Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Kecks, undercrackers, scants... however you refer to them, it's rare to see any would-be hero making his grand entrance sporting little else but a pair of organ grinders - let alone one hailing from a galaxy far, far away. Nevertheless, having gone through the usual character-creation process of virtual dice-rolling, skilltweaking and the often tortuous procedure of procuring a fitting name for your alter ego, your journey through Star Wars' first RPG begins with you in a fitful slumber in your pants. You're roused by a panting CO, who learns upon entering your berth that standing to attention first thing in the morning is something that comes quite naturally to most humanoid males, and as it happens, females too, though not in quite the same way.
Despite the potential for noncommissioned hanky-panky in the depths of space, it appears your superior's abrupt and urgent entrance has much to do with an attack of the Sith, who have taken it upon themselves to board your ship, the Endar Spire, and tear it apart in search of some lady Jedi called Bastila. Without much in the way of breakfast, a shower or even a fresh set of undergarments, your mission (after acquiring clothing more suited to battle) is to explore the gleaming corridors of your Republic ship to find and rescue the fugitive saber-swinger before the evil silver-suited ones get a hold of her.
A Presence Not Felt Since
Despite the ominous get the girl, kill the baddies' scene-setting, KOTOR quickly establishes itself as an adventure distinct from any other in the Star Wars canon. Apart from the fact it's the first ever Star Wars dice 'em up, it's also the first time since Phantom Menace that fans have been given a new timeline to explore, this one set across largely virgin territory a full 4,000 years before any of the films.
Ironically the gist of the storyline will be hauntingly familiar, seeing as it features an evil Jedi going by the name of Darth with you playing a young backwater hick with powerfully raw and untapped Force abilities that may (or may not) facilitate his downfall. As the story progresses, you'll see a peaceful planet obliterated, assemble a ragtag crew of freedom fighters (among them a mournful Wookiee, a wheely useful droid and a lovable rogue) and you even acquire a ship which is no doubt the fastest hunkajunk in the galaxy. Even the intro movie apes the opening scenes of A New Hope.
Not that we'd have it any other way. The blatant scenechecking is obvious and intentional, to show that despite the lack of our favourite characters, KOTOR is as Stars Wars-packed as they come. In fact I would say this game offers the most gripping and enjoyable slice of Star Wars-tagged fiction since Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, with enough in the way of plot, action and diverse and interesting characters to fill a movie trilogy of its very own.
Ah, Little Sister
However, it is as a role-playing adventure Knights Of The Old Republic must be judged, and comparisons with other PC RPGs would, initially at least, show it up to have something of the dumb blonde about it. For instance, there are few starting options compared to the exhaustive character choices in BioWare's previous D&D-flavoured role-player outings.
Progress a few hours though, and even before you begin your Jedi training and start down the Dark or Light path, you'll find the game is full of hidden depths. These range from dozens of optional side quests that shadow the central mission, to the thousand or so inventory items that can be found, traded, adapted and equipped across your party of nine.
What makes KOTOR such a wonderfully engaging experience is the characters and the way they have been brought to life. I'm not just talking about the graphics either (which -unlike most console-to-PC transferrals - are befittingly vibrant, highly detailed and endlessly watchable), but the depth of personality lavished on the various non-player characters. Thanks to a combination of an excellent script and a quality in the voiceacting that is almost without equal, there is a real diversity and dynamism among your party, even if your potential enemies are a little onedimensional. An early recruit to your cause is Mission Vao, an irksome and plucky adolescent who initially you'll wish would fall off a ledge. But take the time to talk to her and her sidekick Wookiee, and by the end you'll love her like you would a sister. Unless during the course of events you become seduced by the Dark Side, in which case you'll end up wanting to cave her skull in like a Jaffa Cake and blame it on HK-47, your mildly psychotic assassin droid.
