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Thoughts on Knights of the Old Republic


Althernai

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I recently purchased the Star Wars Humble Bundle and it included a lot of old games including the original Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). I've played it before, but I don't remember when exactly (2004? 2005? it was definitely around a decade ago) and my memories of it were very vague, though I did clearly remember some of the most striking features of the story such as the main plot twist. I liked this game a lot at the time and I decided to replay it to see if it was still good today. The answer to that is "Mostly, yes." The rest of this post is a rather long explanation of why this is the case.

 

First, some technical details in case anyone wants to play the Steam version; the game is from 2003 and it did not work well on my Windows 7, Radeon 6770M laptop out-of-the-box. The main problem is with the pre-rendered movies; whenever any of these would end (including the ones during startup), there was about a 50% chance that the game would either minimize itself or disable the mouse or both. The hack I found online was to add AllowWindowedMode=1 to swkotor.ini and then switch to windowed mode whenever a movie came up -- for some reason, they look better in windowed mode anyway -- and then back to full screen once the game returned to standard gameplay. Also, I had to disable the Grass setting since the grass wasn't showing, but some very strange graphical artifacts were. Other than that, it actually looked pretty good for something released in 2003: yes, the polygons are visible, but the art is stylized and well drawn so the antiquity of the graphics is not very noticeable.

 

Interface, Combat and Structure

 

The next feature that shows up is also not very pleasant: the interface. I remember disliking it a decade ago and it most certainly has not improved with time. It was obviously made for consoles, but in fact I played KOTOR II on the XBox and I found the interface to be even worse so it's just plain bad. Basically, you have one slot dedicated to each type of actions (1: Attack mode, 2: Offensive force power, 3: Grenade, 4: Defensive or buff force power, 5: Utility items, 6: Healing items, 7: Mines), but your selections for these slots are common for all party members with the relevant ability and do not persist across area transitions. Also, there are 3 characters in your party, but since movement is keyboard-only, you can only direct the movement of one of them at a time (thus making any tactics such as splitting up in the face of a powerful melee opponent impossible). Each character does have a queue of actions and some rudimentary scripts, but in general, combat is pretty awkward and even out of combat they sometimes forget to follow the player character which is quite annoying since by the time I realize it, I'm usually halfway across the map from them. The long-list inventory is also pretty annoying.

 

Combat is based on a fairly simple system D20 system and it is mediocre at best. I remember it being very easy so I set it to the highest difficulty, but KOTOR's idea of a high difficulty is to give enemies tons of hit points and also make them dish out tons of damage so that a single critical hit from a powerful enemy can easily do more than half of a character's total HP in damage. I think they also use more grenades than they otherwise would have. The game was challenging early on because, knowing that a class change is coming, I built my character with high Wisdom and Charisma and also refrained from leveling up past 5. This caused a problem because the game likes to occasionally force the protagonist to do things alone. In particular, the final fight of the Taris dueling arena (Bendak Starkiller) was probably the hardest fight in the game for this playthrough. I wound up giving up on fighting him directly and simply burned through my supply of grenades and shields to beat him. Once the PC got force powers, the game becomes easy even with the high HP, high damage enemies. After I got Force Wave and Master Speed, I could beat pretty much everything with just the main character. I guess the game deserves props for allowing you to use skills like Repair and Computers to kill enemies, but honestly, it's probably faster to just slaughter them the old-fashioned way.

 

So, given that the interface is bad and the combat is mediocre at best, why is the game good? For one thing, if you play the way I do, combat takes up a relatively small fraction of the total playtime. Like nearly all Bioware games, there is an introductory sequence after which the player is told to visit unrelated locations (in this case, planets) to collect plot items (Star Maps) which allow the plot to proceed to the concluding sequence. Unlike nearly all Bioware games, the locations do not consist of an introductory "talking" phase followed by a whole lot of combat and then the resolution. The combat areas are interspersed with the talking and there is not nearly as much combat as in, say, Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect. Furthermore, even with the inflated enemy HP, once you get force powers, combat tends to end rather quickly. Instead, KOTOR emphasizes dialog, running around, puzzles and mini-games. The running around gets a bit annoying, but the dialog is generally fine and the planets are different enough that that Bioware’s hub-and-spokes model doesn’t grate.

