copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords



Rati ng:



Impact: Most memorable

FOREWORD


So many fans have been pulled into the never ending battle between good and evil, creating generations of Skywalkers Darth Vaders and Bobba Fetts. This battle has been engraved by the Force into the magnetic surfaces of tapes, CDs and DVDs. After several movies, several games have risen from the ashes in the true Sith style. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 The Sith Lords (to which from now on I will imply as KOTOR2 if I am to finish this review in my lifetime) is one of those games. It is actually a sequel to a prequel. The events of KOTOR 2 happen after the forming of the Sith (the Jedi civil war), after the Mandalorian wars, but before the events of the Episode 1.


THE GAMEPLAY


For the veterans of the first KOTOR, all you probably need to know is that KOTOR 2 is an expansion pack to the first game with a new-ish story, masked to be a standalone game. A great deal of things in KOTOR 2 is very similar to its mama, so if you liked the first one, go play this one.


In KOTOR 2 you are an ex-Jedi who barely escapes an attack on his life by the Sith, an organization of outcast Jedi who over the time lost all but one main goal: kill all Jedi. The time has come for you to find your friends, enemies and your role in the galaxy's fate…as well as some clothes first..To be honest, not once have I been so interested in a game’s storyline like in KOTOR2. The story is a really strong backbone here. There’s a lot of information on the history of Star Wars like the events of the previous game and other events in general and how they all might affect your destiny. The story from this game imacted me far more than anything from any of the Star Wars movies.


Yet the storyline has a few weird things the player might stumble upon. A few events at its turning points are…unexpected. One example would be (warning: a potential spoiler!) that an evil little organization hunts you all over the galaxy, and its hunters mostly want to deliver you dead rather than alive. You take half of the total playing time to find and kill this organization's leaders and when you finally meet the mastermind, to your surprise, the guy politely tells you that all he wanted from you is some help in doing something that you were already doing to begin with. Also the game sometimes seems to follow the Matrix movie logic: if we use spooky language they will not realize that we have no idea what we’re talking about. The narration often gets too complicated for its own good.


As most RPGs, KOTOR 2 has several side quests besides the main quest, and there are also a few mini-games within the game like sled racing and cards. The mini-games are a nice touch and add to the value of the game. A great disappointment is that after the game is over, it’s over. Once it resolves, the story does not leave much for you to do in the galaxy, not much material for the sequel, so why not let you go back instead of throwing you to the main menu after the final battle? That ending, by the way, is so anit-climatic that you want to go back, shake the dead enemy and shout at him "Are you kidding me?! I payed for this game, spent so much time getting to you, and this is all you could say?!"


Let's not get ahead of ourselves, however. At the beginning of the game you create your own custom character. The character creator does not go particularly deep in its customization, but it is still a nice touch. Along your path you will also find other allied characters, of which you can have up to 2 in your party, controlling in third-person view. Each character has his own strengths and weaknesses, and receives experience points for fighting and other story-related events. Those experience points contribute to the character’s rise in level. Leveling brings points the player can distribute to different powers, skills and attributes. With new strengths and more money, you can get and wear better armor and use more powerful weapons etc, etc.


KOTOR2 however blends a few action-game features in this RPG system. Moving, for example, is not done by point-and-click but, generally, by the AWSD keys. When engaged in sword fighting with an opponent, the battle consists of a realistic sequence of synchronized moves rather than bashing each other in turn like RPGs tend to do. Also, most of the game’s battleground consists of corridors with groups of enemies placed some distance apart. All of this reminds a shooter game. Do not be fooled by the feel however of a 3rd person shooter, as the fight system is still managed purely by the mathematical comparison of the fighters’ skill numbers.


When fighting, you can rely on your weapons and your force powers. Weapons, just like all items, can be bought, made or found. They range from swords to mines. Weapons can be upgraded in different ways and light sabers even change color depending on what crystal they use. Guns in KOTOR 2 are somewhat underpowered though. It’s hard to imagine a group of riflemen who are firing from far, lose to a guy with a steel sword but it happens. It’s that Star Wars logic at work. Another problem with the fighting system is the difficulty of the enemies in general. After being really easy for the most of the campaign, they started to get real hard real fast at the very end. Bosses, were a little too easy throughout the campaign.


You can also choose not to fight most enemies and instead sneak pass them using an optic camouflage belt. Although stealth is a pretty and well integrated thing, it might create a problem when it comes to leveling. If you’re not fighting each of the enemies you meet then you’re missing a lot of experience points, and when you find yourselves in a situation where stealth is impossible you are in trouble


Besides weapons, there are tons of items for player to use, and they can all be selected through the menu at any point by any of the characters. This is rather strange. The amount of items you find and carry at any given time would realistically barely fit your spaceship, and yet there no maximum on how much you can carry.


Throughout the game you will have many conversations with NPCs and you will have to make many choices during those conversations. There’s a dark-light meter, and some of those choices will lead you to either the dark or the light side. The side you’re on affects your appearance, making you look all evil and cool. It also affects several other things like powers and even the story. With all those choices the game suggests an open-ended gameplay. However, most choices are cosmetic and many lead to the same result. Still, the freedom of choice in a conversation is enjoyable. In addition to fighting and talking, there are also a few mathematical puzzles for the player to solve. They aren't too hard if you take your time to solve them.