Enjoyable as all the talky bits are, Knights is just as good when it comes to slicing droids and shooting Sith troopers in the face. As most modern RPG combat tends to be, battles are conducted in real time, and can be paused at will to allow you to select targets and queue up which special moves to use.
Use Your Feat
With the right skill progression a soldier can use Feats such as Rapid Fire and Sniper to take down an enemy from range. Melee specialists with dual Vibroswords have a similar array of lethal moves, including Flurry, Power Attack and Critical Strike. In between all this hoo-ha characters can activate personal shields, lob grenades or patch themselves up during a lull in the action. The combat may not be as in yer face as the first-person Jedi Knight games, but it's just as intense and certainly much more enjoyable to watch, especially later on when you have a roomful of Dark Jedis cavorting around letting off lightning bolts and trying to choke the life out of their opponents. With over 30 Force Powers to work with (not to mention hundreds of weapons) combat is quite a tactical challenge.
Smoke In Your Eyes
In terms of general presentation KOTOR is about the best RPG there is - no question. Almost faultless throughout, the familiar music is complemented by a few original pieces, and the sound effects are spot on with a mix of the familiar and the new.
The interface is a massive improvement on the console version, everything being mouse-driven of course. It would have been nice to have been able to zoom the camera around a bit more and be able to look up and down, but these are minor nuisances as graphically the game is absolutely beautiful throughout. That said, the larger battles will test all but the most modern graphics cards (with some degree of slowdown when the screen fills with smoke), but the dramatic and varied environments, not to mention the . varied character and k background animations are pay-off enough.
The only real issue we I have with the game is a lack of multiplayer support, which isn't so much an issue anyway since BioWare has been quite open about the fact that adding such options would ultimately have weakened the single-player experience. On the evidence of the finished game, that decision appears totally vindicated. Although Baldur's Gate II remains the hardcore choice and Morrowind may offer more scope for non-linear free-roaming, when it comes to story, characters, accessibility and replayability Knights Of The Old Republic is one of the finest RPGs of the last five years and easily the most accomplished, unique and entertaining Star Wars product released in the last ten.
The Power Of The Lite Side
It May Look Light And Fluffy, But Take A Peek Underneath And Kotor Has Dice Of Stone
A fact not lost on its Xbox-owning fans (who've been playing the game for some months) is that Knights Of The Old Republic has a pace, charm and grand sweeping story reminiscent of classic era Final Fantasy. Knowing the characters and the story - as opposed to amassing raw stats and arbitrary skills - is what marks the focus of the gameplay.
Not that we're implying KOTOR is RPG-lite - far from it. For those turned on by initiative rolls and to-hit modifiers, you'll be pleased to know that by tweaking a couple of gameplay buttons in the options menu, KOTOR transforms into a bewitching display of numerical randomness sure to please the beardiest of modern-day warlocks. The point is that for those of us with an aversion to arbitrary and ultimately meaningless statistics, such things can be hidden out of sight. You can auto-assign experience points and new skills and be left alone to enjoy the I game for what it ultimately is - one of the best Star Wars games ever made.
Download Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
With all the hype surrounding the development of Knights of the Old Republic, expectations were high upon its release and for good reason. The information coming from Lucasarts caused uncontrollable drooling from RPG and Star Wars fans alike as the scope of the game was billed as incredibly rich and broad. Star Wars games however have a history of disappointment but Knights of the Old Republic delivers everything it promised and more.
When you think of successful RPGs, things like non-linearity, sub plots, character development, and dynamic plot development might come to mind. What's so impressive about Knights of the Old Republic is that all these areas are well represented and even revolutionary in some cases. Character development for instance stands out, as choices you make throughout the game will affect the type of Jedi you are and different paths you take. If you value life and make decisions that are generally good, versus destroying life and making basically evil decisions, your opportunities and interactions with others will respond accordingly. Other issues like the numerous sub-plots help expand the Star Wars universe and give opportunities to learn more about specific characters and locations, while increasing experience points. If that doesn't interest you however, the majority of these sub-plots aren't required and can be passed over.
