Playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the first time

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dantey

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Edited By dantey

What is a better way to kick off a new year then to start playing a new game...that is 12 years old? Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a game I had my eye on for a very long time. It is one of those games you hear a lot about, even after their prime. Somehow this game stood the test time and is still mentioned form time to time in the video game community. It took the buzz around The Force Awakens and a recommendation form a friend, who played it back in the day, for me to finely crack and try out this classic.

It took some effort to make KotOR run on this Windows 10 laptop. Even though Microsoft are pretty awesome when it comes to backwards compatibility, this time some extra effort had to be done. I needed to reinstall the game in Windows XP SP2 compatibility mode, set both the game exe and the setting exe to said mode and edit an ini file just to make the game run. Then, once the intro movies would play out, the game would crash. After some researching on the internets, I found out that disabling movies would fix my problems. So, if a cutscene was not in real time, I would not see it. That made a bit hard to follow the story at times, but nothing too big to be a major problem. Also, 7 hours into the game, my save file got corrupted and I had to download someone else's save form the internet. I would then edit that save in an editor to try to recreate my character the best I could. So you know, fun times. But compatibility problems are to expected in an old game and even modern games can ruin a save file.

It has been too long
It has been too long

Before we get into my experience proper, let me give you a bit of context. My favorite game series is Mass Effect, the next space epic that came from BioWare after KotOR. Playing the first Mass Effect back in 2008 when I was 17 was one hell of an experience. That game took me with its universe, characters and story. Also, that film grain. I still have specific memories of that game that bring a warm feeling for me and remind me why I loved that game so much. It is not all about the first game, however. The other 2 games are great in their own right. So with that in mind and what I heard about KotOR, I came into this Star Wars game as a sort-of predecessor to Mass Effect.

Once I could get into the main menu of the game, I could begin my playthrough. But, upon hitting the new game button, I found three available classes to choose from with horrible descriptions. So back to the internet for some research, this time to find out what is a scoundrel. This is where I also found out that alt-tab'ing crashes the game. After restarting the game, I chose scout (later it turned into a Jedi Sentinel) and was exposed to the game's RPG system. Knights of the Old Republic uses a DnD inspired system and is pretty honest about it. Ability and item description of then use terms like 1d6 to show the dice roll'y nature of the game. And like DnD, it supports a good range of play styles. Ranged and melee, single handed and two handed, sneaky and upfront...it is all there. That would be all good if this was not a Star Wars game, however. But it is. Melee is much better than ranged in this game, and once you get your lightsaber all you really have to think about is one thing: single handed for the iconic look or double-bladed/double saber for more power. Even a good amount of skills are not worth your time once you figure out two or three the most useful and powerful. The biggest benefit I found to the RPG system was a world building one. It showed me that the world of KotOR can support a lot of different types of characters, no only Jedi, even though Jedi are the most powerful.

You won't be a Jedi form the begging though. There is a good part of the game you have to play through before you become a Jedi. With the level cap of 20, I became a Jedi at level 8. Once you become Jedi and are done with training, the game opens up (before this KotOR is somewhat linear) and you can start to see some elements of Mass Effect in it. You have a nice amount of party members to talk to, you have ship that you can travel to different locations to and you can go at your own pace. This is also where I feel the similarities, for the most part, stop, since both the characters and locations rarely are the same quality as found in Mass Effect.

The reason I fell both of these fall a bit flat, especially the characters is the setting itself. Star Wars is primarily a set of movies. Sure, it is a lot of other things, but movies are the main thing. What happens in those movies informs everything else about the Star Wars universe, not the other way around. Maybe some race or a world from the extended universe will find its way on to the big screen, but only if it has little importance and does not require some prior knowledge from the viewer. For Star Wars to work as a movie, it has to be light on technical detail. You won't hear long and big explanations about how stuff works in Star Wars like you would in Star Trek or Mass Effect, because there is no time for it. Look at the main thing of this universe: the Force. It is at its best when it is vague and mystical, giving it magic properties and doesn't get into some pseudo science like midi-chlorians. That is why I look at Star Wars as wizards in space with light swords.

If such an universe is your setting for a long, 30 hour RPG, you might run into some problems. And BioWare did. Take Bastila for example. She is someone you hear about from the very start on the game and is central to its plot. Her battle meditation ability is mentioned several times in the game and is key to why the Republic is still able to battle the Sith. But this ability isn't really explained. The best I could come up with is that it helped to predict enemy movement and tactics. Now, again, in a two hour movie that would be fine, but in a game dozen times longer than that, I started to get tired of hearing the same things about Bastila's battle meditation for the sixth time without getting more info about it.

