Uberlong Knights of the Old Republic review
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Uberlong Knights of the Old Republic review
Review - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Wed 3 December 2003, 08:18:19Tags: BioWare; Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Our overly long review of Knights of the Old Republic, which I admit is a little long.. But I had a lot to cover, so take your ritalin before reading this. Here's a swath:
Most players of PC CRPGs are used to having fairly easy inventories to deal with. You open a panel, and you have your inventory displayed in a nice grid along side a paper doll of the character that you can drag and drop items to and from in a simple fashion. Well, not in this game. In fact, the main inventory screen and the equip item screen are two different screens. Just to equip a blaster, for example, you have to open up the equip item screen, select the part of the body, then scroll through a single column list of items partaining to that part of the body. Then click on that item, and hit the "Okay" button. That may not sound like much, but it's far more annoying than simply dragging and dropping items like nearly all the modern CRPGs have had for the last five years. It effectively doubles the amount of interface use to do the same thing. You'll definitely notice the difference between this console style system and the more traditional system when you get a new follower later in the game and have to equip most every item on them.
Yes, the inventory does suck, despite what other reviews and BioWare claim.
But, overall, I liked it.
So you want to be a Jedi
Taking a departure from their typical setting for CRPGs, BioWare embarked on creating a CRPG set within another familiar setting, that of Star Wars. This has its ups and downs, mainly because there are always expectations that go with using a major named license. Typically, games using this license have either been really good or really bad. Of course, the same could be said for the movies from where this setting comes.
That far, long ago galaxy
As stated, there's a lot of things that go in to using a setting that already exists, especially one that's as well known as Star Wars. One of the problems with this setting is that when you see something in one of the movies, you tend to expect things to work out that way in the game. If you see a character slicing through doors, pipes, and various metal objects with lightsabers in the movie, you tend to expect this type of thing in the game, for example. You tend to expect characters of various factions to behave in a manner similar to what you've seen before playing. You expect the plot to follow what's known about the setting, obeying how things work and have worked on the silver screen.
You also expect the style of what's seen in the movie in the game. You expect buildings to look a certain way, people to dress a certain way, and so forth. One of the nice aspects of Knights of the Old Republic is that the graphics design is very much what you'd expect. You expect the rounded, obelisk style buildings you've seen in the movies. You expect large, megapolis style expanses to roam around in on developed worlds, or the oddly cylindrical, adobe looking buildings on Tattooine, and this game definitely provides that look in an extremely well done manner. It's hard not to look at the hallways and trappings of most of the locations in the game without instantly recognizing that it looks like Star Wars.
You also will expect to see Jedi, lightsabers, bounty hunters, and other archetypical characters you've seen in the movies. They're there, of course. You'll run across several bounty hunters, both those who are out to get you, and those who will join up with you. You'll meet the inevitable protocol droids made famous by the likes of C3-P0, and utility droids like R2-D2. You'll meet smugglers, and even get your chance to own your own smuggler's starship. And, of course, you'll meet some Jedi and some Sith.
In fact, the whole story, naturally, revolves around the conflict between the Republic and the Sith. The basic set up is that two Jedi went off to war and came back evil. They end up with this really, really large fleet of ships and basically threaten to take over the Republic, establishing a new Sith Empire. Naturally, the Republic is trying to stop them, so they enlist the aid of the Jedi Council. Luckily for the Jedi Council, they have a few promising individuals with special abilities that help them defeat one of the Sith Lords, leaving only Darth Malek to battle. As the player, that would be your job.
Starting your destiny
Character creation in Knights of the Old Republic is fairly straight forward for people familiar with other D&D games, since it uses a version of the d20 rules that D&D uses. Unlike D&D, there are only three classes from which you can pick. Pick carefully, because you'll be stuck with that character class until you can convert over to Jedi, because unlike D&D which allows you to freely multiclass, this game doesn't. So, basically, if you start a Soldier classed character, you can never, ever get Sneak Attack by picking a level of Scoundrel. This is fairly disappointing since multiclassing is one of the more interesting things to gain options in D&D. Later on, you'll discover the same thing holds true after you gain a Jedi class, you can never level up in the previous class with which you started, nor can you add a level of another Jedi class.
