Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a story-driven role-playing game set in the Star Wars universe. It originally released for Xbox and PC, but the version I played for this review was the one available on Steam. Keep this in mind during the review. Also keep in mind that I did not play this game back when it came out, nor do I have a vast knowledge of the now-abandoned extended universe. The only other bit of information that I think is worthy to note is that I did use the program JoyToKey in order to program a simple set of gamepad controls to make my experience more enjoyable as I’m much more of a console gamer. I think that should get us all up to speed. Now, let’s dig in.
The game is very story-driven, so I don’t want to give away too much of its story. The game starts with you creating your character or picking from some automatic presets. You jump into the action as a Repblic soldier aboard a spaceship that’s being attacked. Here you learn the basic controls and functions while you make your way to the bridge where a promising jedi, Bastilla, is potentially in danger. Along the way you meet up with another soldier named Carth that is more or less her personal bodyguard. The few remaining survivors of the attack are forced to abandon ship via the escape pods. You awaken some time later hidden away inside a questionable apartment complex on the planet Taris. The Sith put the planet under quarantine, no transports in or out, as a measure to keep Bastilla stranded on the planet. The Sith are searching for her, so you and Carth keep your heads low and out of trouble while trying to track her down and rescue her. There are more details during your time there, but basically you end up reuniting with Bastilla and getting a means to leave the planet. You set a course for the planet Dantooine, where you learn to use the ways of the force in order to help the Republic keep the Sith from conquering the galaxy. Do you have what it takes defeat the Dark Lord of the Sith, Lord Malak? Or will you fall to the dark side and join him? Your destiny, the fate of the galaxy, and adventure all await you.
That’s about all I can get into without getting too heavy into spoiler territory. The gameplay itself is actually much less complex in terms of what you actually do. Essentially, there are three main parts of gameplay. The biggest chunk of the gameplay is dialogue. There are many people to talk to in the game, often giving you a variety of responses to pick from in order to determine what your character will say. These decisions will determine the way your interactions play out with people. Sometimes you’ll open up new quests to complete. Other times you might get some nice items. But you could also end up badgering someone out of helping you out or even find yourself provoking them into a fight. These can have short-term or even long-term consequences as far as your progression and story will go. These will also sometimes gain you light side or dark side points accordingly. These will change your overall balance and will play an important role in the way events play out as well as what your are capable of as a character. So pay attention to what you say and do.
The second main area of gameplay is the general RPG stuff. This includes combat and statistical progression. You fight in a bit of a middleground between a turn-based combat system and an action combat system. Your character must target an enemy, get into attacking range, and also select an attack before they start fighting rather than a traditional encounter system. Once combat with an opponent starts you will be able to do one commend per turn, which is determined by a number of factors that calculate how fast you are and also how fast your action is. It’s a lot complex stuff that I’ll admit I don’t fully understand, but basically you can issue multiple commands without waiting for your turn. Your character will perform them in sequence of their order in the combat queue. However, you may also cancel and reassign actions as needed or even disengage from a target. Commands can include a mix of basic attacks, special attacks, force powers, and using items. You can have a party of up to three characters, allowing you to take control of any of them at any time to issue commands, but you may also set one of their preset battle scripts to determine how the act when controlled by the AI. Upon defeating opponents you’ll gain experience points which go towards leveling up. When you level up there are four areas of stats that can pop up in any combination for you to upgrade. Attributes are what you’d probably recognize as more traditional stats. They include modifiers to your strength, health, and force usage among a few other things mostly revolving around combat. Skills are things you do largely outside of combat such as hacking computers, picking locks, or defusing mines and more. Feats are akin to traditional skill tress that can give a variety of effect like proficiency in certain weapon types, passive boots to attributes and skills, or increasing your capability of wearing gear just to name a few. Lastly, powers are similarly fashioned like a skill tree but only pertain to jedi characters. These powers can be attacks, debuffs, or buffs and have three affiliations. Light side powers cost less force points to use the more the user is themselves affiliated with the light side of the force and cost more for those affiliated with the dark side. Dark side powers work similarly, with the differences mainly being in that light side powers are designed to help the users while dark side powers tend to be used more to attack the enemy, reflecting the general mindset of the established sides. There are also universal powers that, as far as I could tell at least, will consume the same amount of force points regardless and also seem to be a bit more neutral in their design. You’ll also be able to loot most of the bodies, search various containers, and use any credits you find or earn in the shops around the galaxy in order to get gear and consumables. This is another way to to further manage your characters as many of the equipable items have their own sets of pros and cons for customization. Certain items can even be upgraded through the use of special upgrade parts. All of this is pretty standard RPG stuff though.
The last bit of gameplay is in the form of minigames. There are a few of these sprinkled throughout the game for a bit of variety. Two of them are ways to earn some extra credits in case you wanted to buy something and just can’t wait until later. Swoop racing has you doing straightaway time trials in a swoop bike. The object is to hit all the boost pads, shift gears at the right time, and avoid hitting obstacles so you can get the best time possible. Pazaak is a card game similar to blackjack, although it has more skill and strategy involved, as well as the ability to tweak what possible cards you can have in your own deck. The goal is to hit the score of 20, or at least hold a higher number below it than your opponent. You have a hand of cards to move your current score up or down after each draw. The amount you make depends on what you wager and your skill, as well as a little luck, at playing. The other minigame has no real benefit, but every once in a while you’ll encounter enemy ships when traveling between planets. This will take you to the turret of your ship as you try and gun down the enemies making passes at you. I’m unsure if this is something you can fail as I never did, but I assumed it was ideal to keep those Sith bastards from shootin’ up my ride. Outside of these three gameplay elements there are usually only special quests and events unique to limited or one-time happenings.