The AI could have been better. You would think that because AI in an RPG does not need to decide whether to flank the enemy or to hide behind cover it should be hard to screw up, and yet KOTOR2 manages to do it. I would suddenly notice that the characters in my party got stuck somewhere in the back, and they would then respawn next to me (which, by the way, is at least a solution for this problem). If I ran in one direction and then would suddenly run back, I would see my party members follow my entire path as if I was leaving a spaghetti trail they were following. You can however dictate what tactic each of your characters uses during battle. So in a way, you can control the AI a little.



PERFORMANCE


It seems the cries about the glitches of KOTOR 2 can be heard from different corners of the galaxy. Just as you start thinking highly of the game…click...the game crashes. Never in my life have I played a game that crashed so often. At certain times crashes would be about 2 minutes apart. And it doesn’t just crash to the desktop but restarts Windows completely. This greatly reduces the value of the game, value that otherwise would be really high. The game’s performance does vary from PC to PC so your version might just play ok.


I also experienced a very strange problem when on one of the maps. Suddenly the game would start to run very slow (1 fps kind of slow) and the character would become stuck in one place. Changing something big in the video options to “restart” the graphics would fix the problem for a short while, but it would soon return.


As for the system requirements, I was able to run the game with full graphics on my weaker Radeon 9600, 2 GHz Pentium machine with only a slight delay.



THE GRAPHICS


Besides a simple reflection effect on some metal surfaces, there isn’t much of the latest graphic technology incorporated in the KOTOR 2 visuals. Most of its beauty is in its detailed environment. On faces, for example, you can distinguish moles, scars and individual teeth. Environments are diverse. From an urban jungle to grassy fields, you get to see a little bit of everything and it’s all well presented and well detailed. Nevertheless, you do expect more out of a game made in 2005.


There are a lot of animations and some look nice, like the effects when two sword wielders fight, but most of the animations look odd. This is most evident during the many cut-scenes. The characters twitch, some movements seem to be missing, there are strange pauses between scenes and most apparent is the dissonance between the visuals and the sound. For example, there’s a cut-scene that shows a guy get killed by a huge monster. Before the guy dies, he quite calmly says, “Blast it” and after a short pause falls to the ground in an awkward manner. Sometimes one of the characters would pretend to be typing, but beneath his fingers there would be nothing but air. Must be one of those futuristic stealth keyboards...


THE SOUND


The music in KOTOR 2 follows the orchestral Star Wars trend and fits well. The music is probably the best thing about the sound. The “wheauw” when wielding the light saber and blaster sounds are here as well. With other words, everything you might expect from a Star Wars theme is present. There’s a lot of talking in the game, and the voice work is very well done. A nice touch is that in many conversations the voicing has been done for each character, so your voice (when you're actually heard speaking) varies depending on which character you control. It’s a shame the sound corresponds feebly with the visual depiction.


THE VERDICT


KOTOR 2 should appeal to fans of Star Wars and to those who liked the first game. The story is interesting and sucks you in. If not for its terrible performance glitches and some of the poor animations, the game would surely kick some of the best RPGs out there aside. Although if you favor RPGs then this game is unquestionably the one you must crave.



Subjective opinion


It’s against my rules to be too subjective in a review, so I decided to create a new category where I can be just that. Here you can see how my personality affects me liking and hating the game. To start, I can’t stand Star Wars. I can’t stand it because it had dumb looking art and mechanics (bloody storm troopers and their white plastic suits with frowny faces) that was created because people did not know any better and in the 21st  century all that stuff has been kept instead of being updated, with more sci-fi piled on top of it. That meant that more and more bad science would be visible. Previously kids and now grown up people were, in a way, consumed by the old fantasy and tried to make it more real. KOTOR 2, although a true Star Wars game, is the furthest away from the Star Wars trends and that is one of the reasons why my mind was so comfortable with it.


I am not into the whole dark-light side either as of course there are no dark or light sided people. A person is a complicated combination of positive and negative sides, and evil characters exist only in the minds of children and in Hollywood movies. Sometimes the game will not let you make a choice that allows you to stay neutral and instead there’s just a sadistic evil choice and a naïve stupid choice. That’s what the game seems to be ultimately about, light side and dark side, and I can’t like that. However a choice in everything you say is a nice freedom and I like freedom. KOTOR2 character are at least significantly more complex than the good and evil simpletons of the Star Wars movies.


Ultimately, walking around with optic camouflage like in the movie Predator is really fun. Sneaking up to enemies, placing mines to damage them and then finish them off with dual katanas is even more fun.


I also can’t say that I liked the small levels of this game. An RPG only works for me when the maps are huge. For some reason I really hate the Diablo-kind of corridor gameplay with a top view. Thankfully KOTOR 2 is not top view and actually has a few large places…no larger than a small FPS multiplayer map though.


I found it laughable that swords were actually more effective than guns in the game. I’m sorry, but no matter where I stand, if I have a buffed up sniper rifle, the enemy in a robe with a light saber gets his insides painted on the objects behind him.


Also, as I said before, the story is interesting. I now actually remember some of the history about the Sith and the Jedi, about the two civil wars etc etc. Shame on me! It’s ok, I will forget it soon enough.