The starting classes really aren't all that interesting compared to more recent class based games. You get a choice of Soldier, Scout, and Scoundrel. The main distinction with this would be the rate of feats you can get per level and the number of skill points. You have the Soldier, which is combat heavy so they get a high feat rate but tend to be sub par on the skills. On the opposite side, there's the Scoundrel, which gets lots of skill points but a low feat rate. Since feats, generally speaking, are combat skills in the game, you can kind of see how this works out. Though, there are a few noncombat feats for those who are looking for a slight boost to some skill packages. Soldiers also get the highest amount of hit points per level whereas the Scoundrel gets the lowest.
One important thing to note is that if you really want a diplomatic character, you don't have much choice other than Scoundrel, since the other two classes can only gain Persuade half as fast and it requires twice as many skill points to raise it a notch. However, the Jedi classes seem to be able to level up Persuade at a rate of one skill point per skill level. Of course, by then, unless you're a Scoundrel, you'll be somewhat behind on that skill.
You have your primary attributes, which you can purchase from a point buy system. This should be fairly straight forward for those who are used to D&D, where things like Strength affect melee damage and melee attack rolls, Constitution affects hit point. What D&D players might not be used to is how Wisdom and Charisma affect your Force points and Force abilities. A high Wisdom means that your character will have a larger pool of Force points, meaning that character can use his or her powers much more often than a character with a lower Wisdom. Several of the Force powers also rely on bonuses from Charisma in order to work, such as the Dominate Mind power, which allows additional influence over dialogue.
Knights also doesn't offer a lot of skills, either. There are eight skills in the game ranging from diplomacy skills to hacking skills, unless you count the feats which are basically combat skills. However, the majority of the skills in the game are well used through the game, so you probably won't won't feel too disappointing for developing most of them assuming you picked a class that can develop them without penalty.
Computer Use is basically your generic hacking skill. Assuming you can find a computer around, and there's several of them all over the game, this will allow you to access things like security cameras to see what's going on in other areas of the map. Some computers will allow you to do other things, like unlock all the locked doors on a map in case you don't have a high Security skill or turn the automated droids in an area against your enemies. Using this skill requires spikes, which are used up in the process of hacking, or slicing as they call it in this game, a computer. The higher this skill, the less spikes are required to do a job. While good, clean fun if you've got the spikes and the skills, it may get annoying if you don't have Stealth or a good combat skill to back you up while searching for these computers in enemy areas.
Demolitions is basically a mine laying skill as well as a disarming skill. While laying mines probably isn't totally worth it in most places in the game, disarming mines and recovering them is more useful. There are mines all over the various locations of the game, including some in rather odd locations like 25,000 year old tombs and other dungeons. Using this skill, if it's high enough, can at least let you remove them from your path. If it's really high, you can recover them for later use or just simply sell them for a little more spending money.
Stealth is basically your sneaking skill. There's really not much to say, other than using the stealth belts is pretty important to this skill. Don't expect to be able to sneak right up to a guard, though. If you get close, they'll spot you. You'll also move very, very slowly while in stealth mode, so it requires a good deal of patience to actually sneak around most places. You're also required to leave your party behind to be stealthy, which is a rather annoying aspect of the game. Why can't the ones who can do this also go stealth, or even allow you to sneak around in combat for sneak attacks makes this skill less useful than it could have been. Instead, combat mode will always, always cancel the use of this skill.
Awareness is the anti-stealth skill. This skill will allow you to spot things using stealth as well as mines. I never encountered anything actually using stealth in the game, so it seems to be primarily for spotting mines. Of course, like I said, there's mines all over the game, so you'll get some use out of it.
Persuade is one of my favorite skills, since it gives you more dialogue options and more ways to interact via dialogue. Unlike previous BioWare games, you'll get a good work out on this skill. About the only real problem with this is that you can retry many of the dialogues over and over again until you get a successful roll on this skill when you try to use it.