To round out the game, the graphics and audio help to hold Knights of the Old Republic together by creating a rich environment. Visually, the Star Wars license was used better than it ever has in the past with new and familiar worlds coming to life. The sheer amount of detail and beautifully sculpted environments combined with the uniqueness of the characters and creatures is astounding. The only complaint is the repeated use of a few generic characters that are used over and over again, but generally it isn't a factor in the game. Besides the graphics, the audio is of the same caliber as recent Star Wars games and most will be pleased with audio quality we've come to expect from Lucasarts.
Without a doubt this is the best Star Wars game created to date. Even those not historically interested in RPGs or Star Wars shouldn't pass by this too quickly as it's rare to find a game executed with this level of quality. The bar has been raised on game development and hopefully other developers will take notice.
Most of this Star Wors-themed RPG is still too early to show, but BioWare Producer Casey Hudson and Mike Gallo, producer on the LucasArts side, have its framework firmly in place. You control a party of three characters, each with his own stats, items and powers (in standard RPG fashion) in a vast 3D world. "Combat is real-time," Gallo explains, "and every character is hand-animated for each item, weapon and attack." Hudson adds, "There's a lot of character customization. You'll get to develop Force skills with each character." In Knights, the Force works kind of like magic does in a conventional RPG, and your mastery of it increases with time.
Knights won't have any online multiplayer components; Gallo and Hudson are banking on the strength of the game as a single-player adventure. But it already has a host of minigames, an assortment of vehicles, and a complex, character-driven story to keep the primary quest interesting. "We set the game 4,000 years before the Episode II movie," says Gallo, "which gives us a degree of freedom in creating the world we wouldn't have had otherwise." While this means no recognizable characters for Star Wars junkies, they can count on tons of tie-ins. Ever hear of a walking carpet named Chewbacca? Well, the Wookiee homeworld, Kashyyyk, is a crucial part of the game's plot, as are familiar planets like Dantooine and Tatooine, so you won't feel completely out of sorts.
Besides, it can't hurt to shed some of the less favorable Star Wars associations Oar jar, baby Greedos, and, well, most of Episode I in general). Casey and Mike are excited about introducing new ideas to the Star Wars universe. "There are many things, both good and evil, that Jedi can do in the game," says Gallo, "that we've never seen before."
LucasArts November 2002--The Star Wars: Knights universe is still looking pretty barren, but we're finally seeing some more signs of life in these screenshots. Set 4,000 years before this summer's Episode II movie, Old Republic lets the player assume the role of a budding Jedi Knight with traditional role-playing abilities (you wield a lightsaber "sword," and mastery of the Force serves as your magic). Moreover, the game's three-person party system allows you to control any one of the characters in your group at any time. BioWare Producer Casey Hudson explains, "During combat, you'll control one character while the others fight alongside you using A.I."
Not everyone had a good feeling about Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, last year's superb Xbox role-playing game that came along just in time to wipe our memory banks of the blah Episode I and II flicks and bantha-poodoo Wars games like Super Bombad Racing. "I threw my controller down," Chris Avellone says of the first time he tried the RPG, set 4,000 years before Anakin Skywalker donned a dark helmet. But now's a good time to qualify why this guy's seemingly dissing a title that we declared Xbox Game of the Year and that sold more than 400,000 copies. Avellone is lead designer for its sequel, Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords, due on Xbox and PC in February 2005. The original was built by a dream team: publisher (and keeper of all things Star Wars) LucasArts and developer (and PC RPG heavyweight) BioWare. It was a match made...oh, somewhere between Tatooine and Korriban. But with BioWare too swamped with Chinese-mythology RPG Jade Empire to craft a sequel, LucasArts tapped veteran RPG developers Obsidian Entertainment back before the first Knights was even released. The team was already brainstorming how to make a Star Wars RPG before getting to play the first KOTOR. And that's the rub: When they got their hands on the game, they knew that making an impressive follow-up would be a Death Star-size challenge. "We had a huge list of features," Chief Development Officer Chris Parker says. "Then we played it and we were like, 'Son of a b****l They did that too!"' And after Avellone tossed his joypad aside in frustration, he asked, "How are we supposed to do a sequel?"