I will admit, I did find some pretty good high points in this game. The world building in this game is pretty great. There are a lot of characters, stories, lore… just so much flavor all around that make it seem like there’s a lot more going on here than just whatever serves your own destiny, and I think that’s largely why the game is so celebrated. The main story is good too, which certainly is only enhanced by the world around it. It’s so cool to see something use the Star Wars universe as a backdrop without being tied to the usual story formula and references. It takes the universe and makes its own story that works within that universe as its own, standalone thing. The attention to detail, amount of dialogue, and the large amount of voice acting make it all pretty engaging. You also have some say in how the interactions go down with all your dialogue choices, which is nice. It’s nice to feel like the choices you make have consequences. Some situations you just can’t talk yourself out of, which is often a very realistic scenario. Whether it’s gaining light or dark side points or just something unimportant in the grand scheme of things, each bit of dialogue and its consequences keeps you on your toes because you’re never sure how important it may or may not be at the time. I also liked the depth of customization in the character progression. Being light side or dark side to determine what powers you want, picking your desired weapon and combat style, building your attributes and skills, and even just deciding your different classes of starting character and jedi character to affect your progression as well. That, along with the variety of gear, made the game an interesting looter RPG for me. And the minigames were a nice distraction from the talking and fighting. I also think it’s neat that you can mess with the setting to set up things like when the game will auto pause if you want it more turn-based… and I did. It even had an easy mode and the ability to auto level up your characters if you would prefer to just play it more for the story and ignore the more technical RPG stuff involved. Oh, and I do think it’s worth mentioning that a lot of the available lines in the game got some genuine laughter out of me, which is typically rare for video game scripts. So the game does a lot of stuff I definitely appreciated.
The problem is that it had some pretty bad lows. The game seems to have a lot of bugs. I had my cursor get messed up a lot and force me to click things multiple times in order to just interact properly. There was an issue with my character getting stuck in place after combat from anywhere from one to five seconds, and it happened very frequently. Often the game would minimize itself whenever a cutscene movie started. Many times during combat actions would be added to the action queue that I never told it to do. Sometimes disengaging and selecting the new target again would fix it, but other times it simply would not allow me to not take that action. Not to mention a variety of other less frequent glitches I encountered. These could simply be due to the porting process or playing an old PC game on a more modern machine. It could even just be general compatibility issues with my hardware or software or… anything. I’m no computer expert so you can see why I don’t often like the headache involved. Beyond those bugs the game does still have some real bad issues for me. The combat system itself is an unhappy medium between turn-based and action. It’s presented in a way that makes it look like it’s action-based, but you can’t attack right when you hit the button. You still need to wait for your turns to play out. But your turns aren’t bound to enemy turns and that can lead to taking extra damage if you get too flustered in the heat of the moment trying to find your next foe to target. The auto pause feature made it closer to a turn-based system, but even that was a bit off at times. This could be more overlooked if you’re not a stickler for gameplay, however I myself value that very highly. It’s also the only real gameplay in here outside of minigames. Plus, the progression of the game is hindered by a level cap. You cap off at level 20, which means that any experience gained after that is wasted. You can’t max out your feats or powers. Your skills and attributes get halted. And by the time you get to this level, you’ll have so many of the lower-end consumables, so many credits, and so much good gear that almost all combat will be a chore outside of unique boss-like characters. This would’ve been better suited to either having a way to grind your level higher to overcome difficult foes, or maybe stuck to a progression system based on story/sidequest progress rather than experience points. As it stands, it goes quickly from rewarding you for you time spent in the game to boring you with it. The general control scheme is also frustrating. Granted I needed to implement some gamepad support for my personal taste and comfort, the character moves like a tank with typical WASD controls. You have to stretch out oddly to hit the Z and C keys to actually walk sideways. Just the overall clunky way you move and control the camera made the basics very troublesome, and while it might be less of a hassle to keyboard and mouse veterans I still doubt they’d find it ideal. And the visuals… well… I didn’t mind them, but if you don’t like the way games from the early 2000’s look… then you won’t like this one because it looks as old as it is. The first whole planet of the game feels like an overly long tutorial and the game only really picks up after that. Not to say there’s nothing worth doing there, but it takes an unbearably long amount of time just to get into the full swing of things, which can be quite off-putting to newcomers that don’t know that the game will pick up later as well as to those who have played enough to know all the events here and just want to move ahead to the meat of the game. There’s a little bit to be desired in some of the grey area of morality in your choices. Many of the dialogues have fairly obvious good and bad choices, though it tend to be easier to be bad than good. Basically, anything to scare, anger, or fight people is the bad thing. Taking the light path is much harder to achieve even when you think you do. So there is SOME interesting grey area here, but it could use a little improvement. I guess I can’t really shake the feeling that this may have made a better book or movie than it does a video game most of the time.
So, all things considered, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is an average game. The good highs are balanced out by the bad lows. Depending on what you value in your games, you might see it differently. If you prefer world building and story more then you’ll probably love it. If you enjoy good RPG gameplay and progression, you’ll probably be disappointed. So that kind of sums up my recommendations, along with a little extra push if you’re a fan of the Star Wars universe in general. It’s only ten bucks on Steam, which is good for those interested. For the general public on the fence, try finding it for five bucks or less. It’s certainly an interesting experience that is worth having at least once, and if you enjoy it then you’ll probably have fun playing it even more times over the years. It’s overrated, but it’s certainly called a classic for a reason.