Repair is on par with the hacking skill, only this allows you to fix up various abandoned droids throughout the game. You can't keep them, though. They're just for those certain maps and often follow set patrol routes. Like Computer Use, this skill requires generic parts items in order to work. Less parts are needed the higher the skill. Unfortunately, these parts are different from the repair kits for droid followers, which doesn't make much sense. In addition to just getting patrolling droids up and running, you can often upgrade them a little bit, making them more powerful against your enemies so they last longer. Again, you have to find the droids on the map in order to use them, but they're often more easy to find, and less guarded than computers. Some are in rather odd locations that are seemingly just placed there for the use of this skill.
Security is your basic lockpicking skill, which will allow you to enter some doors through using it. Of course, you could always use Computer Use on a terminal to unlock them, or simply bash them open. Some doors actually require you to use Computer Use to open and won't work with this skill, and the others can simply be bashed open. Because there's no downside to bashing doors open that I can tell, this skill is probably the most useless one in the game. I never once thought it'd be nice to have this skill versus using a computer or bashing.
Treat Injury can be considered somewhat of a combat skill, since it affects how well you can use the medpacks in the game. Basically, medpacks are healing potions that you can use in order to heal yourself. The higher this skill, the more hit points you get back from using these items. I found myself using these mostly during combat, and you're hoping to have a better healing rate than the rate of damage you're taking. That's why this is a pretty nice skill to have for a combat character.
Fun with feats
As stated before, most of your combat abilities beyond straight advancement in aptitude with combat from gaining levels come from feats. Feats are basically a standard part of the d20 system and are additional methods of character customization every so often when you advance a level. In Knights of the Old Republic, the rate of feats you gain is based on your character's class. On average, the Soldier will gain one feat per level, Scout will gain one feat every other level, and Scoundrel would gain one feat every two levels.
The feat system in the game feels a little flat, since most of the feats are just upgrades to basic feats. There are roughly twelve basic feats in the game, and most of them have three levels of progression. Six of these feats are passive combat feats, which means that by gaining this feat, you gain the advantages of the feat automatically during combat. These feats include Armor Proficiency, Weapon Proficiencies, Two Handed Combat, and so forth. Of course, the Weapons Proficiencies are each listed as individual feats, but I find it rather difficult to call Weapon Proficiency: Melee and Weapon Proficiency: Blaster being two unique feats. Many of these feats either raise your bonuses in combat or remove restrictions.
There are three basic feats which will advance your skills in the game. Caution will help you make those Demolition and Stealth checks by giving you a +1 bonus for every level of the feat you have. Gear Head advances Repair, Security, and Computer Use, which is a pretty good package for a character that doesn't want to get involved in a lot of personal combat along the way. My favorite of these, however, would be Empathy, since it gives bonuses to Awareness, Treat Injury, and Persuade.
The active combat feats, which are feats that require a player to use them during combat by selecting them from the interface, are basically the only real combat options the game has. You have things like Power Attack and Power Blast, which you might partially recognize from the D&D games. These basically allows you to do more damage with a penalty on your hit roll, one being for melee and the other using ranged weapons like a blaster or rifle. You have Critical Strike and Sniper, which increase the odds of getting a critical hit when using melee or ranged respectively. There's also Flurry and Rapid Shot, which can deal more attacks per round with a penalty.
As you can see, there really aren't too many choices in feats in the game. If you want to specialize in melee combat, and specializing is a good thing so long as you don't specialize in ranged combat, there's really only three active feats for you. Two of the passive ones, Dueling and Two Handed Combat are mutually exclusive since one of them deals with one handed fighting and the other is the exact opposite. It'd be hard to justify taking both feats because of this. Since there are three levels of most of these feats, you'll most likely want to pick one category of special attack and just improve that one, because feats are fairly rare unless you're a Soldier, and you can't stay a Soldier forever.
There also aren't as many general feats, or combat rules based feats as there are in D&D CRPGs, even though this uses the d20 system. Since there are no Attacks of Opportunity, there isn't a Combat Reflexes feat. There's no Cleave or Great Cleave feats in this game. There's no Disarm or Trip feats, or any number of feats which could have added more depth to the system and to the combat.
