I recently played through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a game I’ve been meaning to play since it was released on the Xbox. Unfortunately, when I got my Xbox, it was nearly impossible to still find a copy of the game in stores. It didn’t help that neither the original Xbox or RPGs of any sorts were popular with most retailers. A friend of mine almost bought a copy once, but when he returned home and opened the box, it turned out they’d put the sequel in it. Since the first game was 30 euros, and the sequel was still full-price, he decided to keep it. Can’t hold that choice against him, but trust me, I’ve tried.
The last time I almost played it, I played an original Xbox version in an Xbox 360. There were so many audio problems with it that I just decided to wait until I’d get a PC that could play the game instead.
So now that I’m done playing it, how did it fare? Has my modern disdain for BioWare influenced how I look at this classic? Did the game age badly? Was the game still good?
As much as it pains me to say it, I could probably answer all these questions with both a yes and a no. Sounds like a cheap cop-out from giving an honest answer, but far from it. Knights of the Old Republic is still a fantastic game, and I would encourage anyone who has not played it yet to play it.
That doesn’t mean Knights of the Old Republic doesn’t come without problems. And boy, do I have problems with it.
Most older RPGs tend to have a severe issue with inventory managment. As developers try out more system to deal with items and various restrictions in how many you can keep, we keep getting a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a system as terrible in a high profile, big budget title as KotOR‘s. When getting new items, the game outright refuses to even tell you what items you just gained. Unless you personally looted it from a list of items, you’ll have to go to your inventory and just figure out what’s new in there by yourself. There’s no information on how many items you got either, so if you get more than one item, good luck finding out what precisely it is you’ve gained.
If you want to keep track of which weapon is which, you best remember their stats because there’s an incredibly small pool of weaponry and they all look the exact same. Thankfully it becomes easier later on, as this small pool of weapons means that practically everything you find becomes vendor trash. But it’s especially jarring that even with lightsabers, the only thing you can do to make it more managable is to give every party member’s lightsaber a different colored gem. Otherwise, every lightsaber looks the exact same. This can become really confusing when upgrading them as the game won’t tell you who equiped which lightsaber. Sure, only three people can equip lightsabers, but only one of them is inherently different from the others in that it’s double-bladed.
As clunky and counter-intuitive the inventory system is, the controls are worse. Even simple tasks like opening doors or talking to people can become a trial at times. You’ll walk to a door, try to open it, and for some reason I’ll never comprehend, your character’s pathing decides he’ll need to walk a quick circle first. A circle in which he’ll be blocked by an NPC or a party member. When he finally does get to open the door, and you’ll walk inside to enter the next area, you’ll be met with a familiar text from Baldur’s Gate. “You must gather your party before venturing forth.” Some party member decided to just not follow you for the last 10 minutes. So you select the party member, walk them to where your party leader was previously trying to move to the next area… Only to be passed by your party leader as he’s rushing to that party member’s previous location. If you select your party leader now, chances are you’re setting up a cycle.
These are common problems that don’t just happen when opening doors either. During a lot of battles I’d suddenly wonder where the hell my rogue was, only to realize he was halfway across the map. Nowhere near the battle. Or the opposite, choose an ability that is obviously intended to be ranged, only to see the AI move up to melee range in order to perform it. Often enough this would happen whenever I’d try to use Throw Lightsaber, a move that can’t be used at close range. So my move automatically gets canceled because I’m too close up, despite my character refusing to use the ability without moving close first.
Despite all these frustrations with the controls and design, I still really enjoyed the gameplay and thought it was a fun game to play.
Besides, the gameplay wasn’t the major strength of Knights of the Old Republic.
This is where things get complicated. I loved the story of the game. But the story also made me hate BioWare even more.
Not because of feelings and characters deaths or any of that kind of emotional fanbabble, but because the story literally is Mass Effect. Mass Effect done right.
In turn, what does that make Mass Effect? Certainly not the original and fun setting that I thought it was when I played the first game.
Just look at all the basic plot points for a moment. Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect are mostly the same, but with a different lick of paint. Let’s just compare the two for a moment:
- Gigantic military and civilian losses at the start
Mass Effect: The Geth ambushed a human colony during an exercise to test Shepard as a Specter at the start of Mass Effect 1.
Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith are attacking the military ship you’re on at the start of Knights of the Old Republic. They also bomb the surface of the planet you then escape to.
- Protagonist raised to special order
Knights of the Old Republic/Mass Effect: Revan/Shepard’s raised to Jedi/Specter status in order to stop Malak/Saren.
- Reconstructed heroes
Knights of the Old Republic: Revan almost died during his fight against the Republic. The Jedi Council couldn’t entirely save his personality, but somehow they kept him alive while conveniently erasing his memories and placing him in the Jedi’s control.
Mass Effect: Shepard died at the start of Mass Effect 2. Cerberus completely rebuilt him, conveniently placing him in Cerberus’s control.
- Indoctrinated Villain
Knights of the old Republic: Revan
Mass Effect: Saren, or depending on how you play Mass Effect 2, the Geth. Especially true when considering it changed their allignment.
Granted, Revan’s indoctrination grants him the chance to right his wrongs. While intruiging, I honestly can’t say I’m fond of this change. I know Star Wars has a tendency to change characters turning to the Dark Side to an unrecognizable degree. It still doesn’t sit well with me that the Jedi Council, the paragons of the universe, are completely okay with artificially reconstruction someone’s memory patterns to force him/her on whatever path they choose and then say this redeems them.
Then again, I’m also still angry about the indoctrination/genocide loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2. I feel BioWare doesn’t have much respect for what makes people who they are. Especially not with the way they handle indoctrination, and how easily they bring it up as a plot point in their games.
- Ancient beacons
Mass Effect: Prothean Beacons
Knights of the old Republic: Star Forge Maps
- Party member loyalty that can cause you to lose them at a key event
Knights of the Old Republic: When it’s revealed you are Revan, there’s a chance your team won’t like it. Especially Carth, but then again, Carth has a problem with everything. Depending on how you’ve played the game, team members can turn on you.
Mass Effect: Mass Effect 2 loyalty missions. Don’t do them, prepare to have party members die on you.
- An ancient evil piece of advanced technology
Mass Effect: Reapers
Knights of the Old Republic: Star Forge
- Innocents being used to fuel more destruction
Knights of the Old Republic: Malak’s use of the Star Forge
Mass Effect: Husks
I can’t use these points against Knights of the Old Republic, and I won’t. Knights of the Old Republic uses most of them a lot better than Mass Effect did, so in turn it knocks down the first Mass Effect game for me. In turn, I like Knights of the Old Republic a lot more than I have any other BioWare game. While it’s also made me dislike BioWare even more than I already did.