by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
Old Republic makes a return
Star Wars is a franchise that has attracted more followers than any other franchise I can think of off the top of my head, excluding some religions. Personally, I hold the original trilogy on the highest pedestal and some of the novels occupy the second highest. However, the original Knights of the Republic holds the third one and it seems that that pedestal just got a second occupant with the new Knights of the Republic II: The Sith Lords.
KotOR II: The Sith Lords came our late last year for the Xbox, but us PC owners had to wait a couple of months longer for the sequel to one of the best CRPGs of all time. Naturally, Lucasarts continues as the publisher, but the developer is Obsidian, rather than Bioware. The original KotOR brought us an excellent CRPG with well-written plot, side quests, great voice acting as well as a peerless combat system. Rather than come up with a completely new winning formula, Obsidian has pretty much taken the same one and applied a new plot and slightly improved graphics on top of it. But, let us go into more detail in the following.
Time to take out those lightsabres again
The story begins with a short intro of you at the controls of a small droid, trying to fix up a ship and basically learning the control system used in the game at the same time. Since it is basically the same WASD type of interface that we are all familiar with, it is pretty safe to skip this part, although, during the first play-through, you may want to check the more specific keyboard controls by playing this section through.
The real story begins with your chosen hero waking up in a bacta tank and falling onto the deck of a ship. Whereas in the original, your character slowly found out that she really did not know who she was, the sequel starts with the protagonist knowing that (s)he has lost her memory. With her memories, she has also lost all of her Jedi powers and her lightsabre, so you will conveniently start the game with a 1st level character. Soon, she meets up with a character, Kreia, who becomes her sort of mentor, but who holds enough mystery to keep you guessing at her real motives. The same holds of all the other characters that you meet in the game and who become a part of your party; they all have their own motives and goals that determine their responses to the main character's actions.
This brings us to the main difference between the sequel and the original: the influence system. The way your character acts in different situations will increase or decrease her influence with her party members. If your influence towards one character is great, they will start veering towards the Light or Dark side of the force, depending on the side that the main character is going towards. However, as far as the plot goes, this influence doesn't seem to have any drastic consequences (or I didn't push it far enough to really test it out). Unlike in the first game, your party members are not harassing you with their own stories quite as much and generally let you choose the times when you want to talk with them. It is better to talk with them if you want to maximise your influence with them, though.
The plot unwinds in a manner similar to the original: you roam about finding quests to perform and rediscover your skills and learn about your past as you do so. There is a limited number of locations (planets or moons) that you can visit and they all hold their own quests and mysteries to solve. You also get to revisit some familiar locations from the first game, one of which has really taken a turn to the worse.
One of the most exciting parts of the game is definitely the interaction system. Whenever you talk with another character, you will be given a selection of response options that often range between light and dark side responses, but often make the distinction very blurry and you are left guessing which one of them is the best option to choose if you want to be a Light Side character. What's more, you often find that there are optional points of view to every situation, as Kreia comments on your choices and makes you aware of their possible consequences.
The combat system in KotOR II is very much the same as in the original. And since KotOR had one of the best non-turn-based combat systems ever created for a CRPG, this is really a praise. Once again, you get to pause any fight at any point you wish and give new commands to the characters in your team, or just let them play out the fight themselves.
However, since the AI is very stupid, it is much better to fight the harder battles by yourself, so that you don't just end up looking at the screen as your characters try to run through a mine field (blowing all of them up at their own faces) in order to engage the enemy with their melee weapons. This will also make it easier to control the battle and make sure that your Jedi characters aren't running at the enemy to get blown to bits by the grenades that your warrior character is simultaneously throwing at them. All in all, I would have liked to see a better AI for these situations to lessen the frustration that you sometimes feel with the combat system.
Maintaining your weapons and armour
One of the main changes from the original title is the weapons and armour upgrade system. You can use workbenches that you encounter to upgrade your weapons and armour, or dismantle your equipment to gain parts from which you can construct other pieces of equipment. This is especially important for your lightsabres, as the various upgrades, including new crystals and focussing lenses, will make a real impact on the effectiveness of the weapons. What's even better is that many of these upgrades really support different styles of play style, so it is not merely a question of replacing older crystals with better ones, but choosing the correct upgrades to benefit your style of playing.
Graphics and sounds
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of KotOR II are the graphics. Although they serve their purpose well, they fall short of meeting the expectations that one might have after playing the original. It basically feels that you are playing the original again with just a new story tossed on to replace the old one. There are certainly some new effects at play here and there, but mostly you will be exploring rather dull corridors and simplistic outside regions. These certainly keep the game running smoothly even on mid-specced machines, but it would have been nice to have some additional eye-candy for those with top-of-the line systems. Especially the movie clips presented in the midst of the story as you leave a planet, or approach another planet on your spaceship, are presented in very low res graphics that sometimes have you guessing at what you are actually looking at.
The music is the basic Star Wars fare: grand themes that immediately put you in the correct mood for a Star Wars title. Also the speech acting is pretty nice all over the board and given the very extensive interaction options that you have with many, many characters, it is really impressive how much attention this aspect is given. Unfortunately, this only applies to characters who speak Basic. All the alien speech is presented in short, looping mishmash that quickly gets on your nerves.
Best CRPG ever?
So, is this the best RPG to ever have adorned the computer screen? I leave the ultimate decision to each and every one of you, but personally I hold this gem equal to the original KotOR. It may certainly be a little too similar to the original, but the story provides enough depth to make it like a great sequel to a great book. Certainly there are things that could have been improved upon and I'm sure that there will be patches to fix some of the stability issues that we encountered in near future, but, overall, this is just what all of us Star Wars and CRPG lovers have been holding our breaths for ever since we replayed the original KotOR through for the tenth time.
Excellent story, high replay value, great combat system.
Somewhat drab graphics, stupid AI