A little bit of Jedi
Eventually, you'll have to become a Jedi in Knights of the Old Republic. This really wouldn't be so bad, but as stated, you can't level up in any other class after you become one. The three Jedi classes are fairly close to the ideas behind the original three classes, with the exception being that the rate of Force Power advancement is opposed to melee fighting. A Jedi Guardian is atrong fighter and has a higher feat rate, but less Force Powers and skill points. On the opposite end, there's the Jedi Consular, which is strong in the use of the Force, but weaker in combat and hit points. Somewhere in the middle is the Jedi Sentinel.
Oddly enough, there aren't many feats dealing directly with Jedi stuff that you can pick from. Sure, there's some feats you can get automatically from levelling up that class, and there's the lightsaber proficiency and Jedi Defense, but it really would have been nice to have some feats that enhanced the Jedi aspect of the title, especially since you're forced in to being a Jedi. I would have gladly sacrificed a level of Power Attack for a feat that made my Force points go up a little faster, or gave me a bonus to Light Side Powers, or anything like that.
About the only really new option for Jedi classes are the Force Powers, which are divided in to Universal Powers, Light Side Powers and Dark Side Powers. You're free to pick from any of these, but if you're more of a Light Side kind of Jedi, you'll have to spend more points using the Dark Side Powers than someone aligned with the Dark Side would. Like the feats in this game, Force Powers are also of a progression ladder format, with two to three levels of progression.
The Light Side Powers are generally more focused on buffing your characters and party while the Dark Side Powers are more focused on attacking the enemy, striking them down. For example, a Light Side character might pick Force Aura, which gives the player a bonus to defense as well as saving throws. Meanwhile, a Dark Side character might take Shock, which delivers some damage to the player's enemies.
Both Dark Side and Light Side have their own methods of healing. The Light Side has Force Heal and it's progressive steps, which heals the party by a certain amount based on the level of the caster. The Dark Side has Drain Life, which causes damage to the victim and heals the character by that amount. It's rather hard to justify there is a direct balance between the two, since you can use Force Heal at any time as long as you have the Force points for it and it heals the party. Sure, Drain Life does damage to enemies, but that also means that you need to have an enemy around to use it, on top of the Force points and it just heals the caster.
The problems with ports
It's really hard to deny this isn't a console port. It's really rather obvious when you look at the control scheme, inventory, and various other parts of the interface. While BioWare did add some mouse stuff and some additional things to the user interface to facilitate the mouse, it largely suffers from the console-esque design scheme.
Most players of PC CRPGs are used to having fairly easy inventories to deal with. You open a panel, and you have your inventory displayed in a nice grid along side a paper doll of the character that you can drag and drop items to and from in a simple fashion. Well, not in this game. In fact, the main inventory screen and the equip item screen are two different screens. Just to equip a blaster, for example, you have to open up the equip item screen, select the part of the body, then scroll through a single column list of items pertaining to that part of the body. Then click on that item, and hit the "Okay" button. That may not sound like much, but it's far more annoying than simply dragging and dropping items like nearly all the modern CRPGs have had for the last five years. It effectively doubles the amount of interface use to do the same thing. You'll definitely notice the difference between this console style system and the more traditional system when you get a new follower later in the game and have to equip most every item on them.
You'll also notice that during combat, you can only move one character at a time. You can't simply queue up movement orders for non-active followers or the characters themselves during combat because of the WASD control system, which comes directly from the console gamepad controls. You can't simply select the character and click on a way point for them to move to and from. In fact, you can't even move while paused. So, if you want to move a character in to range or around a corner during combat, that means you have to move that character while giving the AI control of the other characters. Since the AI is controlling the others, they may or may not do what you expect them to do during that time. There's not much control over the AI either.
Another thing that flows from the console thing are the minigames. Two of them are unavoidable in the game, and they're the two most annoying ones. The turret one has very awkward controls, and plays more like an OpenGL demo than a suitable minigame. It's basically a 360 degree space invaders type thing which you don't have any means of bypassing. You can't simply tell another suitable follower to do this for you, even though you'll have a notable Republic war hero and a Mandalorian mercenary in your group by the time this rolls around. Either one of these two should be more than qualified to handle this thing for you if you don't particularly enjoy these things in a CRPG, which I don't. It would have been a really nice option to have, especially when you consider how annoying the controls are for it.