Six months later, he has his answer: "We don't want to reinvent the wheel just to reinvent the wheel," Avellone says. "We want to concentrate on what made the first game great--story, characters, an epic Star Wars feel--and expand and improve wherever possible."
Sith Lords picks up five years after the end of the first KOTOR. (If you haven't beaten that game, you might want to skip to the next section to avoid minor spoilers.) The Republic is in shambles, reeling from the aftermath of the Jedi civil war and the scourge of Darth Malak. The Jedi Order has been disbanded, and you--a veteran of the Mandalorian war who was conveniently in exile during the recent civil war--are the last known Jedi, left to piece together a future for yourself and the Jedi Order. Since the story is such a crucial part of an RPG like this, the team doesn't want to reveal too much more. "If we start giving away too much stuff too early," says LucasArts Producer Michael Gallo, "it could ruin the experience for people."
But we do know that you won't play the same character and that the story does not pick up where the last game left off. This was a tough but necessary design choice, according to Avellone, because the first game gave players such freedom in developing the story. "I didn't want to stomp all over anyone's decisions from the first game," he says. "Whatever resolution you chose in that game should factor into this one." So whether you played a valiant Jedi pursuing the light side or a dark lord wreaking havoc all around (or even if you didn't play the first game at all), this one will make sense to you. Early in The Sith Lords, you'll have various conversations that explain and address key plot issues from the last game--you'll tell the game how you believe things went down--and the dialogue choices you make will affect story development in the rest of the game. "We tried to slip it in subtly," Avellone says, but clearly, the freedom to customize the story--such a beloved and important aspect of the first game--will be alive and well in this follow-up.
Though you're not the same character, somehow you pilot the same ship as in the first game, the Ebon Hawk, which finds itself on the mysteriously deserted asteroid mining facility of Peragus at the beginning of the game. You start out as a Jedi--no more training with Yoda look-alikes, as in the original--but that doesn't mean you'll have all your powers (being in exile tends to put you out of touch with the Force) or even a lightsaber right away. "The lightsaber's the thing," says Avellone. "You should have to work for it--it makes you feel that much better once you actually have it." Jedi classes in this game will be the same as in the last, but you'll find new Prestige classes you can choose at higher levels--Sith Lord, Sith Marauder, Sith Assassin, Jedi Master, Jedi Watchman, and Jedi Weapon Master (see page 81).
The Sith Lords will, as expected, have different endings depending on whether you choose the dark- or light-side path. But this time the choice won't rest solely on your shoulders. "You're not the only one getting dark-side and light-side points," says Avellone. "Some companions idolize you, and if you start falling to the dark side, they start falling to the dark side, too. Or if they don't like you, the opposite happens." So treat that droid buddy nicely if you want him to do your bidding. The fate of the universe could depend on it.
Structurally, the game is similar to the first KOTOR. The Sith Lords is mostly linear but with a lot of freedom to choose what specifically you do next. In all, you'll visit seven worlds (most of which have lots of separate game areas within), including Dantooine from the first game. But don't expect Dantopine to look like the peaceful grasslands where you killed kath hounds of yore. Remember, the planet was ravaged by Malak's army and the Jedi Academy was destroyed, so this Dantooine looks a lot different. "We don't want KOTOR 1 players to think we're re-using stuff," says Gallo (a veteran of the original KOTOR team). "We want to hearken back to the first game...but we want it to be a different experience for them." The other worlds will be totally new; the team, however, is keeping the identities of these worlds under wraps for now. We do know, though, that you'll visit Telos, home planet to the first KOTOR's Carth character.
