Retro Fix:- Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic

With the release of Bioware’s MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic” looming on the horizon  (Christmas this year, in case you didn’t know) we’ve decided to revisit the “Knights of the Old Republic” Saga.  we’ll start today’s Retro Fix with a small history lesson. Just what were the Knights of the Old Republic? Pay attention class, because this is a little complicated…

The original “Knights of the Old Republic” was released in 2003 by Bioware taking the RPG gaming and Star Wars communities by storm. The game was a western-style RPG set in the Star Wars universe, the first of its kind to take this approach (even if there had been a quite successful pen & paper RPG since the late 80s). This in itself would have been noteworthy enough, but Bioware further twisted everybody’s expectations by setting the backdrop of the game in the times of the Old Republic in the Star Wars universe, basing itself on the story of the “Tales of the Jedi” comics by Dark Horse Comics.

In my social circles few people had heard of the aforementioned comics, but the prospect of having an Star Wars adventure somewhere else than the already bloated time of the Rebellion was a very compelling prospect. On top of all this Kotor was a damn fine game.

Eschewing the medieval-esque aesthetics of the comics in favor of something closer to the original movies and the prequels, the game had top notch graphics for an RPG of its time, an excellent Star Wars soundtrack with some extra tunes made specifically for the game, and an excellent story with one of the most interesting mid-game plot twists in the history of video games.

Satisfied with their work, Bioware called in Obsidian Entertainment to take care of the sequel, and went off to make Jade Empire. However Obsidian’s work in the sequel was a nightmare.

Right off the bat, while they were hired to develop a sequel just before the game was launched, they were not allowed to play Kotor 1 till the game had been released, forcing them to make all the pre-production with just a script. Then, because of the first game’s massive success, Lucasarts gave Obsidian a deadline of 13 months, forcing Obsidian to rush the game’s development to the point where they literally had to drop several story arcs from the game, a complete location and haphazardly meld together what was done of the game so they could have a product for launch.

To add insult to injury, after the game’s launch Obsidian offered to create a patch that would restore the game to its original intent, but Lucasarts blocked the idea and later abandoned Kotor 2 entirely.

And thus fans were left with a broken, buggy and incomplete game. Yet, despite being so mangled, it had spirit and you could feel its potential buried underneath the mess.

Both Kotor 1 & 2, as it has already been mentioned, are western style RPGs that use a very loosely adaptation of the D20 Star Wars pen & paper rules that were around on the year it was published. It’s setting is the Old Republic, a huge swath of time in the Star Wars Universe, between 25,000 – 18 years before Episode IV and telling the story of the millennia long republic that the Jedi swore to protect until it’s corruption into Palpatine’s Sith-like Empire. The first game happens 3,956 years before Episode IV and Kotor 2 follows 5 years after Kotor 1. Not that you could tell through the aesthetics…

As mentioned before the comics had a weird, if somewhat fitting, Medival aesthetic. All the usual Star Wars trappings were there, blasters, space ships, lightsabers, and so on, but instead of the “used future” look of the original movies (or the more sleek and shining look of the prequels) everything used jagged, more gothic-like architecture, baroque decorations for the different miscellaneous items and, in general, everything looked more untamed and wild.

While the comics look terribly dated nowadays, I personally would have loved it if Kotor had respected the comics’ aesthetic, showing that Star Wars can still be Star Wars even if you don’t spot stuff straight away from the movies. Bioware decided to play safe on the looks, seeing as it was already a gamble because of the time period.

One part of the game that was a bit jarring was the fact that some concepts from the prequels got carried into a time where they don’t really fit. For instance the Jedi in the comics are more “Knight Errand” than “Warrior Monk” and many of them had families, leading to dynasties of Jedi, showing how much the Order had changed in 3000+ years. However in the game Jedi act more like in Episodes 1 to 3, leaving many fans like me scratching our heads… but hey, it wouldn’t be Star Wars without continuity problems like this one.

In terms of gameplay Kotor was a massive departure from Bioware’s previous titles like the Baldur’s Gate games, as the Kotor series were created as multiplatform titles. However, the PC version was, in my view, way more popular and that’s the one we’ll focus on.

Instead of controlling your character with only the mouse, you move him around with the WASD keys, though if you see something interactive in the screen you can just click it and your character will move towards it. At the time these controls were quite peculiar, although in all other respects the game plays completely like a standard western RPG. You walk around town, do side quests, follow the main quest when you feel like it, kill stuff, and level up.

The big plus point of the series is their story and interesting characters. Unfortunately I can’t really do an extended explanation on them without being spoilerific, so I’ll just say this: they are awesome and not to be missed.

Graphics were quite good for the time, with beautiful locales going from futuristic cities to lush jungles. Combat animations were varied and well designed, but combat feels a bit wooden as it’s painfully obvious that underneath the action packed exterior there’s a classic turn based game. Also, while beautiful back in the day, time has not been kind to it, and many of its characters and locales look like weird plastic dolls by today’s standards.

As you would expect, the music is epic, (this is the Star Wars soundtrack we’re talking about!) so the game gets it’s A+ in sound and music because of the themes specifically designed for the game which are John Williams level. Just google “The Old Republic” and “The Last Confrontation” if you need any proof.

So do the games hold up today? Certainly, Kotor 1 more so than Kotor 2, because the second is unfortunately mangled beyond recognition, but even with that they are a must on the library of any RPG fan or Star Wars fan.

In my next article I’ll dive into Kotor 2 again but with a twist: I’ll be playing the game with its unofficial restoration patch, and trying to find out if the fans were able to complete Obsidian’s masterpiece. May be the Force be with us!

- Jose Luis Pérez Zapata

Thu, September 22 2011 » Retrospectives

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