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SummaryI find your lack of faith... disturbing
The GoodThe first "Knights of the Old Republic" was a fantastic game, one of those instant classics created by the wizards from Bioware, comparable to Baldur's Gate saga and Planescape: Torment. The sequel to this game arrived very quickly. Even though it wasn't developed by Bioware, it turned out to be every bit as good as its predecessor. It has the same fine, addictive gameplay system, and a definite Star Wars feel that will please any true fan of the movies.
This time around, the story has a darker edge. The first game had that famous plot twist - anyone who has played it know what I'm talking about; for the others, I won't spoil it, because you should anyway go and play the game. But overall, the story of the first game was not particularly dark. In the sequel, the story has more psychological depth. The main character has even deeper moral problems to deal with. I have to say that the content of this story is probably more profound than the straightforward, black/white story of the Star Wars movies. Some of the questions posed in this game's dialogues will make anyone interested in ethical problems think. Everything is not as simple as Jedi vs. Sith. And, just like in the first game, you'll face choices. You'll have to make decisions that will influence the story and the world around you.
One of the chief reasons for the game's darker color is the character cast. The first game also had memorable, appealing characters. But none of them was as deep and as enigmatic as the companions you encounter in the sequel. Take for example Atton, who starts as a light-minded womanizer who only thinks about pleasure. But later, if you talk to him and perform quests related to him, you'll find out what happened to him during the war. You'll see that behind the easy-going facade there is a lot of pain in this person. Take Visas, a woman who had to serve a Sith Lord who destroyed her entire homeworld. She has a tragic fate, and it is up to you to make her suffer even more, or to bring her to the light. One of the typical examples for how the game takes familiar humorous Star Wars icons and fills them with new content is Hanharr, a wookie who has nothing in common with his cute prototype but the appearance. He is so evil that he hates most those who have shown him mercy. Gratitude is unbearable to him, and he constantly seeks death. And of course, the most fascinating companion is the mysterious Kreia. Her past, her actions, her desires, her true identity - everything is shrouded in mystery, which you won't unveil very soon.
A dominant theme in the game's story is war. The Mandalorian War was mentioned in the first game, but it plays a more important role in the sequel. It treats this subject more seriously. The effect war has on people, the causes of war, the ethical considerations, the instincts - everything is analyzed here. And your character is a part of all that. He has to give the answers depending on the player's personality, to make decisions, to understand himself. The game's story is built in such a way that you gradually discover the truth about the protagonist, and help him to come to peace with himself, with what he has done in the past, and with his influence on other people.
The game's story develops and darkens, until it culminates in the grand finale. The ultimate confrontation is more majestic and more personal here than in the first game. I love this kind of intimacy between the hero and the main adversary. The game makes you care for this person, and your final battle has a deeper meaning beside just "find and kill the big bad guy". This kind of approach to the concept of "final boss" is automatically a plus in my book.
Graphically, KOTOR 2 is very attractive. Granted, it looks almost the same as its predecessor, and there is no "wow" factor this time. The graphics ceased to be cutting-edge, but they still remained beautiful. Atmospheric locations like the jungle of Dxun or the mountain world of Malachor V are a pleasure to explore. The music is written entirely in the unforgettable John Williams style (by the way, the famous main Star Wars theme is too similar to Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, in B flat Major. Really, check it out). It is one of those things that makes the magical Star Wars atmosphere. I think the music is stylistically perfect, I have no complaints about it, and I find it strange it was criticized by some people. Yes, it is similar to John Williams' music, but that is exactly what it was supposed to be!
Gameplay-wise, KOTOR 2 is quite similar to the first game. Once again, you have the excellent Infinity-style combat, fast-paced turn-based battles which feel like real time, with the ability to pause at any moment and to issue commands to party members. You have the Light/Dark system, plenty of choices to make, your own moral code to follow. You have the main, story-related quests, as well as many side-quests, ranging from simple errands to complex tasks that involve ethical, social, and political problems. All that was already present in the first KOTOR. There was really no need to change anything, the gameplay system was remarkably robust, addictive, and natural.
There are some small improvements, though. You can now develop all your party members by yourself - raise their stats, assign abilities and skills, etc. There are more options in pretty much everything. You can spend hours at the workbench, manufacturing your own upgrade items, and assembling weapons and armor - there is decidedly more variety, more possibilities in the second game. There is an obscene amount of various items in the game - weapons, armor, accessories, upgrades, stimulants of all kinds, etc. There are new cool Jedi techniques to learn, new classes, new feats... in short, this is one of those games where you have both quality and quantity.
The BadWell, it can't be denied that the game is very similar to its predecessor. The graphics are really the same, game design is very similar, and, save for some minor additions, the gameplay is also identical. This is more or less the same case as with Fallout 2. So, while KOTOR 2 is undoubtedly fantastic as a game, it is merely all right as a sequel. I might add that this fact didn't bother me at all and didn't prevent me from enjoying the game. But if you expect a quality leap like in Suikoden II - this is not the case. Then again, the first KOTOR was decidedly more perfect than the first Suikoden, so there wasn't much room left for improvements.
My personal complaint, as with many Western RPGs, is the ending. Or, should I say, the lack thereof. Now, I seriously advice Western developers to take an ending-designing course by the Japanese. So yes, the final confrontation in this game was truly climatic and emotional. But I want to see a long, rewarding cut scene afterwards. A proper summary. Something much more monumental than a list of credits. I can hardly remember a Western RPG that fully satisfied me in this aspect the way Japanese RPG do.
The Bottom LineSummary:
+ Great story with darker overtones than the first game
+ Memorable characters
+ Excellent dialogues
+ Involving morality system
+ Refined gameplay
+ Still impressive production values
- A bit too similar to the first
- The ending is too short
I heard some heavy criticisms about this game; all I can say is that those critics were probably turned to the Dark Side by someone. The company Obsidian did a remarkable job in filling Bioware's giant shoes. They delivered a high-class product, even superior in same ways to its fantastic predecessor. Really, if you liked the first KOTOR and are generally interested in great RPGs, you absolutely have to check out this wonderful sequel. We need more games like this - they are building the bridge between gameplay-heavy Western RPGs and story-oriented Eastern ones. May the Force be with you, Obsidian.