Her character arc is also flawed and is emblematic of missed potential most of the game's stories have. Once she joins your team and you can talk to her, you will learn that she struggles a bit with keeping her emotions at bay and is someone who is young for having her abilities. Now, I would have loved a deeper exploration of these things. But the only time her emotions come up in any meaningful way is in a side quest about her mother, which is on path of the main story line, so you spend about 20 minutes on it. Her age and the pressure she has to deal with is also not talked about in length. The only times it comes up is when compared to the main character. If you are playing as a light side Jedi, she would say something like: "I am amazed you can be so calm and keep it together." And I get that the reason for this vagueness is the Force, since explaining this stuff would need a better explanation of the Force, and we don't want that, do we?

A bright star of this game
A bright star of this game

These kind of problems can be found in almost every party member in the game, except for two: HK 47 and Jolee. HK 47 is a great character in terms of his attitude and the adventures he has to tell. There is no big arc for him, but hearing his disgust for "meatbags" through his stories is a lot of fun. He definitely stands out the most out of the rest of the roster. Jolee, on the other hand, is the closest you will get to a Mass Effect character in KotOR. Party members in ME were so great, because you got to learn about alien things, like how all the different races and cultures worked. Through the things those character had to tell, the player would explore the universe of Mass Effect and have a better understanding of the setting they are in.

In Star Wars, the Force is a very binary thing. Either you are fighting for justice and peace, or you just want to destroy everyone and everything. But what if there was a neutral Jedi? Someone who left the Jedi order and did things he thought was a better way than the order's. Well Jolee is that Jedi. He is the one character in this game through whom the player explores new territory. While the game itself forces the player into being really good or really bad, at least Jolee let's them imagine what it would be to walk your own path as a Jedi. In some way, this just showed me once more how the setting of Star Wars can be limiting.

In terms of locations, most of them are fine and are interesting to visit. The only let down in my book is Tatooine. In Knights of the Old Republic, Tatooine is a planet with little on it. The biggest thing going for it is the mining operation conducted by the Czerka corporation, but even that is ending by the time the player get's there, since the metal is bad quality there. The player also will learn from the sand people that all this mining is tearing up the land on the planet and is hurting their connection with nature. That is an interesting premise, yet the areas you visit themselves don't show this premise that much. The only meaningful physical reference to the mining is a big movable rig in the middle of one of the zones, yet it does nothing. Now, I get that this lack of stuff has to do something with the technical limitations of the time. I would, however, trade the big rig for some environmental damage that the sand people talked about.

I know I criticize this game a lot, but I did enjoy my time with it and I like Star Wars. But it is a game of its time and I do feel that having their own universe with Mass Effect helped BioWare to craft a better game in all major aspects. Yet in a world before ME, I can see how KotOR got the praise it received. Especially when you remember that this was the time of the prequels.

P.S. Ebon Hawk has nothing, NOTHING on the Normandy.

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donchipotle

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Now play KOTOR 2 and see the greatest Star Wars story ever told featuring the greatest character in the fiction and one of the best in games.

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dantey

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@donchipotle: Already did with the content restoration mod. I installed it the day after I finished the first game. Now I just have to write about that.

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Great game and the second I liked even more. Why Bioware hasn't revisited this series for more current gen is beyond me. Especially now, w/Star Wars fever everywhere you look. And btw tc, the Mass Effect series is in my all-time top three. Absolutely loved those games and I'm really looking forward to the next ME game coming this year(I hope).

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I'd argue that Kotor is entirely better than Mass Effect, but I have to second the suggestion that you play Kotor 2 given what you didn't like about Kotor 1. Kotor 1 is a basic adventure story, very similar to the films in a lot of ways, but Kotor 2 goes farther with the Star Wars setting than anything else yet.

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donchipotle

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@pweidman said:

Great game and the second I liked even more. Why Bioware hasn't revisited this series for more current gen is beyond me. Especially now, w/Star Wars fever everywhere you look. And btw tc, the Mass Effect series is in my all-time top three. Absolutely loved those games and I'm really looking forward to the next ME game coming this year(I hope).

If you want to get really technical, the Jedi Knight story in The Old Republic is as close a template for KOTOR 3 as you're likely to get. Also the new expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, is quite KOTOR in its execution, down to having the same style of dialog interface in certain segments as KOTOR does.

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dantey

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@pweidman: Yeah, I cannot wait for Mass Effect: Andromeda. I hope the new character of the game will be as awesome as in the first 3 games.

@brackstone: I think you might not like some of the things I have to say about the second game.

