When I was growing up, my friends and I would be the first in line to buy any new games put out by Lucas Arts because we knew they would be a lot of fun. Over the past couple of years, if I was not reviewing the game, I have found myself waiting to see what my fellow reviewers had to say before deciding to go to the store. Playing Knights of the Old Republic reminds me of the good old days when I would be waiting in a long line at the game store. This is the best game that I have played from Lucas Arts, since I don’t remember when. Lucas Arts (publisher) and Bioware (developer) have managed to combine an extremely compelling plot with some amazing graphics and an open-ended story line.
Once the game begins you are asked to select between one of three character types, well six really, three male and three female. The three types are solider, scout and scoundrel. The solider is the big combat person. The scout is a mix of the solider and scoundrel. And the scoundrel is more of a thinking person, avoiding problems using their wits.
Once you have selected your template you can go with pre generated statistics or you can customize your stats. The six attributes are strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence, and charisma. If you chose to customize your character, you are given a number of points to divide up between your attributes. Once that is done you move on to skill selection. Again you have a number of points to divide up amongst the different skill area. Finally you get to select a couple of feats such as two weapon fighting. Once done, you hop right into the game world. If you are not familiar with this character system, it is based on the D20 system put out by Wizards of the Coast and has been popping up in all sorts of games.
Have you ever imagined yourself in the middle of the firefight at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope? Well here is your chance. After the opening text scrawl, you wake up on board the Endar Spire a republic ship under fire from Sith forces near the planet Tanis. You’re woken up by your bunkmate, and after a little basic introduction to the controls, the two of you go off to help get the Jedi Warrior named Bastilla to safety. She manages to make it to an escape pod without you, so you go down to the planet to help her just as your ship explodes.
The planet is under Sith, the evil Jedi forces, blockade. You guess they really do want Bastilla pretty badly, and your mission is to find her and then find a way past the blockade. I will say not more about the story line, I don’t want to give any of the surprises, and yes there are some good ones, away.
From the moment you arrive on Tanis, your actions will begin to affect the path you follow. Will you stay on the path of the just and remain on the light side, or will you succumb to the dark side? As your alignment changes, you can monitor it on a slider bar. Plus the portrait look of your character will begin to look more sinister if you go dark, or friendlier if you choose the light. The game’s ending changes depending on which side you follow, though I think you can switch up pretty close to the end. I was a good boy and played the role of a good Jedi. The power cost of using good powers is lower if you stick to the path. The same goes for the dark side powers, only in reverse. At the beginning of the story of course, you are not a Jedi. That path opens up for you later in the adventure.
All of the members of your party, and you can have a max of two other people with you as you walk around; have a picture (character portrait) at the bottom of the screen. The red bar next to the picture is health, and next to that is a blue bar, which is your force meter. As long as one of the members of your party survives, you don’t have to start over. After the fight the other characters will stand up and you can heal them with med packs or the force once you have that option.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the characters in Knights of the Old Republic are based on the d20 system from Wizards of the Coast. Combat is handled using the same system, thus it is turn based and each character can go at a different time during the round (the computer rolls initiative on a d20 each round, and factors in any plus to imitative). This can all be totally seamless to the player, and you can just hit buttons to activate special powers and the characters will follow your orders on their next action. Or you can automatically stop the combat at the end of every round, when a character dies, or just at the beginning of combat, and give each character specific instructions on what to do with their next action.
I left the default auto stop when an enemy is sighted active for the whole game, and I only turned on the auto stop at the end of the round when I was having trouble with a big combat. When it is your characters turn, you can engage any feats you want to use and try to hit your opponent or go for a critical strike. Your skill is then rolled on a d20 by the computer which factors all your skills and other statistics and tells you if you hit or miss and how much damage you did. I found this worked really well since you don’t know what is going to happen in a given fight, you can get very lucky and so can the baddies.
In one fight you might shake off the bad effects of a force power (you make your saving throw) and in the next fight you might just have to stand there stunned while your comrades duke it out with the enemy. Least I forget. During combat and anytime during play you can become any of the three members of your party. You just have to bring the main character you created everywhere you go. You can even have droids in your group if you want. A one point during the game, you have to do a solo adventure as one of the other members of your party.
Along with combat, your skills and abilities also come into play at other times during the adventure such as hacking into a computer or repairing a damaged droid. At these times the higher your skill the fewer parts you will need to succeed. Someone with a high computer skill needs only five computer spikes (a limited resource you can buy or collect) to break into the main computer while someone unskilled might need twelve.
There are a couple of optional mini games throughout the game world that will allow you to win and loose your money. The first game you will encounter is a game called Pazaak. I have heard it described as being similar to blackjack. The object of the game is to reach 20 without exceeding that total. The trick with this game is that besides the basic deck, which contains only positive cards from 1 to 5, you can buy special cards that can raise and lower the point value by six. I found the game to be very tricky and a lot of fun. The second mini game is called swoop racing and is similar to pod racing. You are actually required to race once, but that game is much easier then playing for real later in the adventure.
Once you have the option of becoming a Jedi, you are again given the option to choose between three new classes. Those classes are similar to the ones above and contain a combat effective character called a guardian, a mix of the two called a sentinel, and a class more based on mental discipline called a consular. Once you have chosen a class you gain access to a slew of force powers.
The graphics in this game are astounding. As you travel between worlds you totally get a sense that there is a whole hustling and bustling world around you, even though you can’t specifically get to it. Traffic is abundant and people walk around and vehicles whiz by around you. I found the whole game to be completely smooth even during huge battle scenes, with the exception that during one of the cut scenes my main character was missing a head, which I found both funny and disturbing on the Xbox.
As a note here, the Xbox version runs very smoothly as noted. But this week the game was released on the PC, and you need to read the system minimum specifications very carefully. They are about the highest specs we have ever seen for the PC. You need to have at least an ATI Radeon 8500 or an nVidia GeForceFX card plus a 1.6GHz processor. Anything else and the game seems to work fine during the tutorial level, but then crash badly when you get to the first city in the game. Be warned, the minimum specs are really solid requirements this time around.
Even though there are a huge number of options available to you, I found the interface to be perfect. I was able to pick it up almost immediately, and yet later in the game when I had more options, I could do almost anything my character was capable of doing with the ease of hitting a couple buttons. If the game gets to tough, or if you find that it is getting boring, you can change the difficulty settings at any time. That along with the auto pause options makes for a very versatile game.
The game play was perfectly balanced. At no point during the game was I totally lost with nothing to do. If I was stuck on the main plot, there were always several side adventures to tackle. One of which is likely the key to proceeding along the main path. All of the characters that join your party have at the very least some sort of back-story and at the most a whole adventure that you can help them complete. The game is supposed to last for about 40 hours, but doing all the side quests can increase this considerably. Figure on about double that for most players that go looking for a lot of depth and side quests.
As with any Lucas Arts release, the sound effects are always great and this game is no exception. The real surprise is that with the exception of the main character, everyone else that speaks actually speaks to you. Thank god for subtitles, because I did not understand a word of all the non-human languages. On the PC, this means you need four install CDs and a lot of disk space, 4G to be exact, but the fully vocal cast makes it worthwhile.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is my pick for Xbox game of the year. It is the best thing I have seen this year on the Xbox and gets 5 GiN Gems. The story line is great, the graphics are outstanding, combat is smooth and easy at first and while not loosing those characteristics it becomes very strategic in later levels. Even with all that, the absolute best thing is that I was never at a loss as to what to do next.