Even more ironic about the turret minigame is that in the game, the Ebon Hawk is described as the fastest ship in the galaxy, and the shields are impenetrable by the owner of the ship. This begs the question of why the minigame is even there in the first place, considering Sith fighters can manage to catch it and destroy it fairly easily.
The other minigame that you can't avoid is the swoop race, which also plays like a poorly made OpenGL demo. There definitely could have been a few in-game methods of bypassing this one as well, considering the race involves two rival gangs. Just wiping out one gang or the other should suffice to insure the victory of one or the other, thus giving you the spoils of a race victory. But no, no matter how much damage you do to either gang, you're forced in to the swoop race.
Many of the puzzles in this game are basically puzzles you've seen before, ranging from the old getting the four gallons of water from the three and five gallon container puzzle we've all seen numerous times to the Towers of Hanoi puzzle which has been beaten to death for centuries. Several of these don't even make much sense where they're placed in the game, and seem more like haphazardly tossed in just for the sake of having puzzles around the game. It just seems odd that someone would make a door that requires solving the Towers of Hanoi to open, for example. So, not only is it a question of the originality of the puzzles themselves, but also why the hell they're where they are and why they're there. To even further exasperate the situation, the interface for the Towers of Hanoi one is via dialogue rather than just allowing you to simply click on the towers to move the rings around.
Even more puzzling, pardon the pun, is that BioWare has fallen back on their old trick of leaving dead people's journals lying around that tell you how to solve some of the puzzles. There's just something rather odd about finding the solution to a problem written by people who the problem ultimately killed. If they knew the solution, why are they so.. Dead? You'll find this method of telling you how things are done in several of the locations throughout the game.
There's also a bit of inconsistency in the powers you have and navigating certain areas. When you become a Jedi, you're treated to several cut scenes of your training, including one scene where you're levitating several boxes as well as personally levitating. You're sitting Indian style and hovering several feet off the ground. You also might have the ability to Force Jump to start combat with a distant enemy. You use the Force to hurl your body right up to the enemy, through the air, and deal a nice bit of damage on them. However, the ability to levitate yourself and Force Jump is all but forgotten when there's a puzzle involving an otherwise impassable pool of acid in the floor, requiring less than Jedi ways to get around.
This also leads to another problem, datapad pile ups. By the end of the game, you'll probably have dozens of datapads in your inventory. This wouldn't be so bad, except many of them are just called Datapad, meaning that unless you read them all, you'll have a bunch of them that you have no idea which one is new or not. Even sorting the single column inventory by New Items doesn't really help this. Since they're quest items, I don't even think you can drop them. At least, I never found a way to ditch them.
Much of the dialogue in the game can be repeated until you get more favorable results, meaning if you have a failure check for Persuade, you can repeatedly try it until you get a successful roll. This means that unless your skill is just way to low to never successfully roll, you can win most dialogue rolls with a little persistence by constantly repeating the dialogue, over and over again. So, what you basically have is a highly exploitable system that allows a moderately low skill level to be as useful as an higher skill. Now, imagine if this were something like combat, and you could repeatedly repeat a combat round over and over again until you get the desirable results.
Another problem with the dialogue is that there are many cases where you'll be presented with many different dialogue choices, but several of these player chosen replies lead to the same response from the NPC. You might have two replies you can pick from where you're probing for specifics or attempting a specific response, only to receive a canned reply that only loosely fits what you've chosen to say, or some that are just obvious replies to another choice. Sometimes an NPC will volunteer the answer to several of the dialogue choices you're given after one reply is chosen, making the system seem a little forced as though you're being funnelled towards the desirable result for the conclusion of the dialogue. Often times, this occurs during the interlude dialogue with the NPCs, where you're trying to absolutely tick them off, but aren't allowed to upset them too much by the game's design.
