My relationship with the Star Wars franchise is a complex thing. Sometimes I love the franchise, and sometimes I don’t. Lately, I’ve been having trouble getting into the latest entries because I feel they’ve been lacking in quality. After all, it’s hard to take a serious scene at face value when Jack Black is randomly in it! I believe Freddie Mercury said it best: “Jaws was never my scene and I don’t like Star Wars!”
That being said, there was always one aspect of the Star Wars franchise that I could never hate: The Knights of The Old Republic series. Initially started by Bioware in 2003, this was a game series set thousands of years before prequels and sequels. Classic characters like Obi-Wai Kenobi and Yoda hadn’t even been born yet! This gave the developers at Bioware the headway to create their own Star Wars stories without intruding upon canon events. So, as my Christmas gift to all those visit CMHA’s website, I thought I’d give you the rundown on these old but great games.
Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic 1:
Taking inspiration from the Old Republic comics, Bioware released the first game at the height of their popularity in the 2000s, after having just put out two of the most popular Dungeons & Dragons video-games of all time: Baldur’s Gate II and Neverwinter Nights. They were on a roll (12-sided dice pun intended), so naturally they decided to up their game by working with LucasArts on the next big Star Wars game.
And thus, Bioware gave us the first KOTOR game! Modified from the engine they used for Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR is a game that replicates the feeling of playing through a Star Wars film or trilogy. They even went as far as to use some tracks from the films! The game’s plot revolves around you as a nameless soldier on a ship, one that gets attacked by the Sith.
Escaping the ship, you befriend the Republic Soldier Carth Onasi and the Jedi Bastila Shan, and make your way off the planet. Gaining more allies along the way, you search across the galaxy for pieces of a “Star Map” before the villainous Darth Malak can get to it. You do this all while uncovering a mystery revolving around Malak’s former master, Darth Revan.
Knights of The Old Republic is a pretty solid RPG, all things considered. As mentioned, the game has a killer soundtrack. Its visuals are also pretty decent, at least for the time. Don’t expect something from 2002 to knock your socks off, but it still gets the job done. There are TONS of alien races from the franchise on display, along with clothing and weapons styled after the ones you’d find in both Star Wars trilogies.
The game does feel like a genuine love letter to the fans of the franchise, who had been following these films for decades. The story itself is pretty good, though a bit fragmented and weirdly paced. This is due to the fact that you can tackle the planets you go to in any order, so this can make the story feel a little jumbled as a result. Some planets fit more thematically at the end then at the beginning, so your first planet may end up being the most interesting story-centric one, leaving the other planets feeling less interesting as a result.
Generally though, I feel the story is handled well, especially when it comes to the plot twist at the end of the game. I won’t spoil it (despite the age of the game), but it truly is a great twist. Regardless, the game is a classic and set the foundation for the series to come!
Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
Now this one is my favorite! KOTOR 1 was special in that it reconstructed a lot of the classic Star Wars tropes, combining the goofy sci-fi adventure elements of the original trilogy with the newer and sleeker designs of the prequels. KOTOR 2 was unique in that it was a much darker take on the established Star Wars franchise and lore we’ve come to know.
Instead of being a soldier-turned-Jedi with a mysterious past, you play as a Jedi exile. You’ve been cut off from the force and abandoned, only to stumble across the mysterious Jedi Kreia and a band of ragtag allies. You then set off to stop a pair of dangerous otherworldly Sith lords. This sounds like your typical Star Wars story, but what makes it different is what happens in it and how its presented.
You see, KOTOR II was written by Chris Avellone, known for writing a lot of much darker RPGs. KOTOR II combines the aspects of a fun Star Wars space adventure with darker elements that explore both sides of the Force in greater detail than the films. It paints everything in shades of grey, allowing for greater exploration of its themes and characters.
Kreia’s great because she works as a deconstruction of the “Obi-Wan” archetype the series is known for. She’s a wise master, but it’s made very clear early on that she is a former Sith lord. As such, she would rather the player’s character weigh their options rather than blindly choosing the “good” or “evil” paths. Kreia is very much the player’s mentor, but also the real final threat of the game.
No matter what you choose, you and her eventually have to face off. And the game does a good job in building to this, by showing how she manipulates both your party members and the other Sith lords you face off against. Speaking of the other Sith lords, they are both quite memorable in their own rights. That makes sense, since the game is literally named after them!
Darth Nihilus is a specter, a demonic spirit-like Sith lord clad in a mask and black robes. He speaks in garbled alien tongue and is one of the most imposing forces you face off against in the game. His apprentice even joins your party at one point, the player’s choices determining whether she is redeemed or if she falls further into darkness.
Then there’s Darth Sion, Kreia’s former apprentice and a shambling corpse who can never stay dead. It’s pretty clear that the game is meant to be this dark reflection of the first game, showing just how far the galaxy has fallen in the few years that have passed since the first game. The Jedi order is all but wiped out, the Sith are an ever imposing threat, and few people trust the player character enough to give him the time of day. Even gaining a lightsaber is treated with none of the mysticism the first game had. There’s no mystical ceremony where you are bequeathed your blade this time, one of your party members puts it together from a few wrecked parts and simply hands it to you.
And I think that’s truly what makes the game so good, it’s a classic Star Wars story filtered through the lens of someone who views the series a bit differently. It’s darker, the Sith Lords are abominations compared to the cyborgs of other entries in the franchise, and the whole package comes off feeling fresh and unique. I just can’t wait to see where we go from here!
Star Wars: The Old Republic
So yeah, this game happened. This is an MMORPG made by Bioware, who made the first KOTOR game. Obsidian (who made the second game) had no hand in it, and you can tell. It goes back to that lighter style of the first game, though its set hundreds of years after it. The game is weird in that it is basically 6 games in one, with the character’s class determining what story they follow.
Every story is fully voice acted and will take the player many hours to complete. Sadly, not every story is really all that interesting and the game has a bad habit of taking things from the original games and ruining them. For example, remember Darth Revan? A big deal about him in the first game is that we never saw his face, or learn all that much about his backstory. Here, he’s just a boring dude with a mullet and barely wears his mask.
Then there’s Darth Bandon, a minor villain from the first game, who’s severed head is being worshipped by a cult… For some reason. There’s just a lot of weird reverence for the source material without understanding what made it great. And to be fair, it had been a near decade long gap between games, so naturally a lot of those writers are gone at this point.
Generally though, the gameplay is fairly fun. It plays like the original games, but mixes aspects of the MMO genre to good effect. There’s lots of stuff and tons of great voice acting from every character. And the new characters themselves are pretty solid, for the most part. Just a big issue with the game is trying to translate a popular part of the Star Wars mythos into a game with many separate story arcs and an ongoing narrative that receives new entries year-by-year.
What really hurts the game is its treatment from its publisher, Electronic Arts. They have a tendency to overcharge on anything and everything in the game, making it an expensive chore to play at times. Its fine if you’re just there for the story modes, but there are so many limits on what you can do for free in the game that it just doesn’t feel worth it play at times.
I generally love the KOTOR series, even if I find the last entry to be kind of weak. I feel like its a series that took what made Star Wars great and put new spins on it and it was great to see a prequel that really understood what made the series great. I haven’t engaged in any new Star Wars things for a long while, but I’ll never get over how these games made me feel back when I played them. I may fall in and out of love for Star Wars a lot, but there’s just something that always pulls me back into it.
CMHA Writer in Residence