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#7  Edited By pweidman

@donchipotle said:
@pweidman said:

Great game and the second I liked even more. Why Bioware hasn't revisited this series for more current gen is beyond me. Especially now, w/Star Wars fever everywhere you look. And btw tc, the Mass Effect series is in my all-time top three. Absolutely loved those games and I'm really looking forward to the next ME game coming this year(I hope).

If you want to get really technical, the Jedi Knight story in The Old Republic is as close a template for KOTOR 3 as you're likely to get. Also the new expansion, Knights of the Fallen Empire, is quite KOTOR in its execution, down to having the same style of dialog interface in certain segments as KOTOR does.

Yeah, you're right. Wasn't thinking, or remembering tbh, about the MMO, but more of a AAA sp release on all platforms.

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Brackstone

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#8  Edited By Brackstone

@dantey: Well it's a different strokes for different folks sort of thing. And there's also an element of what you play first that is really important. I played Kotor first, so playing Mass Effect, all I could see was how stitched together it's universe and characters were, basically taking Kotor and making a non-copyright infringing remake, but losing the intricacies in the process. Since you played Mass Effect first, your experience was probably the exact opposite, and you see it rather as refinement. Neither view is correct, because in this case, the two games are so similar that whatever you play first likely makes the biggest connection.

Did you by any chance get any of the conversations between Carth and Canderous? For my money, those two, plus Jolee, are the most interesting characters, and they help flesh out the universe and even complicate the generally binary morality of the Star Wars Universe.

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@brackstone: No, I have not, since I used mostly Jedi as my party members, because they helped with making the combat go faster. But I just watched it on YouTube. I didn't care that much for Canderous and the Mandalorians before KotOR 2 and visiting their camp.

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I have just recently made my first play through Kotor. ME1 is my favorite Bioware game. I felt that Kotor compares really well to Mass Effect. The main differences between the series comes down to to things the first you mentioned being the setting and the second being that this game is a Jedi simulator.

You were right since this universe is already well defined that did not leave much room for exposition dumps to be used to fill out the game. This could make the experience seem thinner. But really exposition is kind of empty calories of any narrative experience. It fills time and serves the purpose of conveying the setting to the audience. I wouldn't really call it a positive. Mass Effect did do it exceptionally well but that at best means it didn't detract from the actual narrative. Setting wise I would say Mass Effect and Star Wars are about on par.

On the subject of locations I really don't feel like Mass Effect is any stronger than you say especially the first game. Basically minus the Citadel the locations are near identical in both cases. You are almost always on the fringes of society on some small colony in the middle of a mostly barren or hostile world. Kotor lacks the copy and pasted side areas prevalent in ME. The Mass Effect locations might look prettier but really they were not that much bigger. You got to visit more setting important places over the course of ME. While in Kotor most of the locations are on the fringes and not currently important back waters. But to the setting hey it is the Wookie homeworld, the ancient Sith homeworld, and the first planet to be seen in Star Wars. So really I feel like it might be the exposition provides at the ME locations that might make them seem better to you.

So on to the characters where both the exposition and that Jedi simulator thing I said comes into play a lot. Mass Effect is pretty much as hit or miss as Kotor was. The reason they might feel more flat than they did in Mass Effect is because Mass Effect props up the weak characters with two things exposition and their relationship to Shepard. Kotor did do the exposition thing with Canderous who is pretty much one the most boring character in that game by having him have interesting conversations because they are the first real info dump on the Manadolorians in the EU.

The relationship between Revan and the rest of the cast was basically muted because of the nature of this being a Jedi simulator. A good Jedi doesn't form attachments with others. If you played on the Dark path than it is readily apparent that a Sith sees his companions as disposable. Either case this really stops the formation of bonds.

Kotor did have at least three good characters in my opinion which beats most of ME. Those being HK-47, Jolee, and Bastilla. But I'll get to her later.

Let's take at the good characters from each Mass Effect game. There was one Wrex. Literally every other character was paper thin and only served to give exposition on their affiliated group or as a love interest. Ashley-racist humans/love interest, Kayden-Human Biotics/love interest, Liara- Twi'lek,err asari/ love interest, and Tali- Mission.

Now let's look at Mass Effect 2. It has 4 characters wow that a lot. Only 1 of those characters is new. Mordin is the only character of the new class that is actually interesting. Kasumi might have had a chance but she never got enough usage. But really all the other character either served as love interest or as more exposition otherwise they were pretty bland. Tali and Liara became much more interesting characters than they were in the original. I also place Garrus in this list but I do question how much he actually became better or if it his growing buddy cop dynamic with Shepard that makes him feel better.

Mass Effect 3 is the same as Mass Effect 2. Literally no new character additions in 3 were any good. Ashley was improved in her return but I don't think enough to make her good. Ok character maybe.