 

Story and Characters

 

The story is very good. KOTOR deliberately borrows a great deal from the original Star Wars. You won't get anything particularly deep: this is a setting that routinely inspires questions like "What were the chances of that happening?" and then answers, with a straight face, "The Force did it." It also inevitably involves "capital letter" Good and Evil; the Sith Academy on Korriban does a very nice job of providing a theoretical justification for the Dark Side, but in practice, the Dark Jedi who cannot be turned to the Light are uniformly cruel, petty, murderous psychopaths. However, the hero's journey and the rest of the Star Wars elements turn out to work really well in a video game format. Moreover, the designers paid a lot of attention to detail. For example, the main plot twist was telegraphed many, many times starting from practically the very beginning of the game.

 

The characters are also very well done. This was before the era of influence-based systems so you can learn about them simply by talking to them. There are nine of them altogether (not counting the poor intro guy), but some don’t get the same level of development as others. The ones that do tell you their story generally have a random side quest as well as some participation in the main quest. The characters are again mostly inspired by the films, but one of them (an… interpreter droid) is, as far as I can tell, original. The voice acting is excellent: they managed to get some talented and experienced voice actors for the main roles and it’s definitely noticeable. My one complaint is that you can’t take more than two NPCs with you at a time – they have some very good interactions with other and comments on stuff you encounter, but these are hard to get at without many playthroughs.

 

The player character can romance one of the companions if they choose to do so. I played with a male protagonist this time and the romance is quite good. It’s dissimilar to most Bioware romances in that it’s integrated rather closely with the main plot. Also, I’m not sure whether this is due to technological limitations or prudence, but they refrained from the unintentionally hilarious (or, depending on your perspective, perhaps cringeworthy) “love scene”. I think I have played it with a female protagonist once, but I don’t remember that romance very well.

 

Details and Conclusion

 

The mini-games and puzzles are decent. The puzzles are mostly math. The mini-games are Pazaak (a variation on blackjack), swoop racing and shooting down enemy fighters from your ship. The swoop racing is fine and the fighter game is also fine, if somewhat overused towards the end of the game. I didn’t like Pazaak because there is not enough strategy in it for the player to overcome the disadvantage incurred by always going first, but one of the benefits of solid state drives is that saving and loading is practically instantaneous so, in the one instance where I needed to win ten games… I won ten in a row. The Force did it!

 

So yes, KOTOR has some flaws, but it is still one of Bioware’s better games and one of the better Star Wars games. It’s well worth playing if you can tolerate the quirks of an ancient engine.

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 and the romance is quite good. It’s dissimilar to most Bioware romances in that it’s integrated rather closely with the main plot. Also, I’m not sure whether this is due to technological limitations or prudence, but they refrained from the unintentionally hilarious (or, depending on your perspective, perhaps cringeworthy) “love scene”. I think I have played it with a female protagonist once, but I don’t remember that romance very well.

 

 

 

The Romance is good...done ..sold ....you should have said that earlier. Where do I sign-up  :thumbsup:

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Phew, I was waiting for a review of this.

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Why has elegance found so little following? Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it. - Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

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Good review...I'm interested to hear what you thought of the sequel.

 

(Note: I believe I solved the video playback issue by setting the game to run in compatibility mode for Windows XP (Service Pack 3))

 

KotOR is definitely one of those games whose flaws are readily apparent, yet is sufficiently enjoyable that I can easily overlook them. In particular, I like how unpretentious the writing is - there's no attempts to be "dark and edgy," it's not trying to deconstruct anything, and by comparison it's largely free of modern BioWare's pathetic desperation to make their games into Hollywood blockbusters. The biggest failing is the villain - Star Wars lives or dies by the strength of its villains, and Darth Malak doesn't measure up, I'm afraid. There's little to his character beyond "IMMA KILL EVERYTHING RRRAAAAAGGGHH!!!" He's only outdone in that regard by SWTOR's Sith Emperor.

