Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 – The Sith Lords
The reason I've been disrespectfully late for work every single, solitary morning this month is because by night I'm a nefarious smuggler turned hero of the Old Republic. In fact, I'm Boba Carolgees. Jedi-in-waiting and, accompanied by a jailbait Twi'lek and a grumpy bitch, the fate of the galaxy lies in my hands. KOTOR, the best Star Wars story since The Empire Strikes Back and the best RPG in years, has consumed me once again. But it looks like this, my friends, was only the beginning.
The pedigree of the people creating Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is unsurpassed. Handed the golden sabre by BioWare, Obsidian has talent that approaches RPG royalty. The company boasts alumni from the likes of Icewind Dale and the Baldur's Gate series and a lead designer (one Chris Avellone) who also pulled lead duties on the sublime Planescape: Torment. In these terms alone we shouldn't have too much to worry about, but seeing as the brief is basically to provide a game of the same template, with a tweaked engine and a darker tone, it's highly unlikely that fans will be disappointed.
The game opens five years after the close of KOTOR with the trusty Ebon Hawk floating aimlessly in space near Peragus - a planet scarred by fuel mining and surrounded by unstable debris. You're the last known surviving Jedi, you're unconscious and it's all up to a plucky T3 unit to save your freshly created character - the trials of whom make for a skippable tutorial. Back-story neatly taken care of, your ship is then led into the bowels of a nearby mining colony, and your injured avatar into one of those trademark Star Wars healing-tank/scuba-gear combos. Here your amnesiac Jedi meets a mysterious old woman, and your adventure begins pursuit of experience points - such as an option to switch between different weapon set-ups on the fly to make swapping between blasting and a melee bundle less cumbersome - but overall it's the game we know and love, with all the same depths and the same eccentricities.
Obviously (what with you being the last known Jedi and everything) the usual stockpile classes of scoundrel, scout and soldier can be waylaid, and you can just leap straight into the Jedi order without the Force-less preamble of the first game. Now, you can be an inordinately forcesavvy Counsellor, a battle-trained Guardian or middle-man Sentinel straight from the off. There are 17 new character heads for your Jedi to choose from as well, all of them mildly attractive, and this time round the code's been tweaked to allow for full-flowing Jedi robes -something which, if you think about it, was sorely lacking in the original game.
This same fiddling has meant the engine is now firing on all cylinders, and environmental effects that were previously only available on their lonesome (grass, weather effects, flowing water, flashy particle effects and the like) are now combined with aplomb.
There's also the capacity to handle far more enemies on screen, which immediately ups the excitement of the battles. One rumble I witnessed outside a Sith Temple on the planet of Dxum had my jaw hitting the floor with the sheer number of dark-siders milling about.
But what other things could I mention that'll ignite the KOTOR geek inside you? Over 60 new feats and force powers might tickle your fancy - including Force Scream (a power you can't quite imagine being used by Sir Alec Guinness) and the decidedly dark-side Force Crush (great for making fresh juices). Elsewhere, a visit to Carth's home planet of Tilos (or, at least what remains of it) is on the cards, along with the triumphant return of assassin droid HK-47 - undoubtedly the best comedy sidekick we've seen in many a year.
This is a game that Obsidian is touting as the Empire Strikes Back to the original game's New Hope - a tale with a darker tone and a feeling of constant danger throughout. And from what we've seen there's absolutely no reason to doubt them or their ability. KOTOR II is out next February, sq we advise you to book some sick days off now.
Much To Learn, Kotor Ii Has
How Do You Make A Sequel To An Open-Ended Game? Watch And Learn...
So just who is dead and who is alive? Who was male and who was female? Who became evil and who remained pure? The Sith Lords takes place five years after KOTOR and, although a little bit of balance has been brought to the galaxy, the way in which people played through the first game must still be seen to hold sway in the second. Cleverly then, and doubly so seeing as first-timers won't even notice it, The Sith Lords will take key dialogue choices you make early in the game (hinting at, for example, whether certain people were generally good sorts or evil bastards), and collate them to find out just who was alive, dead, good or evil in the game that you played. From this you'll be able tb come across various character cameos (or not, if they snuffed it) and play within a world at least partly of your own creation.
Download Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 – The Sith Lords
It's five years after Knights Of The Old Republic and the perennially endangered Jedi once again stand on the brink of extinction, thanks to the Sith. Nothing new there then, eh? Or is there? You see, while the basic premise of this RPG may sound hackneyed, new developer Obsidian - taking over the reins from Bioware - is determined to build on the original's massive success by injecting a tantalising concoction of new features into the sequel. We took a trip to the developer's offices to find out the facts about the second KOTOR straight from the Tauntaun's mouth.