Ok so let's talk about Bastilla. I thought she was handled perfectly. She is the character most set up for a Bioware relationship in Kotor. She has the an interesting personality up there with Jolee and KH-47. You are right it was a screaming for her to fully open up to you and have you work through her issues together and have a good old Bioware fade to black relationship. But you don't because she is the one character that plays by the Jedi handbook. Which says bonds are bad. So despite all the temptation she never opens up to you. The ultimate end of her character arc is basically realizing maybe bonds are not to be feared for a Jedi. But that is a revelation at the end of the game. That's why Kotor 2 can have a more traditional Bioware like relationships. An actual Kotor 3 would probably be a lot more Mass Effect and hell probably actually was Mass Effect at some point. Kotor was about making a game following the tenants of Star Wars universe and not challenging them to much.

As for her Battle Mediation I felt that was explained pretty clearly. It pretty much sharpens and enhances the instincts and reflexes of the soldiers on her side while dulling and slowing the instincts and reflexes of the enemy. It is vague in that force way. But the effects line up with the movies. Her soldiers could make that Death Star shot like Luke and the enemies would take a surprise shot from the Falcon like Vader. It's a directed level of the coincidence and luck found throughout the entire setting caused by the force. Also very much makes since in a game mechanics stand point given its DnD base. Most force powers act as + or - to rolls in the game. They are pretty much saying +2 all good guys rolls and -2 to all bad guy rolls. The rest of the game proves that could literally win or lose a battle.

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KotOR 1 is in a lot of ways the prototypical modern Bioware game, given that it establishes the template that they've used for pretty much all of their stuff going forward. It was also basically the game that got me into RPGs as a whole, so it definitely has a special place in my heart. That said? I'm sure parts of it totally don't hold up. Most of the skills aren't super useful, the combat is kind of dead easy with Master Force Speed and Expert Flurry and I'm sure some of the supporting cast come off as simplistic or annoying now (Carth was annoying in 2003, don't worry).

If you get around to it, KotOR II is probably a far more interesting game now with the content restoration mod giving it such exciting things as an "ending". It's a really good deconstruction of Star Wars and some of the ideas from the first game; it's also kind of a terrible sequel to the first game for that reason.

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@arbitrarywater: Yeah, I played the second game after finishing the first with said mod. I just have to write about it now.

@ryuku_ryosake: In Mass Effect, a lot of exposition was on the side in the form of the codex. If one wanted, they could learn through the codex, that the weapons in ME shave a tiny piece of metal as base for the projectile and then eject it at an insane speed. At any point, if a player wanted to learn more about the galaxy he was in, they could. That, I think, is a good example of the sense of complexity the game created.

On the other side, we have Star Wars, which is primarily a set of 7 movies. At this point in time, everything that has something to do with Star Wars is influenced by those movies. Now, in those 7 films, we get to see 2 complete trilogies and a start of a new one. Each has its own story arc, characters and themes. And all of that is in less than 20 hours of time. KotOR is twice as long and it tells only ONE story. This where I fell Knight of the Old Republic looses to Mass Effect.

Sure, you get to visit more places than in the movies and meet more people. That does help to fill out the created space. But the basic elements are the same as in the movies, for example, the vague and mysterious Force. The same things that make a two hour movie work are task to make a 30 hour RPG work. For my money, it doesn't. I get that Battle Meditation is vague in a Force way, but if I am asked to invest couple of dozen of hours into this game, I want a better explanation than a short "it's the Force". But that is just me, if it worked for you, then it is great.

When it comes to the characters is ME, I think you evaluate them somewhat short. Tali tells you stories about loosing the Quarian home world, about the migrant fleet and the creation of the Geth. Wrex talks to you about the Genophage and how it impacted his people and their culture. You also learn that the Genophage was the work of the Turians and Salarians, something that Garrus also dwells into. Liara talks about what is it like to be a part of a culture where people live a thousand years. Even Ashley and Kaidan have something to tell of interest. Characters is Mass Effect are not only interesting in their own right, but also because they serve as ambassadors of their people. For most of the time, I felt that characters in KotOR lacked such depth.

I guess my main problem with Bastila, is that her turn to the dark side is kind of unearned. Without explaining her doubts and fears more, there was little reason for her to join Malak. When I found out about her turn, I just kind of shrugged it off. And the writers did not stick to the whole "I am a Jedi, I cannot have feelings" completely. Because I romanced Bastila, I could use our mutual feelings to bring her back from the dark side. Even though she said that kissing Revan was a mistake, those feelings still could be used to brig her back and finish the romance. That doesn't really mix well with getting away from emotions. Even if she has some sort of a realization by the end, without a proper setup it all feels a bit weak.

