By Todd Allen
The Xbox's thin RPG library is going to get a mammoth shot in the arm with the release of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Development is being handled by the role-playing geniuses over at Bioware Corp, whose achievements include Neverwinter Nights and the unforgettable Baldur's Gate series. Fans waiting for a viable Star Wars RPG could not be happier with this dream team at the helm. Their collaboration may arguably produce one of, if not the best Star Wars game to date.
The direction the game takes is quite refreshing. Rather than try to assimilate their game into the already crowded timeline surrounding Episodes 1-6, the decision was made to lay the title's foundation in the distant past. Knights of the Old Republic, as the name implies, will take place thousands of years before the birth of Galactic Empire we all loved to hate. Gamers will come face to face with a completely fresh cast full of heroes and villains as compelling as Luke and Vader ever were. Whoever it was that said history was boring will be eating their words next year.
Events leading up to the story behind the game leave the Republic and the Jedi Knights in pretty bad shape. A fallen Jedi, Exar Kun, had revived the power of the defeated Dark Lords. Proclaiming himself as the new Dark Lord of the Sith he began his own campaign of conquest. He succeeded in ravaging the Jedi's base of operations, the planet Ossus, as well as crippling the Republic itself. The Jedi banded together, though, and defeated him. This is where the game picks up and begins to develop its plot.
Sensing the Republic's weakened state, the fierce Mandalorian warriors begin striking the worlds on outer boundaries of the Republic's domain. In turn the Republic appeals to the Jedi for help against this menace. The Jedi are not at full strength so they wish to proceed carefully in dealing with the problem. There are two Jedi who feel differently, though. The two Knights, Malak and Revan, rally many to their cause and after a long and bloody conflict they defeat the invaders. Something unexpected happens next. On the planet Korriban, out in the galaxy's Outer Rim, the two Jedi are exposed to the Dark Side of the Force and become warped. They no longer call themselves Jedi Knights. Twisted by the Dark Side, Revan proclaims himself Dark Lord of the Sith and his friend, Malak, assumes the mantle of dark apprentice.
Together they turn the armies they were leading to the Dark Side and speed toward Republic space bent on conquest. Another bloody struggle ensues, marked by the death of the Dark Lord, Darth Revan. His apprentice, Darth Malak, escapes and takes over Revan's role as Dark Lord. After regrouping Malak vows revenge on behalf of his master and turns his military might toward the Galactic Core. At this point the game begins. Lucasarts and Bioware could not have found a more fertile, untapped resource for epic conflict.
Gamers can expect a wide variety of characters to interact with and control as their party grows. At any one time a player will have control over a party of three members, including the main character they create at the outset. Anyone familiar with the Baldur's Gate series or other games like Dungeon Siege will be no stranger to real-time party combat. Your group will no doubt include some interesting folks. Lucasarts says that players will be able to recruit Wookies, Twi'leks, or even droids into their party. You will also be able to switch your lineup around to better deal with scenarios, after all each member will have his, her, or even its own strengths. Players will make these decisions aboard their mobile home base, the ship Ebon Hawk. Here will be the staging ground for much of the customization available.
Knights of the Old Republic will also introduce players to several interesting environments. Destinations will include the mysterious planet Korriban, where the two Jedi heroes, Malak and Revan, were horribly twisted. Planets more familiar, such as Tatooine will also be available for exploration. Fans will should be excited that another stop off will include the treetop villages of Kashyyyk, home of the Wookies. The graphical depictions of both these environments and the characters themselves are beautiful to say the least. Once you see your party wading through the tall grasses of Dantooine, the location of the Jedi training academy, words will fail you.
The mechanics of the actual game remain a little fuzzy, but the premise will surround the "Action-RPG" environment. The magic system will most likely involve manipulation of the Force as hinted at by developers. Several side quests and games will be included to invigorate players. These "mini-games" will certainly keep the action lively as they range from manning gun turrets to speeding around on swoop bikes.
To say I'm excited about this game would be the understatement of the century. Knights of the Old Republic promises to broaden our horizons and prove what the Star Wars license can really do in the right hands. The amount of painstaking detail that is being put into this title will ensure its supremacy for quite awhile. Gamers will be free to explore one of the more mysterious sides of the Star Wars Universe and their experience will be one accompanied by outstanding visuals and what looks to be immersing gameplay. With an accompanying PC version arriving later next year, the future of both the Star Wars universe and RPG's couldn't be brighter.