LucasArts and Obsidian know the design of the first game was pretty impeccable, so you won't see any huge interface or combat differences. You'll still control up to three characters, and the controls will work basically the same. Inventory- and character-management screens will also look familiar. "We don't want to mess with functionality too much," Gallo says, "because we felt it was pretty good." Instead, the theme here is refining what's in the game and making better use of everything that's there.
For example, you'll now have quick-key slots for two different weapon configurations. "In the first game, certain weapons worked really well against certain opponents," says Avellone, "but the effort of going to the Equip screen and switching to the right weapon meant most players probably just didn't bother. If you just had a quick button, you'd see a lot more mileage out of certain weapons that were really cool." Upgrading equipment, a fun but underdeveloped aspect of the first KOTOR, will also be redesigned so people will get to do more of it. "In the first game," Gallo adds, "you wound up with a ton of items you might not ever use." Now, the workbenches where you . upgrade items have many more options. You'll be able to deconstruct existing items, then use components to build up new, more powerful ones. You'll even have more upgrades for your lightsaber and more lightsaber colors. Your character's unique balance of skills will also affect your upgrade options. If you have a really high Repair skill, for example, you'll see more armor types, or if a character in your party has a high Security skill, suddenly your workbench options will go sky-high. The intention is that you'll end up using the many options available to you instead of sticking to a few weapons, pieces of armor, and party members for most of the game.
If you were expecting a totally new graphics engine and knock-your-socks-off visuals that many say the first game lacked, you can keep waiting. "Technically, this is the first KOTOR," says Gallo. But he promises that the visuals will be optimized and says the team has actually learned how to do more with the same graphics engine--especially with lighting. "We're trying to improve the graphics as much as possible," says Parker, "but our focus is really more content driven than technology driven."
Weather effects and slicker attack animations are a couple examples of the visual content Parker hopes will bring the environments to life. "I played the first game using the Critical Strike feat basically the whole way through," he says. "So by the end of the game, I was pretty sick of that animation." Now, as your character gets higher-level feats, the accompanying animations will become more complex, giving players a more visually satisfying sense of progress.
Many characters you knew from the first KOTOR will make appearances (if only cameos) in this game. But don't expect to see everyone (Gallo says they "had to be careful about who died and who lived"), and don't expect them all to play major roles. The only recurring characters we know for sure will have sizeable roles are the R2-D2-esque droid T3-M4 and another 'bot who bears a suspicious resemblance to the original's irascible "meatbag"-loathing HK-47. Gallo says that's inspired by the movies, where "the droids are the common element." But here, too, the team is focusing on enhancing what you have instead of going for a wholesale redesign. They want to make sure you get up close and personal with your buddies, rather than just letting some of them hang out on the Ebon Hawk soldering lightsaber hilts. "In the first game, we had all these cool characters," says Gallo, "but some of them were underutilized." Besides each character's optional personal quests (something Avellone "loved" about the first game), the designers promise more sub-missions in which you choose one particular party member to help you (as in the first game's Leviathan level). Each party member will also have a unique special ability, and the team is working on more quests that can be fulfilled only by one particular member of your group. When in doubt, the team looks--of course--to the movies for inspiration. "In the Star Wars movies, your friends all split up and do various things," Avellone says, and he wants this game to create a similar experience.
One thing all players loved in the original KOTOR was how they developed their own Force powers and used them when and how they wanted. The Sith Lords will give you more to work with, though we learned of only a few new powers: Dark Sider Rage and Battle Meditation. Force Sight is a new stealth ability that will let you see through walls, plus assess a character's alignment (dark siders show up as red; light siders are blue). Force Clairvoyance will help you see other parts of a level without being near them (a la Prince of Persia's glimpse-of-the-future visions).