Location wise, a good example from Mass Effect was the remote research facility. You get their in Mako and it is completely deserted of people. At one point I got a creepy and scary feeling, that I was all alone here with my two buddies. That area worked a lot better form me then the equivalent underwater base in KotOR.

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#13  Edited By Ryuku_Ryosake

@dantey: Kotor certainly has a codex like Mass Effect does. It's called 5-6 Movies, hundreds for novels, multiple comic series, multiple videogame series and a literal codex in the Wookiepedia which was probably around then. Kotor doesn't need a codex in it's game. It's codex already existed and it much more expansive than anything ME has. It's just a google search away. It's just not a Star Wars/Gundam tech manual level. But it certainly is well fleshed out.

I also still don't get your point on the Battle Mediation. What kind of explanation would you want? If you can accept the Jedi mind trick then you don't need more explanation then that. Jedi can telepathically manipulate people. Battle Mediation is that on large scale. Are you annoyed that X-men never explains the mechanics of Prof X's power more than he's a telepath? Telepathy doesn't need more explanation than that. People be having psychic powers. Including these Jedi. They read people's minds, alter people's thoughts, have visions of the future, and move stuff with their minds. Just having someone scale up one of those aspects doesn't require more explanation.

As for the Mass Effect character's I already said that I don't count exposition as anything more worthwhile than filler. It just doesn't improve those characters. If game was set in our normal world had black character and most of their character identity was being the ambassador of blackness who spent most of their screen time talking about being black, black culture, and blacks in society. That would not be a good character. That would just be a token character. There's no real depth there. Changing it to fantasy races does not make it any better.

The dark side turn is not given much time but in the Star Wars fiction that is exactly how that works. All it takes is just one moment of weakness and bam a Jedi is consumed by the dark side. Falling to the dark side is portrayed as being easy a breathing to a Jedi. You need constant vigilance to stop yourself from breath or falling to the dark side. Bioware would later borrow the exact same system for mages in Dragon Age as literally every goddamn mage becomes a blood mage or an abomination without fail in the drop of a hat. They are even more trigger happy than Jedi in that regard.

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dantey

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#14  Edited By dantey

@ryuku_ryosake: I don't think that the codex in Mass Effect is the same thing as other pieces of Star Wars work outside KotOR. Sure, it is there, but it is outside the game itself, and that doesn't count in my book. That kind of makes it a weak game narrative wise if the only way I can flesh out the universe of KotOR is to read a bunch of stuff beforehand. Without a nice, organized in-game information library, I don't know with what I would need to start those Google searches. I came to this game primarily as a RPG not as a piece of Star Wars fiction. It is nice that it is there and it is awesome to wield a lightsaber, but that in itself is not enough for me to carry a 30 hour experience. This is also why I don't really care how dark side turns work in other Star Wars fiction, since I am not engaging with them when I am playing KotOR. If the struggle is that hard, then show it to me, not just mention it. It also doesn't help, that the game never makes it hard for the player to be good or bad. All they have to do is click on the obvious dialog choices. For them, there is no struggle.

About Bastila. Her Battle Mediation ability is shown as something very important to the central clonflict. Something that still allows the Republic survive against the Sith and gives importance to Bastila as a character. I think it is normal for me to want to know more about how that ability works, if it so central to the events of the game. If it is a Jedi mind trick on battlefield scale, then talk about the implications of that. One would think that such a feat is hard and requires a lot of mental strength. But in the game all it is is meditation that Bastila can easily go in and out off.

I think you misinterpreted my view of Mass Effect characters as just ambassadors to their people. They clearly have a personal take on their culture, not just a objective one. And in later games, Shepard gets to visit home planets of different races and experience all that stuff for it self. Even if it is just exposition and holds little value, the fact that it s there and can be accessed by the player with not much effort, is a big plus in my book. But hey, different people have different tastes.

On a little side note, I like the fact that they set this game long before anything happened in the movies, so that they could tell whatever story they wanted. I just think they could have used that to give their Star Wars story a bit more detail.

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I just loaned out my prized Xbox copy of KoTOR to a friend who hasn't played it and your blog post has me nervous! For the past few weeks I've been raving about KoTOR to her but I hadn't considered how someone would feel about it had they not played it near release. Has it aged badly and I'm not seeing it because of nostalgia? She's a big Bioware fan from Mass Effect on, so I though it would be a good fit but now I'm not so sure. I'm curious for when you write up your thoughts on KoTOR II (with the restored content mod!) because I really love that game and think it not only holds up well, but also still does things that most modern games can't.

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