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Have you ever had one of those days where you wake up in the middle of the night aboard the military space ship you’re contracted to be on as a body guard for an important government official, just to find that the ship is being shot at and you are wrapped up in events that will shape the universe for the next 4 thousand years?
This month the Racketboy Together Retro Club is tackling one of the most beloved RPGs ever created, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). There will be blasters. There will be the force. There will be a plot twist that is going to make writing this article very difficult.
The universe has never really had a shortage of Star Wars licensed games and unlike what you find with other commonly carried licensed IPs (looking at you Superman and all the Pixar tie-ins), Star Wars has had a lot of really good games made for it. The titles nearly always fit into two columns, though. You had your action games made famous by titles such as the Super Star Wars trilogy (probably a contender for a future Together Retro) or flight sims such as the legendary X-Wing and TIE Fighter games on PC. Because for so long the Star Wars universe was set around 3 movies and whatever fiction that was popular enough for a plurality of fans to deem it fit for canon, that galaxy from a long time ago and far, far away was not considered material fit for role playing.
Although now I’d love to see a turn based Star Wars game where Luke rolls a 1 on hitting that thermal exhaust port and Vader wins the battle of Yavon IV. Dark Side, yo.
Along came Bioware, an RPG company already famous for the legendary Baldur’s Gate series and destined to make the Space Opera cool again with Mass Effect. After securing the Star Wars license, they began to create a game based around the concept of the ‘Old Republic’, the government that predated the government that predated the Imperial Senate mentioned in the original Star Wars movie. So the galaxy is still the same distance away, just longer ago.
This freed the developer’s hands to tell a tale where the player could choose to do nearly anything they wanted while not creating any canon issues since the story took place so far in the past that the player’s character and all of their adventures would have long since entered the realm of legend or myth. This kind of move is common in science fiction literature and usually fails but here it worked brilliantly.
This is the part where I am going to tread a little more carefully than I usually do. In fact I am not going to talk at all about the actual content of this game’s narrative. This really is an excellent game simply to play (more on that in a moment) but it is important to emphasize to any Together Retro players this month who are not familiar with this title how excellent the game is.
Have you ever played an RPG where the story just did not live up to it’s promise? Where the stakes at the end felt out of line with the journey up to that point? Or were there was a huge disconnect with the adventure you and your character were on and the impact on the world around you? That is not going to happen here.
KOTOR is going to let you create a story where the choices you make are going to have some very important (and occasionally unintended) consequences. The idea is that you are a person in a vast universe where everything is falling apart and it is up to you to decide if the frightful Sith or the embattled Republic are worthy of your support. You will have allies who can be affected by your actions and simply how much you care about them. If you have ever wanted to play a game with a story that could not possibly unfold without you personally being there at the helm, making decisions then this is a game you should try.
Although it is not much of an issue these days, when KOTOR launched it was a real change of pace for console RPG gamers used to choosing from a menu while the enemy politely waited. Like other PC RPGs of the time, KOTOR works on a variation of Dungeon and Dragon rules played out in something akin to real time. This means that you will be watching many of the battles unfold according to the mathematical odds dictated by character/enemy levels, skills, and equipment – with a little bit of luck thrown in by the random number generator (RNG).
That is not to say that you will be an involved observer. Although there is a limited ability to set character behavior for things like healing or conserving Force abilities and grenades, you will need to intervene frequently to make sure that your characters are pointed at the right enemy, that your team is staying alive, and that your party only enters battle in the most advantageous of circumstances.
More common RPG tropes are present as well. You will get to create a character (male or female) and select a class for them with a selection of aptitudes, feats, and abilities. Leading your party through the game, you will get to make decisions, interact with NPCs, and either solve problems heroically or make a bigger mess of things like a jerk. Your adventure will span more than half a dozen worlds, each filled with quests, dangers, and gear.
For the longest time, KOTOR was only available on the PC and XBOX platforms. The PC has always been regarded as the definitive version but for much of this game’s existence, gamers have been strictly divided into PC aficionados and console die-hards, meaning that for many gamers it was difficult to play this title. A terrible (really, terrible) attempt to make KOTOR playable on the XBOX 360 using the original XBOX game disc is worth mentioning but not anything I would suggest.
Today, KOTOR is a game that has been ported to so many devices that nearly any gamer can enjoy it. Additionally, the PC version of the game with base graphics is unlikely to strain most modern PCs, even store-bought units with limited graphics abilities.
KOTOR is available on PC and Mac OS through reliable vendors such as Steam or Good Old Games (GOG). On your android device, you can download it from the Google Play store or from Amazon’s Underground service (where it is free to download for Amazon Underground customers at the time of this writing). It is also available in the Apple store for iPhone users. If you still have an Xbox laying around, it is a cheap pick up disc-only – but if possible, I would recommend aiming for the PC version if only for more recent updates to fix game breaking bugs and the opportunity to use mods.
A direct sequel was for KOTOR was created, KOTOR II: The Sith Lords. Without going into spoiler-territory, it is worth noting that KOTOR II is a really good game but most agree it falls short of the original. While it has superior gameplay, more varied graphical assets, and a killer cast of characters, the developer (Obsidian Entertainment) did not have the same panache that Bioware did when crafting the story and it is obvious throughout the game that the countdown to launch date was hanging over the rushed developers. It is definitely a fun outing for fans of the original KOTOR, though.
More recently, an MMORPG simply titled “Star Wars: The Old Republic” was launched. Having never played it myself, I won’t endorse or discredit it but a simple search of the Googles shows that it has a strong and consistent playerbase and seems to be receiving significant content updates on a fairly frequent basis – both the signs of a great game to play for players who enjoy getting lost in MMORPGs. This game’s plot takes place a few hundred years after the original KOTOR so expect to see a lot of familiar places if you pick this one up.
What would a club be without the rest of the people in the club? As per usual, we will have a thread in the forums to discuss how this game is going for you. Tread lightly if you are 100% unfamiliar with this game as discussing it without mentioning some plot elements will be next to impossible. If you see a box marked ‘spoiler’ and you haven’t yet fulfilled your role in saving the universe (or condemning it to a bleak existence) then you should probably not click it till you are finished.