 

That said, the romance in this game is awful, even by the (incredibly low) standards of BioWare. The "relationship" (and I use that term loosely) between Bastila and the PC is so immature, I half expected him to suggest that Bastila has cooties, while Bastila insists that he is, in fact, a great big poopyhead. And this terrible romance is canon...ugh...

"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." - Leo Tolstoy

 

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I think I mostly ignored the romance in that game. 3 things really pissed me off and it took me a long time to "forgive" Bioware for those. Forcing the class change on me (I *wanted* to play a scoundrel dammit), the fight with Malak where you beat him to a bloody pulp, wiping the floor with his lifeless carcass, kicking him when he is lying dead on the floor for good measure and then the game decides you have to run away because he is too powerful (Hello?...) and thirdly because of some bad bugs, the game killing Leviathan bug in particular. Apart from those gripes, I did enjoy most of the rest. In particular Taris was one of my favourite areas.

 

...

 

Iirc, it was possible to stay at level 2 and complete Taris before going to Dantooine.

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.” - Albert Einstein

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Phew, I was waiting for a review of this.

Some people have no patience at all. It only came out 12 years ago!

 

More seriously, playing this is a part of trying to determine why modern games don't make me care about the plot and characters (see this thread). Part of it is obviously that I'm older, but there are also qualitative differences between the old games and modern ones.

 

(Note: I believe I solved the video playback issue by setting the game to run in compatibility mode for Windows XP (Service Pack 3))

Thanks! I tried it and it solves half the problem for me: the game no longer minimizes or disables the mouse, but the movies are still shown on a relatively tiny fraction of my display. I suspect this is system specific.

 

KotOR is definitely one of those games whose flaws are readily apparent, yet is sufficiently enjoyable that I can easily overlook them. In particular, I like how unpretentious the writing is - there's no attempts to be "dark and edgy," it's not trying to deconstruct anything, and by comparison it's largely free of modern BioWare's pathetic desperation to make their games into Hollywood blockbusters.

This is true. The writing definitely cannot be accused of taking itself too seriously. There’s a couple of beggars in the Undercity who have got to be the most loquacious panhandlers in any media. It can be very funny.

 

The biggest failing is the villain - Star Wars lives or dies by the strength of its villains, and Darth Malak doesn't measure up, I'm afraid. There's little to his character beyond "IMMA KILL EVERYTHING RRRAAAAAGGGHH!!!" He's only outdone in that regard by SWTOR's Sith Emperor.

Yes, Malak is all about brute force… but he does manage to demonstrate why this alone is not enough to ignore him. I spent a lot of time fixing stuff on Taris and Dantooine, dammit! To be honest, I think the game would be better if Bioware deviated from the formula and gave the player the option of skipping the very last confrontation. By that point, it’s all over in any case – it would have been more appropriate to demonstrate the consequences of sacrificing and alienating everyone as Malak did.

 

That said, the romance in this game is awful, even by the (incredibly low) standards of BioWare. The "relationship" (and I use that term loosely) between Bastila and the PC is so immature, I half expected him to suggest that Bastila has cooties, while Bastila insists that he is, in fact, a great big poopyhead. And this terrible romance is canon...ugh...

I disagree. Like most other aspects of the game, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is immature, but it’s also cute and funny if you take the right dialog options and they do grow up in the end.
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The big problem with KOTOR is that the 'twist' was pretty obvious, from the first dream which you had... immediately after landing on Taris?

 

 

Still, actually calling my dude Darth Revan did lead to some funny dialogue such as "But I'm not Darth Revan, I'm Darth Revan!" And being able to get Zaalbar to kill Mission is still just about the best (well worst, but in a good way) thing Bioware has ever done in terms big E Evil.

 

 

Plus the Malak battle Gorth mentioned, the level cap kicked in about mid way through the last star map segment search and a few other things I disliked, but nothing too serious.

 

Apart from that it was enjoyable enough while I was playing but it isn't a game I've ever felt any urge to replay, unlike its sequel. It's just kind of bland in just about every respect, it was all decent enough, the characters, plotting, systems, everything was OK, but just OK.

