journey throughout the galaxy. Joining the main character are several allies, some Jedi and some not. The game begins with an attack on the Endar Spire, a ship on which the main character is traveling as a soldier of the Republic. After a crash-landing on the planet Taris, the player character must find a way to escape. The Taris section of the game is a bit on the long side and does begin to drag near the end, but eventually the party finds its way to Dantooine and the player character joins the Jedi order. From here, the main plot deals with the party’s attempts to stop Malak, a Sith leader who rose to power after the fall of his master, Revan. The plot of KotOR is good, but the real draws of the story are the writing and dialogue. This game has some marvelous dialogue, with the player having choices in nearly every interaction with party members and NPCs. The player can choose to play the main character as a near-saint, a complete asshole, or anywhere in-between. The interactions among characters are interesting, and several of the characters are interesting and well-fleshed out. The writing is easily the strongest part of Knights of the Old Republic. Of particular note in the writing is the droid HK-47, a lovable homicidal maniac whose lines are some of the most memorable in gaming history.
On an audiovisual level, Knights of the Old Republic is more than adequate. The graphics look excellent for a game released almost ten years ago, or at least the Steam version looks good. The music, in typical Star Wars fashion, is wonderful; the soundtrack is truly phenomenal. It is, however, worth noting that the PC and Steam versions of the game do not run well. This reviewer remembers several times where the game crashed in the middle of playing; certain areas seem to be much worse than others for game crashes. These same areas wherein the game is prone to crashes are also notoriously buggy graphics-wise, to the point where the game is somewhat difficult to navigate. These issues are extremely frustrating, but still do not ruin the game experience.
To those readers still left wondering if this reviewer thought Knights of the Old Republic a game worth playing, the answer is a resounding yes. KotOR is an amazing game that fans of Star Wars should absolutely look into playing. The Steam version of the game is readily available and certainly worth a purchase. The game is not perfect, and the graphics glitches and crashes of the PC version are at times quite maddening, but any gamer looking for a true role-playing gaming experience should consider Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as an option.