Review: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (XB)

Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Xbox
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: 12-06-2004

The first Knights of the Old Republic was lauded for 2 things: being a good role playing game on the Xbox and being a good Star Wars game. KotOR, as the first Knights of the Old Republic was engrossing because of its great use of the Star Wars license, voice acting, and good story. While full of bugs and errors the first Knights of the Old Republic was so good that those mistakes that were left in the game by BioWare.

This December brought the anticipated sequel with a new developer (Obsidian) and higher expectations (since before the expectations of any Star Wars game were remarkably low). KotOR II has a tough journey ahead of it.



STORY:

Set five years after the first Knights of the Old Republic, KotOR II tells the tale of the only Jedi who followed Revan and Malak into battle with the Mandalorians to return to the council to be tried. After being exiled by the Jedi council the main character wanders around the Outer Rim alone and sans his lightsaber. The game picks up with our protagonist awaking in a medical bay trying to figure out whoâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s tried to take his life and what is going on in the now lifeless mining colony.

From that humble little premise begins a grand adventure that will have you discovering the fate of some of your favorite KotOR characters and meeting up with a different motley crew in order to unravel the mystery of just who is trying to kill this head strong Jedi exile who seems to what nothing to do with the Jedi. Taking place in the same region of space as the first game, the Outer Rim, many locales will be familiar but with new tweaks and differences 5 years removed from the first Knights.

The story branches depending on whether you take the dark side route or the light side route. Some paths lead to different story arcs and conversation options and this time around being dark side is not just a kill fest to get dark side points. Obsidian improved on some of the story elements and has made KotOR II a rich experience.

The ending is lackluster but the ride there is long and rewardingâ┚¬Â¦ and there will most likely be a KotOR III so maybe all is not lost. A modern trend towards anti-climactic endings is rough, but still cannot detract from the well written characters and storylines. So much of the story can only be experienced but trust me, it is well worth experiencing.

Story: 8.5



GRAPHICS:

The character models are nice and expressive. Each party character has a distinct look and clothing style. More attention was paid to the NPCs and while most are palate swaps there is more variety in the non-quest NPCs than there was in the first KotOR.

The problem, graphically, in KotOR II, comes from the fact it is more like a quick hot patch than a step up from its predecessor. The landscapes that were so rich in the first Knights have seemingly been strip mined and left lifeless. There is no real sense of awe. Maybe that has something to do having been to quite a few areas before, but KotOR II just does not grab the eyeâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s attention as well. At least they kept the segues and introductions from the movies to keep continuity. KotOR II is nice looking, but a tad drab. Brown seems to be in this year.

On the plus side the Star Wars universe does seem alive and kicking and the visuals are a Star Wars fan boy dream come true yet again.

Graphics: 6



SOUND:

The required sound effects from the Star Wars universe are dead on, from the blaster fire to the whir of lightsabers. The soundtrack seems to be a bit lighter this time around, with exception to some of the recycled tracks from the first KotOR and movies. This can be troublesome because the music can get on someoneâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s nerves and often times can take someone out of the experience.

The real beauty of the gameâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s audio assault is the voice acting. Great care was taken with casting each voice and the returning voice actors for the characters from the first game add a touch of class to the whole she-bang. Atton, Kriea, the astromech, Bastilla, and others all are voiced well. In fact it is hard to find any characters that could be called terribly voiced.

Even the repetitive NPCs have good voice acting, though there is this one female voiced protocol droid that sounds dreadful, still neat to hear a femme protocol droid though. The different races sound alien and I love the Ithorians so much. They are awesome and I wish they would let me have one as a pet, them and Jawas. I could dig having an Ithorian and Jawa buddy cop duo around. That aside, the voice acting draws you in and often times during heavy story conversations it seems more like a movie than game. Kudos on going all out to get good voices Obsidian, it makes the game that much better.

Sound: 8



CONTROL & GAMEPLAY:

Taking your character through Knights II is relatively easy. Interacting with characters is done through a simple target and activate system while feats and actions are done through a target and select appropriate action from the menu bar method.

Navigating the numerous dialogue menus is easy, just highlight your selected text and hit the action button. More choices will be opened up if you have more persuasion skill, force persuade, or just are a smarter character. This adds more nuances through detecting which language phrasing best suits your goal and the menuâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s little arrow pointing downward alerts the player to there being more options.

Combat is done through the menu system and can sometimes be a hassle, like in the first Old Republic, because of having to flip through the menus to access different items and Jedi abilities. The battle system is made to pause once you start messing around with the menu but while this is a good thing from a management perspective, the jarring pause during a fever pitched fire fight actually ends up taking a player out of the moment and breaking the established connection that occurs when in the midst of a gripping game.