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I think I mostly ignored the romance in that game. 3 things really pissed me off and it took me a long time to "forgive" Bioware for those. Forcing the class change on me (I *wanted* to play a scoundrel dammit), the fight with Malak where you beat him to a bloody pulp, wiping the floor with his lifeless carcass, kicking him when he is lying dead on the floor for good measure and then the game decides you have to run away because he is too powerful (Hello?...) and thirdly because of some bad bugs, the game killing Leviathan bug in particular. Apart from those gripes, I did enjoy most of the rest. In particular Taris was one of my favourite areas.

I didn't mention character creation since that post was already way too long, but yes, that is not one of the game's strong suits. There are actually two distinct problems there: first, as you mention, you get set to play to play one class and then suddenly they make you change to a completely different one. Second, because the character was initially designed for something else and because of the gimmicky nature of the final fight, it is possible (though just barely; I've personally never done it) to get to the very end and then realize that your support character without the proper offensive force powers is somehow expected to singlehandedly beat down an enemy oriented purely for combat and not just once, but something like 8 times. There should be some kind of warning for that.

 

And yes, they went about that Malak encounter the wrong way -- it would have been easy to accomplish the same story purpose without gameplay-story inconsistency. That said, this kind of thing is fairly common so I don't hold it too much against them.

 

Regarding the plot twist: once you know, it is really, really difficult to believe that you missed it before. There is probably a dozen places where they hint at it and at least a couple where they almost say it outright (e.g. the statement of one of the Masters on Dantooine is a complete non-sequitur without the twist). However, the first time I played the game, the revelation came as a complete surprise to me.

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Twist probably was awesome if it wasn't so obvious. But I guess it wasn't so obvious given quite a few people were surprised by it. I don't remember enough of the game anymore to say, I just remember that the game seemed to build up to it pretty openly, especially because what they did with Bastila was a pretty clear derivation of what they did with the NWN1 heroine. 

 

Then they did the exact same thing in Jade Empire, so that you could tell what the big twist was in the very first scene of the game. "Hey, man, look at me, badass teacher dude who talks with a low villainy voice and is kind of Machiavellian! I'm gonna tell you about this mysterious flaw in your martial arts that has no gameplay impact but you know one day somebody might cripple you through that!" 

 

All it needed was a bu-bum bu-bum MWAHAHAHAHA sound file. 

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 I did enjoy it quite a bit, along with the sequel. My main issue with the game was the amount of repetitive running around it sometimes involved.

 

There are some pretty good mods available for KotOR nowadays if you are game for a replay.

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Well, it's not like we're trying. It just happens. Thankfully, the Lord has given me the strength to soldier on.

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I was mainly disappointed I couldn't torture Carth to death as any character.

Why has elegance found so little following? Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it. - Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

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Last time I played it, there was some issue with being able to move. I remember solving it, but it was annoying as ****.

 

Its not a game I'd want to replay. Combat is awful and there's a lot of it, a lot of the characters are either bland or annoying, and the story isn't anything special. Never saw the big deal myself.

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It was good enough to play through despite my dislike of Star Wars, so that's a bit of faint praise from me. But like KP, not something I ever see myself playing again. (In itself that's not really an indictment, some of the games I'm happy to call my favourites have been play-once-then-shelve)

L I E S T R O N G
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Bioware and James Ohlen absolutely got Star Wars right with Knights of the Old Republic.

  • The lightsaber fights looked cool.
  • When the twist happened, that was the first and only time I probably had such a visceral holy S**** reaction in a video game --outside of my being freaked out from the haunted hotel in VTM:B
  • Jolee Bindo and HK-47 were fun and memorable NPC's. Props to Gaider.
  • Bastilla was cool --as the prissy princessy type
  • The Korriban double cross was really good fun. Again, props to Gaider.
  • The game's overall quality allowed Obsidian to follow up with the sequel =)
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Man, nobody ever cares about our KotOR section. Last time one of these showed up I moved it but that was a death sentence, so I guess we'll keep it here. :(

 

Anyway, I didn't see the twist coming. In my defence, I was 15 when that game came out. Talk about mind-blowing. I also didn't understand the D&D system as well at the time so those fights everyone complains about being easy gave me a lot of trouble. I guess that happens when you dump all your scoundrels points into INT and WIS. :lol:

 

Jolee and HK-47 are still two of my favourite game NPCs ever.

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