I finished the Star Wars game Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (KOTOR II) a couple of days ago. It was really satisfying; I think it’s the first time I’ve finished a video game down to the ending credits in a few years. The open-world style of most modern games means there’s always something more to do. So, for instance, playing the Red Dead Redemption games has a definite peak when you get to the main story’s conclusion, but I’ve played hundreds of hours more after that point.
KOTOR and KOTOR II are from a much older vintage, and it really shows. When the games came out in 2003 and 2004 respectively, I’m sure the graphics were impressive, but at this point the loose draping of bitmaps over polygon blobs is kind of difficult to even interpret. Is that a tree? A rock? A wookiee? What is it?
The AI is also pretty remedial. Mostly NPCs stand in a single assigned spot in the landscape, shifting their weight from foot to foot. Those NPCs that are mobile are usually non-interactive, and they just follow the brownian motion in straight lines, occasionally bouncing off distant walls.
But for some reason the game is still really addictive. I played KOTOR on its Android port four or five years ago, and it was great. Being between games now, I thought it would be fun to try out KOTOR II. And it was just as good as the first one. The fact that it plays so well on my mid-range Android phone is a testament to its low level of computational demand.
The game uses Dungeons and Dragons as the underlying engine for most of the character development. Characters have attributes like strength and charisma, levels, classes, and even magic user spells re-skinned as Jedi powers. The development of the main character is great, but you also get to manage a dozen non-player characters, who each go through their own arc.
The other amazing part of the game is the original backstory on the Star Wars universe. The plot is set about 4000 years before the events of the Star Wars movies, but the people, places and factions are all present, in their larval form. As with the Star Wars series, the Jedi and the Sith and their proxies and pawns and allies battle ferociously for control of Galaxy, with hardly any respite between battles. As soon as one side is defeated and obliterated, it rises from the ashes to challenge and then eliminate, supposedly, its rivals.
I like the KOTOR universe more than the world of “modern” Star Wars. The Sith are interesting and relatable; the Jedi are fallible and not clearly the good guys. The different planets and places that you visit are varied and interesting. There is history, and there are people who don’t really care about the Jedi/Sith civil war; they’re just trying to live their lives.
My favourite part of the game is the light side/dark side dynamic. Depending on the quests you accept and the way you interact with NPCs in multiple-choice dialogue trees, your character will either become more “light” or more “dark”. The alignment you develop changes how NPCs talk to you, which spells and equipment you have available to use, and even what the win condition of the game is.
I said before that I finished the KOTOR game; that’s not entirely true. I got through the whole main story playing the “light” side, but when I got to the final boss fight, I wasn’t able to defeat the Big Bad. After days of trying to win the fight, I gave up, and started over from a save file much earlier in the story. (Careful save-file management is an important part of this game; a videogame dynamic from Olden Times that I did not miss.)
I then played through almost the whole game on the “dark side”. When I got to the final boss again, I still wasn’t able to win the fight. So, I gave up, and never went back.
All of which is to say, finishing KOTOR II was really satisfying. The plot of KOTOR II wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as KOTOR, which has a plot reveal that still makes me goggle years later. I’m looking forward to seeing what the recently-announced reboot of the franchise will look like.