If you’ve been following my blog then you’re probably aware that I’ve fallen upon some hard times. The only real items of value I have left are my laptop and the clothes on my back. It’s during hard times such as these that gaming can be a massive comfort, quieting the stomach rumblings and pulling your mind off to a galaxy far far away.
My laptop isn’t a gaming beast but it can get the job done. I won’t be playing the latest and greatest games on ultra any time soon, but with an i7 and a Geforce GT 745M it can handle more than your average over-the-counter laptop from Best Buy.
Back when I had money, I was introduced to the glory of Steam sales and went a little hog wild. I bought a ton of older games I either never played or beat, creating a backlog of rather epic proportions. In my current situation it only seemed fitting to start working on that backlog, which is when I decided to play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (commonly known as KOTOR for short).
Did you know KOTOR is over a decade old? I was 12 when it came out on Xbox and PC. I didn’t have either at the time, but my dad did. I remember watching him pop the game disc in and being in awe of the latest and greatest graphical accomplishments gaming had to offer. (No Day 1 update or install were required on consoles back then.)
I was seldom allowed to touch my dad’s coveted Xbox, but whenever I was left alone I’d run to it and play for as long as I possibly could. I remember playing on Korriban and Kashyyyk, but this was right as I started working and hit puberty. Gaming quickly fell to the wayside as I started chasing skirts and the almighty dollar.
RPGs (role-playing games) have always been my genre of choice. I love stories and RPGs offer the richest story content you’ll find in gaming. KOTOR came onto the scene just as RPGs were starting to die off. Halo was revolutionizing the gaming industry and no one wanted the slow-paced combat inherent in RPGs, especially console gamers.
KOTOR was something special though. After their involvement in RPG masterpieces like Baldur’s Gate II and Neverwinter Nights BioWare decided to challenge themselves and create a quicker paced action-style RPG for consoles. They took the same type of combat PC gamers praised in their past RPGs and streamlined it. It was simplified for consoles, given flashy animations, and set in the most popular fantasy/sci-fi setting ever to exist.
Then they did something mind-blowing – fully voiced-over dialogue. Even today, that’s practically unheard of for RPGs. One of the biggest complaints gamers have with the genre is all the reading involved. So BioWare said, “Fuck it! We’re taking reading out of the equation.” The result? A fully immersive Star Wars experience unlike any RPG experience ever even dreamed of.
KOTOR was revolutionary for the genre and put BioWare on the map. Sure, the company had already seen massive success on PC, but KOTOR is the game that turned them into the console RPG juggernauts we know of today.
It all started here, with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Futuristic and Age-Old Technology
Even though it’s available on Steam, there were a few challenges to playing KOTOR today.
The resolutions naturally supported by the game are abysmal at best. It was made back in a time where widescreen monitors and TVs were luxuries only afforded by the insanely rich. Most of us were still living in the round screen age of 4:3, a bygone era that’s largely forgotten in today’s widescreen world.
I wasn’t about to play in windowed mode or with massive black bars taking up the screen. There had to be a way to play the game with a higher resolution! After a bit of digging, I came across Flawless Widescreen, a third party program that helps gamers play older games at resolutions they enjoy.
It wasn’t quite as flawless as its name suggests. Any time I wanted to play KOTOR I had to start Flawless, start KOTOR, load in, close KOTOR, restart KOTOR and pray the program worked. Sometimes it didn’t and I had to repeat the process three or four times before Flawless Widescreen kicked in and the game launched at the resolution I wanted.
The next problem was the game itself and Windows 7. Windows XP was the operating system at use when KOTOR came out and a lot has changed since then. Honestly, it may have been due to the use of Flawless, but for whatever reason the game loved to crash.
It would usually crash while loading between one area and the next, but over the course of my 28 hour play-through it also crashed five times while saving, corrupting the save data. I created 11 separate saves and saved every five to ten minutes to ensure I lost as little progress as possible, but each time it crashed I’d have to go through the Flawless steps all over again.
It got to the point where I would just play until the game crashed and take that as a sign to do something else for a bit.
These issues are to be expected from older games though. No one should start playing a game made for Windows XP or 98 and expect to run without some third party help or technical issues. The fact that I could still play the game at all is impressive and speaks to the longevity of games well after their day in the sun has passed.
Despite advancing technology, a good game is still a good game. Dated graphics and animation are easily overlooked when a good story and top-notch gameplay are involved. Just look at the popularity of something blocky like Minecraft or the multitude of independent titles that come out every year with less than stellar graphics but still garner critical acclaim.
Sure, the fact that I had the patience to deal with the technical issues is one thing, but I never felt like it wasn’t worth the trouble. We remember these games because of how well executed they were, and go back to them because we know they’re worth going back to.