Obsidian removed the sorting option for items that would only list new items in a certain list and many of the menus are bogged down by a cumbersome interface that has need of a major reworking. Most of the needed menus come through the pause selection menu but with the slowing down of those menus this often becomes more of an exercise in just how much you want to keep playing rather than short nuisance.

The controls are not terrible, they allow for well thought out interaction and strategy in fights, but the problem is that they often times ruin the pacing of the game, something most people will notice but not think about, feeling more aggravation and agitated but not quite being able to put their finger on it. Work is definitely needed.

Controls: 6.5



BALANCE:

KotOR II is light years ahead of its parent when it comes to game balancing. Often times in the first Knights a character that went about trying to sweet talk their way through quests would come across battles that would end up being more about who can survive rather than being able to think of a good way to win. This time around those who prefer to talk things out are not as penalized in combat. The AI companions are still baffling but there are more ways of having them behave and the on screen explanations of behavior profiles is a boon.

However at a certain point in the game Knights II is just too easy. Force storm becomes a giant blazing sword that is loved by both good and evil and feared by anyone with half a brain. Decimating 2 Dark Jedi and 6 assassins with 4 force storm strikes and being able to regenerate all the lost force within a few seconds during combat showed me that the game can become too broken. Then, just when it seems too easy there comes a road block that you have to really scramble to solve. Solo character adventures are where this problem shines through like a kid working at a car wash. Most of the time parties are put together to make up for other characterâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s skill deficiencies and when some characters are on their own it is a death sentence. More thought needs to go into planning these solo outings.

Still, KotOR II is balanced just well enough to keep the game going at a decent pace, which is nice considering its length.

Balance: 6.5



REPLAY ABILITY:

The ability to replay the game from a new angle (either dark or light side) try out different ways of solving the same puzzle, and having a character that changes depending on the gender of the main character adds extra life to this KotOR. Unlike its predecessor KotOR II does not seem to have added the dark side as an afterthought, giving the bad route much needed depth. You may play the game twice, but after that itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a done deal because of the length (it is an RPG) and the extra been there, done that oomph of revisiting familiar locales.

Replay Ability: 6.5



APPEAL:

KotOR II will find fans not only in the Star Wars community but also those people starved for RPGs on the Xbox, people who became fans after the first KotOR, and those looking to give US-European style RPGs a try. The level of customization and choices may be strange for those who are too used to the Japanese style of RPG but the story and laser swords can draw in almost anyoneâ┚¬Â¦ though the bugs can shoo away quite a few people.

Appeal: 7.5



ORIGINALITY:

A role playing game set in the Star Wars universe with different paths (either dark or light) and the entire Republic at stake. Yes, weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve been here before. Yes, it always seems something bad is happening, but games set in peaceful times are generally boring unless your name is Sid Meier or Dani Buton Berry or Ed Ringler or Scott Orr, then they probably rock.

While not super innovative or even all that original the game puts a few more twists into the standard Star Wars plot and actually expands on the idea that good and bad are not always as clear cut as they appear to be, adding the idea that shades of gray exist in the Jedi belief system and that Jedi also suffer from flaws like mere mortals.

Originality: 6



ADDICTIVENESS:

A few more moments, just a few more moments and Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll put down this controller. The game play is not what keeps you coming back, it is the storyline. Once I was up at 3:30AM, just trying to complete a quest to advance the story and this entire conversation with the character Atton came about. It lasted almost a half an hour and was compelling, gripping, and insightful. The conversation added more and more to the puzzle that I could not simply shut my Xbox off and decide to re-do the conversation the next day. The conversation had to be finished at that moment because of how good the storylines in KotOR II are done. This game can take a hold of you and not let go.

Addictiveness: 8



MISCELLANEOUS:

The bugs I have encountered really should not be in this game. Several times, thanks to terrible path finding, I found my character stick in objects that required me to reload a saved game to rectify the situation. The occasional changing of your default combat settings, the constant unequipping of weapons, and strange crashes that seem to have no rhyme or reason.

This is inexcusable. Just as PC games have become rushed and require massive patches, it seems console games are starting to go the same route. When a game is done it is done. Donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t worry about a rush if it is going to upset some people. I am lucky I saved constantly or else Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d have lost 2 or so hours of game play or messed up a critical juncture. More time fixing bugs less time slapping on â┚¬Å”Sequel to Game of the Yearâ┚¬Â crap on the cover. It is terrible that games are being released half done and it cannot be glossed over, no matter how good the game is, especially if the game is actually good.

Miscellaneous: 4.5



Story: 8.5
Graphics: 6
Sound: 8
Controls: 6.5
Balance: 6.5
Replay Ability: 6.5
Appeal: 7.5
Originality: 6
Addictiveness: 8
Miscellaneous: 4.5