Last year, I got to experience the joy of playing a classic Star Wars game that offered both excellent storytelling and immersive gameplay: Knights of the Old Republic. I’d read so much about it and its sequel, Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords, that I knew I’d eventually get around to playing both of them.
Well, having made a strong attempt with KOTOR 2, I can honestly say that this sequel doesn’t come anywhere close to the power and joy of the original.
In many ways, the plot of KOTOR 2 is similar to that of the first game: your featureless protagonist must undergo Jedi training and gather several allies from across the galaxy in an attempt to bring pieces of a plot item together in order to vanquish the current Sith menace. But there’s a key difference in the sequel. You play as the Jedi Exile, a lone Knight cut off from the Force in the wake of the Order’s downfall. You meet a mysterious Force-user named Kreia, who guides you on your quest to gather the surviving members of the Jedi Council on Dantooine and make a final stand against the deadly assassins led by Darth Sion and the all-consuming hunger of Darth Nihilus.
So what does this game have to offer?
- A less than stellar protagonist. I realize it seems strange to compare player characters across both games (since they’re both customizable and player-oriented), but it feels as if the player’s weight in the story matters less. A lot more attention is focused on Kreia and her constant spouting of philosophical musings. It’s not to say that a mentor figure isn’t good for this game, but Kreia’s narrative importance seems to unbalance the value of the Jedi Exile herself. It’s Kreia who manipulates so many things and holds so many secrets, compared to Bastila, whose revealed secrets were far more of a surprise in the first game.
- An interesting team influence mechanic. I do like the aspect of the game in that it adds a new element to your party-building. Whereas the first game only focused on sharing stories with your crew and building trust, this game registers your influence over party members as Light Side or Dark Side. Basically, the more nice things you do, the more heroic your team becomes. The more vicious or deceptive you are, the more corrupt they become.
- A vague Sith threat backstory. The threat in KOTOR 2 comes from a pair of competing Sith Lords and their endless army of Jedi-hunting assassins. This somehow leads to the entire Jedi Order disbanding, which I find hard to believe. The threat of this game doesn’t have the same bold flavor of Darth Malak and his Sith Empire, which was tangible on every planet visited. We see less of this new Sith threat in action and are told more about it in passing.
- A weaker opening. The first KOTOR game opened on a Republic cruiser under attack by Sith forces, creating an atmosphere of excitement while also demonstrating the threat of the Sith Empire. KOTOR 2, however, opens inside an abandoning mining facility with the main character searching for clues and allies, with the Sith nowhere in sight for a good 15 minutes or so. Some players might prefer that, but it doesn’t have the same appeal for me.
- Numerous glitches and other flaws. Honestly, there were glitches when I played the first KOTOR game, to the point where I had to disable movie files just to keep it from crashing. None of that ruined my enjoyment of the game. But the recurring screen freeze-ups and cutscene animation errors that occurred in my playthrough of KOTOR 2 did not make me more determined to see the game through to the end. I don’t blame the developers at Obsidian since they couldn’t give this title their best, but that rush job shows throughout the game.
I really wanted to enjoy this game, but even going in, I knew there’d be issues. It’s a tragic thing that its development was so rushed for a holiday release (an all-too-common fate for popular game titles these days). With a little care and better planning, I think KOTOR 2 could’ve been a more enjoyable game with a finely crafted story and darker atmosphere. As it is, it’s just an impetus for me to go back and replay the first Knights of the Old Republic game.
Bibliography: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment. Published by LucasArts. Odyssey (engine). Xbox; Windows (platform). Original release date: December 6, 2004.