That leads to another thing that I didn't really like much, being interrupted in the middle of travelling to accomplish something by two followers deciding to chit chat about something. There's just something out of place about trying to save the galaxy only to be halted in progress about two followers trying to work out their personal issues with one another. What's even funnier is that nearly all of these dialogues typically end with the common bit about getting back to the important mission, but apparently the mission isn't important enough to make it across a town without one NPC apologizing to another for a slip of the tongue that previously interrupted your travelling. Why they can't get their interpersonal issues resolved during the long treks across the galaxy on the Ebon Hawk instead of during planet siding is still a mystery to me.
Another thing followers seem to often do is stop you from being evil for one reason or another. It's often rather sad when you go to pull off something evil, like mugging a person whom you just saved from being mugged, only to have a follower pop in and tell the guy to run away. The result is that you'll still get Dark Points, but you won't get any money from it. There's also no recourse to punish the follower for thwarting your evil ways. Of course, it's almost worse when they complain about you going to kill someone because you're evil, but once combat starts, they're right in there with you, killing the innocents.
The story and some of the locations really just didn't seem to fit with the whole Star Wars thing. Granted, I'm not a huge fan, or even a fan at all, of the movies, but I've seen them all so far. In nearly every one of them, the conflict seems to revolve around a new problem, or a new construction. For example, the Death Star in the original movie was a newly developed battle station created by the Empire in order to crush the puny resistance. Return of the Jedi was about a newly constructed Death Star as well. The clone army in Episode 2 was freshly minted by a newly rising Emperor. His plotting his new rise to power was the background for Episode 1 as well. See a trend?
Well, Knights of the Old Republic is much more like Lord of the Rings, or any number of high fantasy setting stories. It's all about a millennia (or twenty-five) old ancient evil that's re-awakened to doom everyone. I don't recall too much plundering of ancient tombs and dungeons looking for ancient and powerful artifacts in the Star Wars movies, either, but KotOR has it's fair share of that as well.
Then there's the tutorial. It's pretty sad when a developer tries to set up a mood and feeling with some fairly interesting scripting like repair droids exploding and environmental effects like the ship you're on rocking and suffering damage from an attack, only to blow the whole immersion thing with the character talking to you constantly referring to your mouse, inventory screen, and other parts of the game's interface. Why BioWare couldn't just make a tutorial separate from the game, or even use interface pop-up help for this kind of thing is a mystery. Most other developers seem to have figured out that NPCs telling you about game controls is wrong, you'd think the heralded BioWare could as well. To make matters worse, you can't even avoid this tutorial.
Battling the Sith has never been so tame
One of the biggest problems with the game is really the combat. There's just not a hell of a lot to do in combat, this is doubly the case for a good melee build. You'll probably only specialize in one or two active feats, and those will be your only extra combat options for that character. Just to use one of those active feats, you'll most likely have to buff up your character with passive feats that give bonuses that will allow you to hit more often. After all, most of the active feats will give penalties to your ability to hit in favor of more attacks or stronger attacks. While you could go for maxing out two or three of these feats, you'll be doing this at the expense of them working well and then there'd be no point to it.
Grenades are an option, but they're only really an option during the first round or unless you're in solo mode. Because you're unable to move more than one character, or even have any say at all in how characters other than the one you're currently controlling behave in terms of movement, you'll be grenading your own people beyond the first round. Of course, there are options to allow an AI controlled character to simply toss grenades, but most combat areas wouldn't make this the smartest move unless you really feel like buying huge stockpiles of grenades just for this. Even then, later in the game, those frag grenades just don't do that much damage to enemies and the better grenades are limited in supply and more costly.
Melee and ranged/blaster seem poorly balanced with one another. This is also very odd considering we're talking about a Star Wars game. I don't seem to remember anyone putting away their blaster and switching to a sword, but that's pretty much how this game is. In fact, it's often a good idea to switch to the sword, because the sword is often a lot better than the blaster when standing next to a sword wielding opponent. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend ever taking ranged related feats in the game for a number of reasons. Unless you really, really want a challenge, stick with melee. Kind of an odd suggestion for a game centered around Star Wars, isn't it? I think it is.
