Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 – The Sith Lords
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It's Been overstated by press and publisher alike that Sith Lords is KOTOR'S The Empire Strikes Back. They said the same thing about 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 The Return Of The Jedi...
Download Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 – The Sith Lords
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP