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Knights of the Old Republic is quite possibly one of the greatest games I've ever had the pleasure of playing. The folks over at BioWare have woven a tale so compelling Mr. Lucas should be taking notes. This is the best Star Wars game to date and easily one of the top five Xbox titles released so far. Notable RPG's have the uncanny ability of making you lose track of your life because you're off living another one. What does that mean for those about to fire up this game? You had better put your affairs in order first.
You won't find Luke, Han, or Chewie in this adventure, though. BioWare opted to root the story 4,000 years before Anakin ever thought he looked better in black. I loved this idea because it allows for a totally fresh cast of characters with less entanglements from the massive library of literary work and of course the movies. In fact not much more can be found than the Tales of the Jedi comic books outlining events of the Sith War led by the villainous Exar Kun. In fact those familiar with the comics will pick up several familiar names like Naga Sadow and the Qel-Droma family. Being around when the Mandalorians still existed is also a special treat.
Starting a new game will mean picking either a male or female from one of three classes: soldier, scout, or scoundrel. Scoundrels fit closely with a silver-tongued rogue while soldiers let their weapons do their talking. Scouts are somewhere in between. From there you can either let the computer generate a solid character for you or jump in and customize every aspect yourself. Fans of BioWare's earlier games will recognize the attributes, abilities, and feats system used. Even if you are new to the system each is thoroughly explained beforehand in the tutorial. Each time a player gains enough experience to level up he or she can further manipulate a character's attributes. Thankfully experience is shared by all party members, even the ones not with you at the moment. This is a very nice touch that will save you from having to concentrate on less popular characters so they can keep up.
A superb tightrope walker, Knights of the Old Republic maintains the fine line between the go anywhere, do anything mentality of PC role-playing and the structured universe of console gaming. You're free to explore and gain quests as you go, but several times unbeknownst to you, the main storyline is advancing. What's so great is that even though you are participating in the main plot it's on your character's terms. During your conversations with NPC's you can react several different ways, molding not only the tempo, but the ending of the game with your own style of play as well. You'll be surprised at how differently people react to you based on you gender and what side of the force you follow. This game is all about choices. Early on players realize that there are several ways to complete a quest.
There are also a few side items provided to help pass a slow day in the galaxy, as if such a thing were possible. Players may involve themselves in swoop races and a card game called Pazaak to help pay the bills. As you travel from planet to planet you will no doubt run into Sith space fighters, obliging you to jump in the turret of your ship the Ebon Hawk to shoot'em down. Pazaak can become quite addictive, but the turret and swoop sequences are a bit lackluster. Thankfully neither last longer than a minute or two tops.
Conceptually Knights of the Old Republic is top notch. Players will find that the same holds true mechanically. Combat can be handled in both real-time or in a turn based, strategic fashion. You can usually count on your two party members to take care of themselves, but if you want pause the action and issue commands if you want them to do things in a certain order. Scripting of party members' actions is also possible to ensure that they act how you want before combat is ever joined. The interface may seem intimidating at first, but inside of an hour it will take root and become quite intuitive.
Just about every action is ruled by the large expanse of statistics in this title. From picking locks to force-strangulation the computer is behind the scenes rolling your stats against your target using d20 rules. Curious players can study a detailed log of each roll, but it's safe to just let the computer do its job.
Knights of the Old Republic features tens of thousands of spoken dialogue. Think about this. You strike up a conversation with an Ithorian merchant one day while on Tatooine. Each time you have the ability to speak there are at least two or three options for you to choose from. You may decide to be considerate or perhaps offensive. The Ithorian has different responses to correspond with how you manipulate the conversation. Consider not only the quantity, but the quality of the dialogue as well. The voice acting is done quite well, making situations that much more emotionally charging. On top of that each alien speaks in his native tongue with subtitles in English. Who loves you? BioWare loves you.
Something else worth mentioning is the massive inventory you'll end up acquiring. The developers have given us a plethora of armor, guns, and melee weapons. Many you'll run into belonged to famous spacers and can be upgraded at the workbench on your ship. You'll also have the pleasure of building and tweaking your very own lightsaber. By finding and installing various crystals you can change your saber's color and give it some devastating bonuses.
The visuals are probably the lowest point of the game. Don't get me wrong, though, in most cases the graphics are just fine. At times, though, various landscapes may seem a bit bland. However other planets are simply beautiful. One tropical planet seen later in the game is dotted with the hulls of crashed ships and is absolutely breathtaking. The lighting is done well and of course the lightsaber effects are noteworthy. After seeing the raw power of the Xbox displayed on other titles, though, you can't help but notice some unrealized graphical potential in Knights of the Old Republic. Perhaps we'll see a marked difference with the PC release later this year. Also another minor issue is the large amount of generic looking NPC's seen walking around. You'll talk to several that look and sound exactly alike. Still, though, that's a bit frivolous and in no way detracts from the experience.
BioWare has definitely provided us with an RPG of special significance. Experiences like the one provided by Knights of the Old Republic are few and far between today in the video game industry and none should miss out on such a grand tale you as a player take part in telling. With Xbox Live support we can look forward to new quests, equipment, and worlds to explore in the future. One can only hope, though, that BioWare decides to setup a dynasty of Star Wars titles. As it stands now, this game is reason enough to own an Xbox.
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