One of those reasons, since I brought it up, is due to many of the cut scenes and forced dialogues in the game. For some reason, it seems that the designers are expecting you to be melee oriented, because when the combat breaks out after those events, you're placed right next to the person in question. Forget about running for distance as well, because as far as I can tell, everyone runs around at the same speed, regardless of character attributes. It would have made sense to give players with a high Dexterity more speed since they're more likely going to be using the ranged blasters, but this isn't the case. So, trying to put distance from yourself and the enemy just doesn't really work well.
Lightsabers just aren't all that special. You watch the movies, you can see lightsabers cutting through metal pylons like butter, slicing open doors, killing people in one hit, or severing limbs. In this game, however, a lightsaber is little more than just another sword that has special lighting effects and sound. About the only thing it can do that the swords can't do is block blaster shots thanks to the automatic Jedi Defense feat. Other than that, be prepared to whack giant dogs repeatedly with your lightsaber until they die. Watch all the glory of the lightsaber as it's blocked by the crude gaffi sticks created by the primitive Sand People or the swords that the Wookiees can make in their forest-top homes.
In fact, you really have to wonder why the developers didn't choose to go another route entirely with the lightsabers given that lethal combat with two Jedi is fairly rare in the movies. There's only been two unwilling killings during lightsaber combat in all five movies, and that was in Episode 1. Most of the duels would end with both Jedi walking away, with perhaps a missing hand. Something like a fencing style system with wielding and the occasional disintegration of an appendage would have been a lot better than the traditional back and forth smacking seen in D&D games. In fact, they could have used a nonlethal damage system based on a successful attack wearing down an opponent versus the straight up slashing off of hit points. This would have still been rooted in the d20 rules as well and would have been much more in tune with what a player might expect from a lightsaber duel.
Using Force Powers does tend to add a few options later on, like throwing your lightsaber for some ranged damage with the thing or using Force Lightning to zap some hostiles, but after a while, this gets mechanical without more things to do.
It would be interesting to see this game with a much, much better combat system, one that's actually turn based with a wider assortment of options and feats to add and enhance those options. However, sadly, BioWare is still clinging to the real time with pause combat system. It's even more sad when they keep calling the thing turn based when it's not the case, nor affords the options you can handle in a turn based system. Grenades would actually be useful beyond the initial round, for example, if this game were actually turn based. Not only would they be more useful, they'd be easier to use, making them a better option to the straight up blaster/lightsaber deal.
A true turn based implementation would have always allowed the player, with the console-pad WASD style control system still in place, to move his character and followers in a tactical fashion and that alone would have made the game's combat a hell of a lot more engaging. It's pretty disappointing they didn't think about that when crafting this game, opting for making the player use scripts to control the non-active characters instead of a better control system. I really fail to see how this system is better and less tedious than a turn based system when you have to switch characters, unpause to move them, then select another character and clear out the attack queue the scripts spool up just to get them to do what you want.
As an aside, another issue that's combat related is that you can never, ever initiate combat in the game. If you want to kill someone or something, they have to go hostile towards you first, no matter how evil you are. There are a few times when someone is barring your progress, and you'll think to yourself about how evil you are and how your good followers are complaining about your lust for violence, but you just can't kill that person to get around them. You basically have to do what's required of you to get passed them.
About the only plus you can give to combat is the animations for melee, which are very well done. This does tend to get old after a while when you're mainly just watching most of it all the time anyway. Once you've seen all of them a few times, the Wow factor kind of wears off.
So, then what?
By now, you must be thinking I really, really hate this game. After all, I've done a decent little list of the problems no other review has mentioned or is even likely to mention. Does this mean I think the game sucks? Well, no. Honestly, there's some really good bits in the game, but it's still fairly flawed. It is a step in the right direction for BioWare however.
Many of the things in the game have a few ways of doing them. While some things, like getting through a combat area are largely superficial and rely on using the same tricks over and over again, there are a few gems in the rough. You can bypass certain events by talking your way out of them using the Persuade skill as well as Dominate Mind. Unlike Neverwinter Nights, dialogue skills aren't just for gaining more bits of story or occasionally talking someone in to paying you more. You can actually use them to accomplish tasks which might otherwise result in combat or some other means of completing a scenario. In fact, there are some fairly big quest situations that can be solved by diplomatic means. Double plus brownie points for that.