New To You
First things first then: character creation. Producer Chris Parker assures us that it's remaining virtually untouched from the previous game's system. Not so the inventory. "It's receiving a substantial overhaul that'll enable you to switch from melee to ranged weapons without interrupting the flow of the turn-based combat." He also mentions a facial animation system, which should ensure your party members have far more charisma than KOTOR'S often expressionless cast. This means higher-level characters are now able to pull off stunning new combat animations. Building the anticipation, Chris then lets us see one of the new mini-games first-hand. It's a typical Lucas-scribbled hanger shootout, in which you man a turret of an escaping ship and cut down advancing Sith soldiers.
Of course, KOTOR'S most outstanding feature was the quality of its plot, something the hugely experienced Chris Avellone (the brains behind many of the most recent Black Isle scripts and chief storywriter here) is keen to replicate, with a tale that casts you as the galaxy's last surviving Jedi. What's more, having been kicked out of the Jedi order years prior, you've become estranged from the Force.
"The game starts with you waking up, dazed and confused in the morgue of a mining facility after a Sith attack on your ship," explains Avellone. "Being the last of your kind, you're top of their 'Most Wanted' list, meaning you must once again learn the way of the Jedi in order to survive." Helping you in your quest will be a wrinkly old crone called Kreia, who's not only uglier than something you'd find at a petrol station counter at 3am, but also extremely knowledgeable about Force powers. Which is pretty damn handy considering you've forgotten them all.
Also joining your merry band is hawkfaced Atton Rand, a charismatic rogue who helps you fill in your memory banks, as well as mucking in with combat - during which he'll no doubt be able to utilise his massive conk as a secondary weapon. Fleshing out the party line-up, meanwhile, is a T3 unit droid - a tin box on wheels that beeps like a broken alarm clock, a bit like R2D2 only even more annoying. With 16 new Force powers and Feats (including Force Sight - the ability to see through walls), plus a host of new weapons such as Wrist Rocket Launchers, there's more than enough to excite any Star Wars fan. But will it be as good as KOTOR? Well, it's hard to say for sure at such an early stage, but from the looks of things we're talking a lot more Empire Strikes Back than we are Super Bombad Racing...
It's Been overstated by press and publisher alike that Sith Lords is KOTOR'S Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. They said the same thing about Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones too; the prequel sequel that was supposed to lead us bleakly into Episode III. In truth, Spaceballs had darker moments. Here though, the comparison between game and film is apt, for not only is Sith Lords the chronological centrepiece for a planned KOTOR tnlogy, but as the last of the Jedi, you're joined by a leathery-faced old mentor, entrusted to relearn the way of the Force, only to eventually stumble into one of those dank caves that exist only so young Padawans may face their fears (in this one, your weapons you will need).
Moments of scene-stealing aside, there is in fact a sinister and unnerving atmosphere of distrust that runs through the game, forged in large part by a cast of new characters that are more ambiguous and complex than those of the first adventure. For all the tightly scripted dialogue and faultless delivery, the polygon personalities of KOTOR Episode I were easily labelled as good or bad. In Sith Lords, you have characters that (aside from a tiresome off-the-shelf rogue) from the very beginning portray ambivalence, hide secrets and display flashes of emotion and humour. Ultimately, while the plot twists are more obvious as the game nears its inevitable climax, the characters do a fine job of masking what small deficiencies there are in the story itself. Knights Of The Old Republic has effectively grown up... Or reached adolescence, at least.
Back To The Future
The storyline continues rather obviously on from events of the original game, which saw Jedi fight Jedi in a bloody battle to near extinction. As the game begins the Jedi Council is no more, the Old Republic is close to collapse and the Sith, though weakened after the Mandalorian Wars, are keen to hunt down and destroy once and for all the remaining members of the Jedi Order.
Sadly, for the sake of democracy and free speech, it would appear only one remains - you - the problem being that having renounced the Force and been forced into exile, you've no idea of your sudden importance. So you awake, as you did in game one, in a strange place with only your underpants to defend you and an uncanny sense that your place in the unfolding story is rather pivotal.
If you've completed the original game, it can take some time to tie up your experiences there, with how things have actually turned out, now that a definitive reality has been set - arguably making it more advantageous not to have played the first KOTOR at all. For those that have, developer Obsidian has been modestly successful in circumventing prime fiction abuse by offering dialogue choices that will hopefully recall how you played the first game.
Despite this there are one or two responses that appear wildly and temporarily out or character, and whilst these could be explained away as personality flaws - fleeting moments of subconscious blather on the part of the speaker - in terms of story it does highlight occurrences where continuity is partially lost. Although to be fair, only the harshest critic would let these instances hinder their enjoyment of the game.
