Reviewed: March 31, 2005
Released: February 8, 2005
With the MMORPG phenomenon at full rage right now there is very little left in the way of single-player RPG titles on the PC these days. Checking back, it’s been over a year since I played an RPG on the PC and that was Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna and that was a month after playing the last KOTOR title. Sure, there are plenty of hybrid titles out there that mix in some RPG elements with action or FPS gameplay, but when it comes to pure role-playing, the pickings are slim.
LucasArts and Obsidian are once again ready to rescue you from the RPG drought with Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the PC port of the Xbox sequel that arrived last December.
KOTOR II doesn’t stray far from the formula that made the previous title a massive success earning countless Game of the Year awards. BioWare bowed out to Obsidian so they could work on their upcoming Jade Empire but did offer support as needed while Obsidian crafted the next installment in the KOTOR franchise.
The Sith Lords picks up five years after the events in the last game and once again you play a mysterious Jedi who gets to learn about his past (and future) right along with you. The number of characters in video games with amnesia is starting to rival daytime soaps. There is a main story that underlies everything you do in KOTOR II along with numerous sub-plots and quests that you will undertake while always balancing that moralistic line of the Light and Dark side of the Force.
Obsidian has given the game enough ties to the original so those who played it will find some interesting character development and evolution of the original story, but having played the first game is certainly not a requirement and you won’t feel lost in any way. It’s just more of a bonus for those who have.
Prepare to settle down for another lengthy adventure. The Sith Lords is massive in scope and the pacing slowly ramps up like a rollercoaster with an insufferably long initial incline, but once you get over that first hump things start to roll. A prime example is just how long it will take you to actually lay your Jedi hands on a lightsaber. Expect anywhere from 10-15 hours before you have collected all the necessary parts to construct your energy blade.
As before, you have several planets to explore and for the most part you are free to explore them in any order you wish. On each planet you will engage in numerous side-quests while always keeping your eye on that underlying goal. To their credit, Obsidian has hidden some pertinent clues in what would otherwise seem like trivial side-quests, so you really are encouraged to seek out and complete any task you can find in the game.
KOTOR II gives you unprecedented freedom, but this also allows you to potentially screw up and miss an important item or possibly an encounter that could lead to a new party member. I’m sure this lends itself to replay value, but for those wanting to experience KOTOR II to its fullest on one or two passes you will want to invest in a strategy guide and consult it before any major decision.
Along with this freedom comes the freedom to choose from right and wrong. Once again you can steer your character to the Dark or Light side, each with distinct paths and choices throughout the game, ultimately arriving at unique endings based on the sum of your actions. You now have the ability to influence NPC’s, steering conversations and actually manipulating people in some instances.
In the last game your party members attitude toward you was based on your current “alignment” but now you can actually use your influence to bring them to your way of thinking. The relationship system is actually quite in-depth but oddly enough it seldom affects the path or outcome of the game. It’s merely a toy to occupy your time, and I really regret the fact that it didn’t become a more integral part of the gameplay.
Controls and the turn-based combat system are relatively unchanged from the original game. You basically command (or stack commands) for each of your party members then watch everything unfold. Since the game relies on unseen dice rolls and weapon and character stats, reflexes, character positioning, and anything else you might want to do is irrelative.
I was impressed with the improvement to the party AI for this sequel. Unlike the previous KOTOR where I was constantly picking and choosing individual commands and actions for everyone in my team, I found myself surprisingly free to rely on the AI to “do the right thing”. That’s not to say you won’t want to step in from time to time and take charge, but at least you don’t have to.
So while everything sounds like just an improved version of the original, KOTOR II does add a few subtle features starting with new feats and Jedi powers as well as six new prestige classes, three for Sith and three for Jedi. These prestige classes are actually natural evolutions of the staring classes, obviously with more power and abilities that more tightly focus on combat or using the Force.
Another new element is the addition of fighting styles or lightsaber forms. This is a great nuance to the fighting system that you can either approach with diligence or not even bother with. I will tell you that if you do take the time to master these forms you will find a much more detailed fighting experience that rewards you with bonus modifiers. The only problem is that by the time you are able to learn these new forms the bonuses they bestow are not that noticeable since you are already dishing out massive amounts of damage.
The Sith Lords is running on pretty much the same engine as the original KOTOR; even the system requirements haven’t changed. KOTOR was admittedly a bit sparse in visuals but made up for it in content, but now with RPG’s, especially online games like World of Warcraft outshining offline games, KOTOR II pales in comparison.
As always, the characters look phenomenal with great details and animation and there are loads of special effects, glowing lightsabers, particle effects, smoke, shadows, new snow and rain effects, and some amazing lighting, but levels are often overly dark and not all that detailed in textures or furnishes.
Obviously you can crank the resolution up much higher than the Xbox is capable but even high-end PC’s will choke on a few locations deliver stuttering framerates. The good news is that the load times are a fraction of what they were on the Xbox.
LucasArts and Star Wars titles have become synonymous with stellar sound design. After all, we’re talking about the “man” who founded THX and Skywalker sound, and when you have terabytes of digital sounds at your disposal how can you not have a great sounding game.
The John Williams soundtrack, or at least the snippets we hear are excellent as to be expected. The music cues to the action with a cinematic flair and the cutscenes are flawlessly scored.
There are thousands of lines of spoken dialogue and it’s amazing just how good it all is. You might stumble across some B-grade acting in a few places but 99% of this game is scripted and voiced with absolute perfection.
Sound effects are outstanding and you’ll easily recognize the sounds of blaster fire and the humming, clashing, and sizzle of your lightsaber. Some of the larger battles can actually get a bit overwhelming with all of the sound and visual effects coming at you.
The Sith Lords will deliver a minimum of 50 hours of gameplay and that is just on your first pass. Assuming you talk to everyone and do everything you can increase that number to 70+ hours and you will certainly want to play through at least once more to choose the “other” side of the force.
Then you have the prestige classes and fighting styles, plus countless side-quests, a few of which you are likely to miss unless you are consulting a strategy guide. This is a massive quest of epic proportions and will keep you busy for a month or more of solid gaming.
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is an excellent port from the Xbox that remains true to all the elements that made the original a success. Obsidian hasn’t strayed from a proven formula but they have added a few interesting and subtle touches that will delight RPG fans and Star Wars fan alike.
Whether you choose the Light or the Dark path, remember, the Force will be with you always…