Unfortunately (as these screenshots show, they're using the art from the first game), new armor, weapons, and other cool loot wasn't part of our three-hour tour. The designers recognize that these items. are a high point of the game, but they didn't have a lot to show. What's their excuse? That the game is still a year away. In fact, Avellone jokes, they reserve the right to change anything that they showed us. "There's like a little asterisk next to everything we've said that says, 'Year away from launch,'" Avellone says.
Geek heaven: a 50-hour role-playing game set in a galaxy far, far away. With lightsabers! But geek heaven can turn into geek hell if your crew of motley reprobates keeps getting killed at the hands (not to mention the blasters) of the Sith. Does Carth Onasi keep falling over in the combat zone? Is Bastila attempting to thwart Dark Jedi with a vibroknife?
You need a serious equipment makeover, young Jedi. Check out our complete overhaul of some of the main party members. For advice on improving and outfitting the rest of your crew, check the Prima guide.
Carth is a basic human soldier. He can wear any kind of armor he desires, but he has no special skills to make him stand out from your more flamboyant crew members. Because Carth isn't the most impressive melee fighter, invest in his pistol skill as soon as possible and choose feats to accommodate his pistolpacking. Two-weapon fighting and improved two-weapon fighting will allow Carth to wield double pistols like Chow Yun Fat, but in space.
Don't place him in harm's way. Let Carth stand away from combat and blast with both barrels. Allow him to cultivate a pistol collection. Consider giving him an added bonus with the rapid shot skill, although this lowers his defense.
Carth starts with his own weapon (Carth's Blaster). It's a good weapon that becomes more impressive the further you upgrade it. Do not replace this weapon, as it can be made into one of the finest guns around. Place a second pistol in earth's other hand, like Bendak Starkiller's Pistol, which is also upgradeable. Get your parts together and start modifying!
Carth can be clad in any armor. If you keep him out of melee combat, he can get away with moving a bit slower. Try shoe-horning him into Mandalorian Battle Armor (unless you're using Canderous). However, Carth starts with a reasonable dexterity, so don't fit him with armor that's so heavy it negates his dexterity modifier. Instead, put him in Davik's War Suit or, for the ultimate look, the Echani Battle Armor. A great armor find early in the game is the Republic Mod Armor. It's upgradeable!
Carth has no access to implants unless you're willing to gain the necessary feats, so concentrate on his regular equipment. Fit him with belts that help his will save bonus or those that will protect him against mental force or stun effects. For his headgear, choose any item with a will save bonus. Try to find him some gauntlets with a dexterity bonus. They'll help with reflex saving throws, ranged attack bonuses, and defense.
Bastila is a good choice for close combat. She carries a double lightsaber, an upgradeable combat weapon you should let her keep unless you want your main character to wield it.
Unfortunately, Bastila's strict Jedi code and Force powers do not allow her to wear armor. Unencumbered, she does move quickly, but she's vulnerable to attack. To offset this weakness, place the attribute bonus she receives every four levels into dexterity, which will help her defense.
When you meet her, she can level up immediately. Choose the light-side cure Force power for Bastila, since her default combat intelligence is to autoheal as long as she has enough Force points. Cure affects all three team members. That'll save you credits on medpacs.
Her specialty is melee attack, but her power and constitution aren't as impressive as Zaalbar's, meaning she can't absorb the sort of damage the Wookiee can. So send her into the fray, but make sure she doesn't get caught in the middle of a hostile mob.
Bastila isn't a scout, so she has no implants (unless you buy into that line of feats). She has no extraordinary skills, except her healing. Pump all your available points into light-side powers since she leans that way already; moving her to the dark side (via offensive Force power acquisition) costs too many Force points.
Since she can't wear armor, you have one choice: locate and don Jedi robes as soon as possible.
Never change her double lightsaber, since it's impressively upgradeable (like all lightsabers). Affix bondar crystal to her weapon for a stunning special ability: 10 percent of the time she hits, her enemy must make a low difficulty save or be stunned for six seconds. It doesn't sound like much, but it pays off relatively often. Also look for damind crystal, which will boost both her attack bonus and the damage she deals. Remember that all of the crystals you collect should be shared among your Jedi close-combat specialists (Bastila, Juhani, optionally your own character, but not Jolee, as he isn't much of a melee fighter).