When Clones Attack
As much as Sith Lords can be compared to Empire Strikes Back, the game also has an Attack Of The Clones feel about it, in the sense that in terms of structure and pace KOTOR II feels identical to KOTOR. It's almost as if the inhabitants, furniture and decor have changed but the house remains the same. So for example, instead of beginning at The Endor Spire (the doomed staging post of the first game), you start on Peragus, a seemingly deserted mining outpost equally bound for extinction. From there it's on to the planet Telos where criminal gangs bicker, the authorities fight to assert control and legitimate businesses crave your protection - much as they did on Taris in the original game. It will seem for a while as if you're filling in time until the adventure starts proper, and you may well wonder when you might at last get your hands on a lightsaber.
Long before you are finally reunited with the glowing sword thingy, let me assure you that you will be gripped - for me, this was just as the game opened up to allow access to a number of planets. In fact, whilst I was mentally drumming my fingers fearing I was merely interested in the proceedings rather than absorbed, I realised that as new characters were introduced, I was beginning to question their motives more than my apparent lack of them. In one session later on, I actually spent almost two hours talking to my party members aboard the Ebon Hawke, when I really should have been out exploring.
A Change In The Force
Your choices as to whether you follow the Dark or Light side of the Force cleverly has some influence on those around you, so by befriending one person in your group, you risk alienating someone else who may deem them a threat. This was a feature of the first game, but here you can turn even the most peaceable follower of the Light into a bitter and twisted receptacle of evil. Kind of.
Choices of allegiance and game structure aside, much of what characterised KOTOR as a classic game remains in the sequel. The combat system is noticeably unchanged, save for the ability to switch weapons without entering the inventory screen, again offering purists turn-based depth married with all the spectacular action of real-time. This time there are more Force Powers, weapons and items to play with too - a wrist-mounted launcher being a favourite new addition to the arsenal.
KOTOR's combat remains enormous fun because of these embellishments, but some account of terrain and personal stance might have been welcome if only to add a tactical layer to the combat, although whether such additions would have overcomplicated the game is another matter. Similarly, in spite of an interface that has been marginally enhanced, it is still a minor annoyance to have to shuffle armour and weapons between your characters during tricky encounters, when some configurable preset options would have been welcome.
Graphical improvements are less obvious. The size of the game world is certainly larger than it was in the previous adventure, but each self-contained area is claustrophobic when compared to those you might expect in most modern PC games. Large open areas are few, and you can't wander too far from the main plot before you're dragged back in. This is not a criticism of the game so much, more of the prevailing constraints imposed on its Xbox-centric design. At least you can take consolation from the fact that whilst Xbox owners have to contend with crippling loading times and frame-rate drops, the PC version runs like a dream with higher resolution textures filling the screen - even if the character animations outside of combat are basic.
Time For A Change
There are lesser issues to contend with, such as characters who are extraneous to the main plot being consistently samey throughout the game. The general population all carry the same heads on their shoulders, speak with the same voice and utter the exact same lines, depending on what planet you happen to be on. Some of your crew also tend to repeat their lines, certainly when in battle or operating machinery, and this aspect takes away a fraction from the otherwise impressive dialogue and script.
Yet despite its similarity to the first game. Sith Lords remains a resounding success. In terms of character, dialogue and size it offers a host of small improvements, although in terms nf pint it's perhaps not quite as strong, taking a few hours to fully immerse you and providing a less subtle climax.
I suppose the greatest crime is that Obsidian has structured the game too closely on the foundations of BioWare's first KOTOR, almost to the point where at times you'd be forgiven for thinking you were playing exactly the same game. In a sense however, why wouldn't you want to? KOTOR was a superb example of modern computer role-playing and remains one of the very best Star Wars game ever conceived - and Lords is a continuation of that tradition. It's not quite up to the standard of Empire Strikes Back perhaps, but it's still certainly the spcnnd hest Sith middle act to grace any Star Wars trilogy. Let's just hope that the next episode can at least equal Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi...
After a stunning freshman release, Knights of the Republic returns in its sophomore year, giving us another title that offers a chance to walk on the path of Light, or fall to the deepest evil of the Dark Side. Set approximately five years after the original game, the whereabouts of the original crew of the Ebon Hawk are shrouded in mystery, as are the details of what's happened to the galaxy since the original war against Malak and Revan. Still, this is a quality title, not because of how impressive it is, but because of how subtle the changes made actually alter the original gameplay defined in KOTOR 1.
The greatest and most unfortunate part of this game is that it's almost a carbon copy of the original Knights. While this isn't a bad thing, because it was a solid gameplay design to begin with, there's not much more beyond a couple of interface improvements, some new powers, and a brand new story. Some of the graphical elements have been improved, but the thing I was most disappointed with was actually the script itself, as some of the writing in this game is truly atrocious. That aside, it's still invigorating to have a choice to play light side or dark side characters, with your own character starting out as a Jedi (no waiting around for a few levels of a normal class this time), and with your trusted comrades moving towards the light side and dark side depending on your own choices.
Essentially the expansion pack to Knights of the Old Republic 1, the new story and a subtle touch to the gameplay make this game essentially a excellent title. Even recycled, this is quality gaming.
Snapshots and Media
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