Impending classic beset by major hindrances
The year 2003 was a year wrought with lameness for the gaming world. Many may disagree, but I found nary a game that year piqued any splinter of interest. Thankfully, Lucas Arts gave us Knights of the Old Republic, probably the best release of that year, let alone the best RPG. It boasted the literally malleable and ever-popular Star Wars universe, BioWare’s design skills, and more than anything, and an engaging story that crushes anything George Lucas has mustered in recent times. In 2004, developer Obsidian attempted to continue that greatness with Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.
In the grand scheme of things, it is very similar mechanically to its predecessor. The graphics engine, the conversation system, combat, travel, menus, and character system remain virtually unchanged, so players shouldn’t expect any disconcerting overhauls with these aspects. However, some very convenient modifications have been made in some of said aspects to make playing a bit less frustrating than in the original. Firstly, the combat system has been tweaked to allow control of the party’s behavioral stance; character units can be commanded to be aggressive, stand ground, or be ranged. The big plus of this is that when an enemy is sighted, your party won’t run in all guns blazing toward the enemy, something that grew very annoying when you were attempting to be stealthy, or simply weren’t prepared to attack. The “Ranged” stance is particularly useful if certain characters aren’t specialized in melee combat (such as characters with blasters or Jedi Consular). Secondly, the menus have been tweaked for convenience as well, mainly by categorizing items under separate titles, so that one isn’t scrolling all up and down trying to locate a particular item [I found this to especially be a problem with data pads]. Third, the character system has been updated to include a slough of new Feats and Force Powers which, of course, add some more fun to combat, but I won’t list them here. Another nifty (but inconsistent) feature is the ability to influence the alignment of your party members during conversation.
Unfortunately, these are about the only good aspects I can congregate for this review. While the aforementioned improvements are welcomed and cause the gameplay to be more manageable, well…shift your eyes below.
While the prequel began with an anxious and semi-intriguing, yet short preliminary mission, KOTOR II begins with an optional (and tedious) introductory mission with T3-M4 aboard the torn asunder shell of the Ebon Hawk, with nothing but two unconscious bodies for company. Playing as T3-M4, you roll around the ship making what repairs you can to get the Hawk space worthy again; aka, “A Day in the Life of an Astromech Droid”. Though this mission provides some quaint fun on first-time play, I can’t see myself wanting to play each time I install the game. After skipping or playing through the introduction, your character wakes up in a kolto tank (I guess bacta had yet to be discovered) on a fuel mining asteroid station, wherein the game officially begins. If there were a better metaphor for the game’s overall design and player experience, I’m not a skilled enough writer to think of such.
The design of the game is noticeably inferior to BioWare’s. While the handy yet comparably diminutive mechanical improvements are a good thing, they are a galaxy away from maintaining the quality of the prequel. With the exception of the first character to join your party (and one certain sarcastic and bloodthirsty yet loveable character from KOTOR), the rest of the characters lack any kind of peculiar and/or charming charisma to inspire the player. The characters in the original game were a group of widely varying beings from completely different backgrounds, different alignments, skills and areas of expertise, but each one brought their own useful and appealing element to the game, like any good RPG should possess (or like the Star Wars films). I could barely wait to take each party member with me on different planets/missions and experiment to see what results I would get, or to converse with each one to find out more about their personality and personal history. Instead, you’re given a party of humdrum; boring characters that don’t motivate you to do any of the latter…in fact I would have been ecstatic to dismember most of them with a lightsaber. The game is also riddled with strange and game-stopping bugs (usually contained within conversation triggers) that even the patch failed to repair. The only path around these bugs is to either reload a saved game, or even such seemingly trivial actions as entering a room from a different door where a conversation will take place (?!). With a few notable exceptions (most all of which involve hijinks on the smuggler planet of Nar Shaada), the planets/missions themselves are exercises in pure tedium. Rather than wanting to carry out various trial and error experiments during the missions, I just wanted them to…end.
The plot of the game was truly an unwieldy, shoddy story to be behold. Admittedly, it is in fact difficult to depict the faults without giving away said “plot” (I use that term loosely), something I never take delight in doing, even if I happen to find it to be less than desirable in many facets. I would that guess that it could be compared to the following scenario: if the overrated hack of a director named M. Night Shamaylan was given the opportunity to write and direct a Star Wars film, it would more than likely end up very much like the plot of this game. Much like every other aspect of the game, instead of sitting in front of my monitor with great anticipation of what would unfold, I just wanted it to…end.
The Bottom Line
What we have here is a paradigm example of rushing the development of a game to hit stores shelves in time for the holiday season, something publishers never seem to learn. Not to mention the more detrimental dangers of changing developers in the middle of a series. As another reviewer said, this game has the feel of a buggy, glorified expansion pack, rather than a legitimate sequel in its own right. And in my own opinion, I fail to see how anyone could view this as an “improvement” over the first game. At the very least, it’s the game development equivalent of delivering the script of a notable and reliable director into the hands of college drunk and letting them overhaul said script for their own devices.
This game is worth owning for completist purposes, but I can’t see any other reason for purchasing this tedious, bug-ridden refuse with plot holes the size of the Betelgeuse.