By ArbitraryWater 28 Comments
It hurts me as much as it hurts you. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic isn't as good as you remember it to be. It's still certainly a good game, one that was deserving of a lot of the praise it received when it was released for the Xbox in 2003. But it's also a mechanically broken game, and some of the character and story bits don't hold up as well as others. And the worst part is now I am thinking of going through KotOR 2 and seeing how well that holds up in relation to this one.
But perhaps some context is necessary (Maybe not? Well too bad.) I got this game on my 12th birthday, along with Diablo 2, for the PC (not owning an Xbox at the time. In any case, the PC version looks a little nicer and has better controls). It was probably my first real RPG (unless you want to count Paper Mario for the N64. I won't) and my gateway drug to the world of Bioware. Thus, this game had (and still has, even after I finish writing this blog) a fairly special significance to me, the same way Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time have significance for me. But whatever. What do I have problems with?
I'll start with the part that's easier to explain: Mechanically, KotOR is horrendously unbalanced and slanted towards a few very specific builds for the main character. It's also kind of for idiots. It uses a heavily (and I mean heavily) watered down version of the 3rd Ed D&D ruleset, and as someone who used to be into D&D I certainly see that it uses skills and feats like that system does, along with it's own brand of magic (THE FORCE. Maybe you have heard of it). However, of all the skills in the game, exactly two are useful. Computer use lets you hack stuff, and treat injury makes you heal more with medpacks. Stealth is fairly worthless, as sneaking past enemies doesn't give you experience, and stealth attacks aren't good enough to go through the hassle, Persuasion is outclassed by Force Persuade and so on and so forth. It's exactly the problem I talked about in that rantblog I made about invalid RPG playstyles. The feats and force powers aren't much better. Go for two weapon fighting and master flurry (what, you wanted to make the main guy a blaster character? That would be a very, very, very bad idea.) and then when you are a jedi get force speed because that's basically like haste in that it grants you extra attacks.
Thus, with the game clearly encouraging a straight up melee character without much use for skills, what character class should the player pick? Allow me to say that the answer isn't Scoundrel (or the Jedi Consular, the caster class of the game), as they are meant to be the rouge of the group, but because there isn't much reason to use skills they aren't good. I actually picked a Scout/Jedi Sentinel, as the "balanced" class, with enough skills to let me put points in computer use and treat injury while also allowing me to actually be able to fight dudes and cast spells, on occasion. However, Soldiers/Jedi Guardians are clearly the best choice because they have the best base attack bonus and the highest HPs, and for straight up melee fighters (with a double bladed lightsaber) that is all that is required. I steamrolled through the game using Master Flurry and Master Speed, as that kills everyone faster than any other method of play. Bleh.
On the other hand is the story. To be fair, it follows the Bioware formula of vignetting everything to hell while having some sort of driving motivation for the main plot. This does that to the letter. After Taris and Dantooine, which are the obligatory opening areas (although, they probably comprise at least a 5th of the game, as opposed to something like Ostagar which is only the first two hours or so, or Candlekeep, which is like 15 minutes), you are thrown out on the galaxy to explore 4 separate planets that all will help advance your otherwise predictable quest for the star forge. This is the best part of the game. The early game is fairly tedious and borin, and I wish I could have used the mod to let me skip it. Of all the 4 planets, I think that Korriban and Manaan are probably better than Tatooine and Kashyyk (dude whatever. I'm not going to look up how to correctly spell the wookie planet), because Korriban is also semi-open and also allows you to be an asshole in the best of possible ways and Manaan is perhaps one of the more creative locales designed by Bioware in spite of the fact that even though as one of the better designed planets, you get kicked out at the end of it despite it also being the hub for one of the more awesome questlines in the game (the Geohadaran Assassin missions). However, this is before Bioware understood what grey morality is, so you are either helping old widows or murdering anyone who looks at you the wrong way. Frankly, for as much as my 12 year old mind was blown by the concept of choice, the polarization between the two options is kind of hokey at best, and events happen the same way regardless of how you address them until the endgame. Speaking of the endgame, the final boss is significantly harder if you don't have drain life, an ability that light side jedi probably won't pick. This just seems like a bad idea from a design angle.
Some of the characters are great. Some of them... less so. While HK-47 is hilarious talking about meatbags, Mission Vao is super lame in a way that is only rivaled by Ashley from Mass Effect (albeit, less racism). I generally just think that you should have HK and crotchety old man Jolee in your party at all times. It's better for everyone that way.
In some ways, KotOR still holds up. In others, not so much. While this could be said of all old games, I have to say that this cements my claim that Baldur's Gate 2 is still probably Bioware's best RPG (Mass Effect 2 is probably Bioware's best game. But I will be damned if that game can be considered an RPG). It's kind of a bummer, especially since I now feel like playing KotOR 2 to make fun of that. Happy New Year?