Reviewed: February 14, 2005
Released: December 6, 2004
This ainít your fatherís galaxy far, far away. Now before you think that KOTOR has been taken to the x-treme (please donít sue me Marvel), and good story with well-developed characters went out the window when Bioware left the franchise, calm yourself.
In KOTOR II the galaxy is a much darker place with many planets ruined by the destruction caused by the Sith and the Mandalorian wars before them. The characters are a scarred bunch as well, survivors, veterans, and untrained Jedi alike. They all have a past, just as you do. So prepare yourself, would-be Jedi, the roads you walk will be twisted and dark, but there may be some light at the end of them (that is unless of course you happen to be the one casting the shadow).
If you played the original KOTOR then you know the drill, the game interface is exactly the same, so you will feel right at home. This is good news for those of you who feared for the quality of the sequel out of the hands of Bioware. The bad news is that this is an exact port of the original KOTOR system, so you get a great game interface that still suffers from many of the weaknesses of the last game.
Obsidian may have done some clean up (I have yet to go through an entire game zone with my character missing his head for instance) so this game is decidedly less buggy than the original KOTOR, but all of the problems have not been solved. The two biggest beefs this leaves is that a lot of the automatic path-finding is awkward at best, and completely dysfunctional at worst; and that it is quite possible for you to trigger a conversation event while in the middle of combat.
As far as the path-finding issue are concerned this is usually little more than a minor annoyance Ė instead of walking over and opening the box your character gets stuck between the box and a wall for example Ė but it is something that will happen more than once in the game. Also the problem is not limited to looting, but sometimes in combat you or one of your companions will get stuck on a door, or behind each other. This is essentially minor and easily solved by manually moving around, but gets tiresome after the fiftieth time or so.
The conversation triggers, and a lot of the event triggers in general have a rather broad range to them, leaving it open for you to be stuck in a conversation with many different options while your flunkies are still fighting in the background. I never got killed because of it, but when in the middle of a running battle your main character suddenly stops to chat with the local authorities about a ďspyĒ they captured itís a little much. In fact, when you get down to it, there are a lot of quests in the game that are just sloppy. Iíve had quests that I couldnít finish still sitting in my quest log, and other times Iíve picked up the conversation that gives you the quest in the first place after I have already completed them.
On the plus side though, everything that made the original KOTOR the game that it was is still here with a few nice surprises as well. If you never played the first game essentially what you have with KOTOR is an RPG with a little strategy thrown in. You lead a party of two other characters, but instead of having turn based combat, as in say the Final Fantasy series, you have real-time combat, which you can pause and instruct your party members accordingly, or just run one character and let the other two run under computer control. The underlying mechanics of this RPG system are a slightly modified version of the D&D 3.0 rules, so if youíre familiar with those you know how to build your characters and have a rough analogy for the opening three classes (guardian=fighter, sentinel=rogue, counselor=wizard).
On top of a smooth combat/exploration interface the game is more than just puzzle-solving, combat-ridden dungeon crawls. This being a Jedi game, you have to watch what you do and say; the dark side is ever-present. Unless that is you want to play a dark side character, then itís pretty easy to know what to do and say. KOTOR II has added a wrinkle though; your character has influence with your followers, which is determined not only by your own Charisma rating, but also by your conversations with them and their opinions of your actions when in a group with you. This influence determines not only how much of their stories you will learn, but also how much their alignment follows your own, and maybe a few other thing as well.
You want your companions to follow your alignment, because at either extreme you get stat bonuses, and the respective force powers cost less per use (light side powers are cheaper for light side Jedi, and vice versa) while their opposites cost more (light side Jedi can use dark side powers, but it costs more).
As far as the powers are concerned, yeah the dark side gets the fun flashy stuff, the lightening, the grip, and scream (which is new, and very effective), but donít count the light side Jedi out. My most effective combo was to use Master Knight Speed in combination with the Master Flurry feat, five lightsaber attacks in one round is not something to sneeze at. Throw on a group stun like force wave, or sleep and watch your enemies fall like leaves over an autumn pond. In addition there are now lightsaber forms and a few other neat tricks up your sleeve, Force Enlightenment is every power gamerís wet dream, and can give you a nice little edge in combat or conversation.