Bastila's face should be covered by a mask of some kind, such as the Verpine Headband, which increases her will save bonus. The ultimate headgear is the Circlet of Saresh (+5 wisdom against Force powers), a unique item which serves Bastila well. Place any gauntlet on Bastila that adds to her dexterity, which will help her dodge attacks. Belts should help her fortitude: try the cardio-regulator, and later into your adventure, fix her with the adrenaline stimulator (+2 dexterity, +4 all saving throws). Finally, tie shields on her arm slots since these can be used by any character except Zaalbar.
This walking carpet may come with a bowcaster (a Wookiee weapon that acts like a blaster rifle), but his incredible strength and constitution statistics mean he's best used as a melee monster. He has a huge number of hit points, and his tremendous strength means he inflicts bonus damage with melee weapons. So why keep him at the back as a ranged tighter? His innate species skill, Wookiee's toughness, also helps him at close quarters.
This skill negates the first couple of damage points he receives. By now it should be clear that he belongs in the thick of the fray.
Of course, his hair and culture do not allow him to wear any type of armor (not even arm shields), and his armor class isn't as high as other party members', but his brute force more than makes up for that.
Drop all necessary points into combat feats, such as melee focus and proficiency. Then move on to the flurry line of skills, which give additional attacks per round. Better yet, invest in two-weapon feats for Zaalbar so he can dual-wield the powerful swords found throughout the game. Unlike Canderous, Zaalbar cannot regenerate during combat, so keep an eye on him and heal him as needed.
Because he's a scout, he can and should receive feats that allow implants. Since he can't wear body armor, equip Zaalbar with dexterity implants to raise his defense. Of course, you could follow the bowcaster line of skills, but this is nowhere near as effective as capitalizing on his close-quarters skills. Put off using Zaalbar until he obtains a few combat feats. Then bring him out to cleave and rend.
Zaalbar can't wear body armor, so be sure to equip him with Brejik's Arm Band and Belt for +5 resistance to slashing and bludgeoning damage, respectively. Concentrate on his close-combat fighting. Zaalbar's first melee weapon should be the prototype vibrosword you find on the Endar Spire. It's only a little better than a regular vibrosword, but it's upgradeable with parts. Buff up the weapon with the vibration cell upgrade (+1 slashing), the durasteel bonding alloy (+1 attack), and the energy projector (+2 attack bonus, +1 slashing damage). When you reach Kashyyyk, seek out Bacca's Ceremonial Blade. This culturally significant weapon isn't too powerful at first, but it's positively monstrous with the right upgrades! Perhaps the best weapon for Zaalbar is Yusani's Brand, a double-bladed vibrosword with two attacks per round.
After 40-plus hours of gripping gameplay, I can safely say that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a total blast. BioWare's trademark open-ended gameplay (made famous in PC hits like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights) dovetails remarkably well with core elements from Star Wars folklore to create one masterful role-playing game. What makes KOTOR so appealing is that from start to finish, you direct how the adventure unfolds. You shape every aspect of your hero's being--from physical appearance and class attributes to the color and qualities of their lightsaber. You choose whether your character follows the light or dark side of the Force--a philosophical struggle that can be as simple as saying the right thing in a conversation, or as intricate as deciding whether to let someone live or die. The story line itself delivers an incredible sense of freedom and surprising replay value, with separate light/dark endings and multiple optional quests to tackle. After suffering through the stilted screenplays (and equally wooden acting) of the recent flicks, KOTOR'S engaging plot is a welcome relief to Star Wars geeks like yours truly. Fleshed-out characters, surprising plot twists, and expertly delivered dialogue combine to form an epic narrative. The game also boasts a fine balance of exploration and combat. Battles occur frequently, but they're so quick and action-packed that I never tired of kicking the crap out of Kath Hounds. Gamers looking for pure action will need time to acclimate to the tum-based melees, but the smooth mechanics of slicing, tossing grenades, and busting out Force powers are ultimately easy to grasp. Two minor problems do arise. The visuals could use another coat of polish, and after finishing the game, you can't return to complete any remaining side quests. But at least the latter provides me with an excuse to invest another 40 hours (plus, then I can see what it's like transforming my character into an evil Sith Lord). No Jedi mind tricks needed here--this is a must buy.