Twelve years ago you needed an Xbox or a gaming PC to play KOTOR. Now you just need a smartphone and you can play it on the go. Sure, your battery’s going to die in half-an-hour, but it’s still a testament to the staying power of a good game.
Twelve years later and over half a million people have paid $10 for KOTOR on Android since it was released last December. If that’s not a glowing review in and of itself, I don’t know what is.
A Modern Review of Yesteryear
Speaking of reviews, I think it’s time we got into the game. How’d it hold up to games nowadays? Is it really worth playing now or is it just a nostalgic stroll through the past?
By today’s standards, KOTOR is good but it’s not great. We’ve been spoiled by expansive open worlds that make KOTOR seem practically linear by comparison. The game is broken up into sections and you get to choose which middle sections you want to go through first.
These middle sections are separated into iconic planets in the Star Wars universe – Korriban, Kashyyyk, Manaan and Tatooine. There’s really no need to visit a planet more than once beyond a handful of side missions that you probably won’t care about when they show up. “The universe is ending and we finally know where the big bad evil-doer’s lair is. Your shipment can wait!”
That’s not a real complaint though. It doesn’t take away from the story or immersion. You’ll run into people on later planets who will react based on what you’ve done at your previous stops, so it still feels like going to Manaan before Tantooine or vice-versa made a difference – even if we all really know it didn’t.
The pacing of the story feels just right and the plot has a nice twist. If you haven’t had it spoiled for you yet then I suggest shunning all things KOTOR until you beat the game for the full effect. While not entirely surprising and hinted at so hard it’s impossible not to guess just before it’s reveal, I’d say it’s almost on par with the first Bioshock’s twist.
The morality system is the clichéd good or evil choice system gamers now roll their eyes at. I’d say it’s forgivable in this instance though, seeing as how BioWare is the company that made it a cliché and practically introduced the world to morality systems with KOTOR. The polarized options are a little more appropriate for a Star Wars game anyway. Do you choose the light side or the dark?
What’s probably most impressive about the morality system is that your companions each come with their own leanings which dictates some of the items they can and can’t use. One of my favorite companions was a true neutral force user. I found him quite interesting and down-to-earth in a universe that obsesses over good and evil like a radical Catholic Church service.
As I said before, the combat is a simpler, streamlined version of games like Baldur’s Gate II. There are fewer options but you never feel like there’s a lack of them. You can pause the game and quickly tell each character what to do and who to target, or you can control one character in real time and let the rest of your party figure it out for themselves.
The game’s AI is atrocious, and there isn’t really anything you can do about it. You can roflstomp your way through most enemies, but when it comes time for boss encounters or the end of the game you’ll probably find yourself getting destroyed if you leave the AI to itself.
I won’t say gaming AI has come a long way, but it’s certainly improved since KOTOR. In the next to last boss fight I was able to get the boss to leave me alone by simply running around a corner and out of sight. If I left my companions alone, they’d often choose just normal attacks instead of the stronger skills I’d leveled for them and any Force users would needlessly deplete themselves of the Force.
Combat was also quite buggy. After telling him to shoot, there were times my main character would run right up to an opponent’s face before opening fire. My AI companions would often stand around for a bit before joining in on fights, sometimes leaving me to take on the threat solo unless I took the reins and manually told them to enter the fray.
I realized a bit late that I decided to play the hard way. My blaster wielding main character was a little outmatched against the final boss. I found out that using an item while engaged and running away from an enemy would cause me to attack first, often resulting in my death. Once I learned to disengage before healing it went a bit smoother, but I still don’t recommend taking blasters to a lightsaber fight.
The final boss fight did remind me of the difficulty I feel we’ve lost in newer games. Too many hold your hand and require you to turn on Super Hardcore Nightmare Veteran mode for a challenge. It felt like an accomplishment when I beat the final boss. I didn’t need a pop up to tell me I’d achieved something.
Overall I’d say KOTOR is still worth playing for anyone who’s looking for a solid RPG. Yeah, it’s dated, but it’s still better than the majority of games out today. And it’s set in the freakin’ Star Wars universe! What’s not to love?
I like to play games in order, and the first game is also the only one I already had on Steam. Apparently I bought the first without the second and money is ludicrously tight right now.
After doing some spoiler-free research, I found most people claim the first KOTOR is better than its predecessor. Whether or not this is just a case of the first one being better because it’s the first one, I don’t know.
I do fully intend to play the sequel and find out though, just not right now. I honestly don’t want to deal with Flawless Widescreen for a bit and, like I said before, I have a backlog of games to get to.
Fallout is up next. Yea, the original Fallout that came out in 1997.
Whether or not I write another piece about my experience with it is up to you. Did you like this article? Is it too long? Too short? Too detailed? Not detailed enough?
Let me know what you thought about KOTOR and this article in the comments below. Even unconstructive criticism is welcome. I certainly hope you enjoyed it.
Until next time, may the Force be with you.