Of course I havenít mentioned one of the most important things in all RPGís and that is the wonderful toys you can get. KOTOR II, as in the original, not only has a wide variety of equipment and weaponry to collect, but it is virtually all customizable. You can add damage, accuracy, or even stat bonuses to your armor and weapons.
Here is another one of the places where the rote reuse of a game engine can be a downfall. The graphics to KOTOR II are good, but they are for the most part only a minor improvement over the original game. This means that by the standards of two years ago these are fantastic graphics, but by now are simply par for the course. The character models are very well realized, with a custom creation engine, and equipment displays, so that even if you chose the exact same character model you can end up with a unique look based on what youíre wearing.
The environments are also an interesting mix of the old and the new. There are a few familiar places you have been if you played the original, and seeing the old digs is a nice touch, especially because they arenít just reproductions, but places now ravaged by war or abandoned. These are also fairly large spaces, with nice effects like blowing grasses, trees, and even some background wildlife. Lots of big spaces also mean lots of empty spaces though, so at times you may feel a little lonely wandering the Outer Rim in search of Jedi.
Fortunately, at least you have some nice effects to keep you company. Few things are more pleasing than seeing your lightsaber(s) snap to life and deflect incoming blaster fire back at your attackers. There are also a few nice blur effects for when you are sped up, or for the force push power, and seeing your enemies fly back and slam into walls is always amusing. Some other glow effects, and lightning bolts, etc are also used to signal the different feats you use (say for master power attack, or for master sniper shot), or different force powers. Also when you pick up light or dark side points you get a blue or red nimbus surrounding you that is not only fitting, but a nice touch.
Animations are on again off again for me. While they are good, especially for combat where dual wield, double ended, or single-handed attacks all have different animations both for regular attacks and for specials. The bad is that there are times when the mechanical calculations of combat go on without the animation keeping up, so you will have instances where nothing is happening on the screen, but your health keeps going down.
One of the great pleasures in gaming that is often overlooked is being able to have well written dialogue that is backed up by good voice acting. KOTOR II is not the finest example of voice acting, but with the exception of only a few of the minor characters it is very strong. (Oh, and HK is back in all his glory, and anyone who can make a droid sarcastic gets bonus points in my book.)
Also, and this is a very nice touch, the aliens all speak in their own various languages which are given audio, but with English text. It may get annoying as conversations drag on, since they arenít individual languages, but simply arrangements of nonsense phrases that repeat themselves, but it does give each species itís own character and personality. Besides, who wants to have a talk with an astromech droid or a Wookie and actually understand what they are saying?
The music is a good mix of originality while still bringing out the themes from the original trilogy. The cantinas usually sound like the Modal Nodes are in rare form, the Sith get a variation on the Emperorís theme, and in general you get a nice compilation of background tunes.
Sound effects are as good as you would expect from any Lucasarts license of the Star Wars franchise. Blaster bolts sizzle through the air, shuttle engines rattle and hum as youíd expect, droids explode with a dull thud, and there is of course the familiar snap hiss of a lightsaber turning on.
My first time through this game was a three day binge of KOTOR and nothing but and that combined 33 or so hours of game play still hadnít finished the game. I then had to go back to school and leave my brotherís Xbox behind, along with my saved game, and had to start over from the beginning (the horror). Suffice it to say this game has about 40-50 hours of play in it, and then extensive replay value because of the effects not only of your character class and alignment choices on game play, but also of your statistics and skills allotments; different conversation branches open up based on having higher values in certain skill or attributes, even getting some quests is dependant on these things.
That not enough for you? The plot to this game is to certain extent highly dependant on you being able to get characters to talk to you, so if you have been through the game once, you may have missed a few things (I know I did), and that replay may also serve to tell more story than you thought you knew.
Suffice it to say that this game is well worth the cost, and if you still need a little nudge there is also a playable demo of Republic Commando on the disc. The demo is short but fun, and a nice preview if youíre looking for an action-oriented break from the plot-heavy main game.
Yeah, Obsidian knew well enough to not mess with a good thing, but they also erred a little on the side of not fixing things that were broken, and not making improvements where they had room and opportunity.
Does this game come through for the hype behind it? Does a Wookie tear your arm off if you donít let him win? So if you have any interest in a compelling well-told story with good characters, dialogue, all rolled up into something thatís fun to play then pick this game up. Could it have been better? Yes, but that doesnít stop Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords from being a great game.