Both PC role-playing fans (like me) and console gamers weaned on less hardcore fare can sit back and bask in KOTOR'S magnificence. This is an RPG like no other, either on PC or console. The statistics-heavy Dungeons & Dragons rules set that dominates most BioWare RPGs is virtually transparent here. You can ignore it if you want to just charge through, but all your dice rolls and combat modifiers are right there on the feedback screen if you wish to study them scrupulously to improve strategy. Your three-person party is easy to manage--but again, there's utter flexibility. For the most part, party members take care of themselves, though if you wish to pause at any point and adjust their moves, you can go right ahead. You'll also enjoy outfitting your party members with the loads of cool loot you find along the way. Dual-wielding two lightsabers is awesome, but when you can upgrade them with found crystals, it's that much more personal. KOTOR is like the movie we all hoped Episode 1 would be--enthralling plot, marvelous visuals and voice acting, deep immersion in the galaxy's many worlds, with all that noble Jedi malarkey lightened up by old-school Episode 4-style humor. But the genius is in the light- and dark-side choices you're forced to make throughout. This brilliant adaptation of the D&D alignment system helps you truly feel how even the most well-intentioned Jedi would consider the dark side: A lot of the time, it's just easier that way. I'm not saying I succumbed, but I did struggle with the temptation frequently. Add to all this a bounty of side quests, tons of cool gear, and nice touches like the well-designed map system, quest log, and inventory management, and this is an RPG revolution every console gamer should experience.
With its excellent story line, likeable characters, and snappy sense of humor, KOTOR hits many of the same notes that the original Star Wars trilogy did. In fact, in many ways it's a better follow-up to the first series than the current film run. You could simply spend days exploring Knights' numerous side quests and not only barely scratch the surface of the game's narrative arc, but also not mind in the least. It's that good. Some of the game's less fantastic moments stand out in contrast against the rest, but only slightly. For instance, the combat system initially seems strange because you feel like you should have more control over your characters' actions, but the turn-based fighting becomes progressively more interesting (and intuitive) over time. Likewise, the minigames (manning a gun turret or racing a pod-racer-like swoop bike) are largely uninteresting, but they're easily avoided or over too quickly for you to mind. Minor quibbles cannot tarnish the brilliance of the open-ended gameplay--Knights is such an all-encompassing experience that when you're away from the game, you'll end up talking about it to everyone you know. "Hello, Dad? Guess what? I've finally gotten to Kashyyyk. (Pause.) C'mon, you know. Wookiee World?!?" Full of the sort of charm and polish that you normally find only within titles from developers like Nintendo, Square, and Bungie, Knights sets new standards for both its genre and system. Finally, Xbox owners have another game worth mentioning in the same sentence as Halo.
Why the disturbance in the Force?
Ever try to create an RPG, much less one based in the Star Wars universe? It's tough work. "On a game of this size," says Producer Mike Gallo, "wrapping up all of the final little bits, like bug testing, play balancing, user-interface tweaks, optimization, etc., takes a lot longer than anyone could imagine. If something isn't working, we can't just cut it from the game."
Prognosis: The date is strong with this one
LucasArts feels "very confident" that this is the final delay. More important, we're very optimistic about the quality of the game itself, given developer BioWare's track record of excellent RPGs on the PC, like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Plus, we have word that George Lucas himself is personally notvery involved, which, after Episode II, is happy news indeed.