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SummaryA New Hope...
The GoodJust when you thought Star Wars games had nothing to offer except arcadey Rogue Squadron-type garbage and generic movie spin-offs along comes BioWare to save LucasArts from it's own stupidity. I mean, I was surprised myself after playing it, and it goes without saying that this is the best Star Wars game since XW: Alliance, not to mention one of the best games ever based in the adventures of a galaxy far, far away.
As mentioned BioWare deserves all the credit for making this game the stellar success it was, applying all their experience and design prowess to Lucas's franchise, besides they had their work cut out for them from a gameplay point of view. BioWare can be credited for being the developers that brought back D&D to the CRPG world, in no small part due to their success at translating the D&D mechanics in a way that was both novel and efficient. Unlike most gamers seem to know, Star Wars already has a P&P RPG adaptation know affectively as the Star Wars D20 system and it is this system that KoTOR uses instead of the D&D system as noted elsewhere. Of course, one can argue that the Star Wars sys. is really a cloned version of the D&D mechanics, but in fact it has a skill system of it's own and already defined class and racial distinctions. Thus BioWare only had to readapt their already superb D&D translation to fit the Star Wars system and presto! Instant Star Wars RPGing!!
Playing KoTOr thus has a lot in common with previous BioWare titles like Baldur's Gate, with it's paused real-time combat system, inventory management and spell/item usage being just like those good old Infinity engine games. A few refinements have been added, like the option to queue a series of actions for each character and lay out a basic battleplan (for instance, heal then attack, then use shield, then attack, etc.) but it's basically the same old thing, which is good, no need to mess with a good thing.
The look of the game is however substantially different from the Infinity engine games, switching to a third-person perspective 3D environment from which you interact with the gameworld from a much closer perspective. No need to worry about subpar 3D action/rpg hybrids tough, KoTOR doesn't have you jumping around or doing stupid arcadey things, you still handle the game from a mouse-driven interface (tough the wasd keys have been added to the mix for obvious reasons) with the interaction with the gameworld being based around single clicking for targeting whatever you want to use and then selecting the proper action from a context-sensitive pop-up menu.
The party has also been modified in it's size now toned down to 3 party members including your main character (created through an instantly recognizable BioWare-esque character creation scheme that also allows you to choose sex and model). These party members include everything from Wookies to droids to Jedis, each with unique personalities, backstories and personal quests that enrich the gameworld. In true BioWare-form these characters offer a lot of free conversations and information not only on each quest but also on the locations and character they meet, including each other, which also means those wonderfully amusing exchanges between party members from the BG games returns, with some truly funny moments that include a certain Jedi using her powers to make someone else trip, or a droid having psychotic outbursts.
The skills and force powers (the "magic" in the game) are very well executed, and the game manages to include everything from sneaking (which requires you to ditch your party momentarily) to hacking, repairing and using the good ol' Jedi mind trick on the NPCs for your benefit. Weapons are also very well balanced, with a good mix of meele and ranged weapons, some which can be modified (like the lightsabers) to include different items that cause unique status effects or modify stats for more customized combat.
The 3D engine is surprisingly robust, being able to handle the complex game mechanics as well as providing some of the most amazing graphics for a game of it's kind. Truly KoTOR is a gorgeous game to behold, and probably the most beautiful rpg ever made. With incredibly hi-quality models, texture details and effects that are nothing short of amazing. The engine is also quite scalable by 2003 standards as it not only includes special effects like smooth shadows for pixel shading-capable cards but it also allows for gameplay on lesser cards all the way down to GeForce2 MX series boards. Basically anything that has T&L will do, thus ensuring no one has an excuse for missing out on this masterpiece.
The graphic quality however shouldn't be too much of a surprise when you consider the gigantic resources LucasArts must have thrown at the game. If there's something that can be said of all Star Wars games, regardless of whether they are good or bad, is that they look and sound the part, and KoTOR is no exception. The game is your all-around triple-A product, with the fantastic graphics I mentioned above, plus incredible SFX straight from the Lucas sound libraries, a dynamic orchestral soundtrack befitting the Star Wars name and other niceties such as a streamlined interface that manages to take most of the clutter out of inventory management, with separate slots for accessing health, power-ups and force powers in an orderly fashion. Animations are incredibly well made, with most combat animations being a sight to behold, truly seeing two Jedis duking it out will leave you speechless as you see them dance around, lash at each and parry unsuccessful attacks. Most amazingly EVERY line of dialogue is spoken, with no exception!! (save for the lines your own main character says), this is a baffling achievement (and surely accounts for most of the 4gbs or so the game takes up during installation) specially when you consider this is a classic PC RPG (even if it was released first for the X-Box) with lots of dialogue trees. Plus, dialogue is fully lip-synched and acted, with characters frowning and smiling believably depending on the tone of the conversation... heck! In true Star Wars spirit, the aliens speak their own wacky languages with the subtitles being your only way of knowing what they are saying!
Finally, the cornerstone of every good RPG is acknowledged with a superb storyline that truly makes the game stand out from the competition. The story deserves a chapter of it's own, and by the time you pick the game up you'll find out that all that hype and critical acclaim wasn't missplaced. It not only manages to be a surprising and twisty ride that manages to keep you glued to your seat and playing through it just to find out where the plot takes you next, but it also works wonders to justify the way the game introduces the Jedi classes, and most importantly captures that adventuring, planet-hopping, good vs evil fantasy spirit Star Wars enbodied (a long ago...). In typical BioWare style, the game also has numerous subplots and sidequests for you to toy around with, with some extremely interesting examples that prove sidequests don't need to be just a distraction to build up experience, like a court-drama trial where you put your ethical beliefs in the stand while trying to defend an apparent murderer with interplanetary interests in the balance among the finest examples.
The BadThere are some rather annoying touches that I blame mostly on the broader approach to please console gamers as much as hardcore RPGers the game has. For instance... does EVERY console rpg need to have a stupid card-collecting Pokemon-esque mini game? It appears so, and if KoTOR wanted to play with the big boys in console land it needed to include one, as well as two other needless but mostly harmless minigames.
Also some stuff is simplified for the sake of "consolity" such as no inventory weight or space limitations (meaning you have the classic "black hole" with you in which everything fits and you never get encumbered). More importantly, there's no penalization for changing equipment on-the-fly, and that is a somewhat cheap detail.
However that is mostly bitching, a true problem with KoTOR lies in the fact that all the characters level up regardless of whether they are in the party or not. This IS a significant design flaw as it negates the main reason for you to specialize certain characters with certain skills, and that I'm afraid I can't blame on console sensibilities...
But as you can see there is hardly anything wrong with the game, sure we can start bitching all you want about every detail you can think of, as everyone wants to do when discussing truly great games, but it's just that: bitching. I mean, if it really bothers you that there's no blood in the game or that the alien languages are actually looping soundtracks meesa thinks you should get a life boyo.