By Tristan Mayshark
The marriage of Dungeons and Dragons to Star Wars sounds like something that only happens in the wild fantasies of pudgy comic book store owners, but that's exactly what BioWare has to offer with Knights of the Old Republic. Using the same third edition D + D rules that brought Neverwinter Nights to life, so to has been recreated the Star Wars universe in KoToR.
KoToR falls somewhere between traditional computer RPGs and console RPGs in terms of malleability of story (remember, this launched on the Xbox first). The story has a fixed start point but several fixed end points: your actions throughout the game define how NPCs perceive you, and, ultimately, whether you will become a Jedi or embrace the Dark Side. Unlike the Jedi Knight games where the difference between light and dark basically boiled down to whether you got to shoot lightening or not, in KoToR it defines your character, your abilities and you interactions just as such a crucial factor should in an RPG.
The controls, though designed with a console controller in mind, translate so well to the PC that I almost wonder how it could have worked on the Xbox at all. Combat plays out essentially as in Baldur's Gate, where interaction occurs in real time, but you can pause at any point to issue a different directive to party members.
Unlike Baldur's Gate which used a strict isometric view, KoToR is rendered in full 3D, and you can move the camera around any way you like.
This is a game that breathes fresh life into the RPG genre, almost seeming to fill it with a new kind of blood. It's been a while since anyone has attempted an epic science fiction role playing masterpiece, and having one set in the Star Wars universe is just icing on the cake. The only bit of bitterness I have is over some technical issues.
The Xbox version was widely lauded for its gameplay and criticized for some bugs. While I can say that most of the Xbox specific bugs I've read about have been eliminated, there are a host of new ones specific to the PC platform. On one system I simply could not get the game to run at all, and on my main system infrequent crashes seemed inevitable. There is now a patch out that addresses some of these issues; my guess is that LucasArts did not spend enough time in the late beta phases making sure cross system compatibility was implemented well enough. However, on a title this big, it's almost a guarantee that patches will continue until all major technical issues have been resolved, so in this regard the PC version gains a big advantage over the already excellent Xbox version. Ultimately, if you like RPGs, if you like Star Wars, if you like games: this isn't one to miss.
The sizable 4 GB install is probably due in large part to the spoken speech, which, while extraneous, is well dictated, well acted and well thought out. I wish the lip-synching had been done a little better, as in general the models look excellent and they often look slightly foolish whilst conversing. However, this is a minor gripe against models that otherwise look excellent.
KoToR is set 1,000 years before the events in the cinematic sexology, when the Jedi were still numerous and their foes more mystic and dark. Beyond that, it's up in large part to the player to run with the events and make a linear narrative in their head. As I mentioned before, the start point is fixed, but the end point is dependant on any number of minute details, including things like which branch you choose in conversation trees.
This is a must-have for any gamer with a box that can handle it.