As mentioned in the skills section, many of the skills will provide options for getting through areas in a less than combat focused character. It is possible to sneak around, hack a computer to turn area defenses against enemies or fix up a droid to help thin out the enemies in the area. Any enemy the droids or defenses kill will result in your character gaining experience just as if he killed them with his own hand as well, so you don't really have to worry about your Scout/Consular being less advanced than your Soldier/Guardian. Of course, it would have been nice to see more variety of uses than Repair just being for fixing all the dozens of droids laying around, but at least it shows some thought towards multiple avenues of completion that goes well and beyond other titles BioWare has made in the past.
Of course, there's the whole Light Side/Dark Side thing, which allows you to basically be good or evil in the game. While not entirely well done, it does do a very good job at presenting situations for the player to handle in ways based on how he wants his characters to be morally. The game even presents at least one tough situation about self preservation versus the good of others where the Dark Side choice is easier to follow than the Light Side that will make even the most devout Light Sider ponder on doing the Dark Side route. However, many are choices to kill someone when you really don't have to kill them, or demand money from people who don't deserve you asking for more money. That isn't to say that every time you ask for more money, you get more evil, though. You can demand more money from a certain Hutt for bounties without incurring a Dark Side point. In that regard, it bucks the generic more money equals evil trend.
Another interesting thing about Knights of the Old Republic is how much gender seems to affect things. You probably won't even notice unless you play with both, but there are situations that are radically different based on gender. For example, a male character might get invited to a party, where a female character might stumble upon a completely different scenario that yields the same quest item.
The above things allow for more ways to play the game, or replay the game to try different things. That's always a good thing, and this game has a good number of options for the player in how a lot of situations are handled. You might just find you want to go through the game again with an alternative character just to see how certain things are handled with a different class or gender or even alignment with the Force. Even if you are one of those people who plays a game once, beats it, and tosses it, Knights of the Old Republic will provide you with a good amount of things in the game that let you do most things the way you want to do them.
While some of the followers are annoying, some are really interesting. I really didn't find the combat droid that entertaining, but the old Jedi hermit was definitely interesting. His methods of dispensing advice was very well written, very well done, and actually entertaining. His sardonic wit and enigmatic way of presenting himself was definitely the high point of the follower banter to me. Most of the others, I wouldn't mind drowning in a certain acid pool I've already mentioned, though.
I've got to stop typing sometime
This is the first BioWare game that I've actually completed. Not because it's shorter than the others, but because this game is simply better than their previous ones. There's more to do and it's done better in the areas that actually matter. Sure, I hate the combat. I definitely hate the console ported interface. Minigames certainly chafe my ass. The inane whining of my followers just tended to piss me off. But.. There's a lot to do, and there's bunches of ways to do most of it.
If the combat were better, and lightsabers were done better than just mimicking D&D swords, then this game would be great. If I wasn't forced to zap fighters or swoop race, I'd be really happy. If the interface were actually redone for the PC as promised, I'd be thrilled. If I didn't have to play a female to keep Bastila's hormones in check, that'd be wonderful. Despite all the problems I had with the game, it's still enjoyable. It's enjoyable because I get a feeling that I am doing things, and doing them the way my character would want to do them for the most part. Sure, there's some funnelling in dialogue and the planets get a little linear in places. There's also a better order in which to travel from planet to planet lest you get overwhelmed by superior enemies, making the whole game more linear than it really should be.
I don't think it's a coincidence that this is the best CRPG they've ever done and it's also the first CRPG they've ever done without multiplayer, either. Without being forced to concede things because you might have multiple human controlled Jedi running around on the same planet, BioWare has managed to do something they just haven't seem to have done before. That is, make a CRPG with a lot to do and lots of ways to do it. Now, if only they'd figure out how to make a decent tutorial, combat system, and so forth, then they might actually live up to something.
So, basically, what I'm saying is that while the game has a bunch of faults, it's worth checking out even if you've hated everything done by BioWare so far.