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Celebrating a decade of Star Wars KOTOR


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) is 10 years old. It's difficult to find words to describe how powerful a game it was, and how emotionally engaging and thought-provoking it would turn out to be. Given the legendary status of the Star Wars intellectual property, it was a tough call creating a role-playing game (RPG) based on it. Bioware had to craft a new story and tie it in with the Star Wars universe but also have it stand out by itself. They did the impossible: Making a potentially better story than the original movies. They also created characters that were not only memorable but also deeply rounded and well thought out. 

For those who have not played it, KOTOR was a turn-based RPG developed by Bioware. This is the same company behind Mass Effect, Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate. Bioware is an RPG legend. Their resume is filled with sequels that improved on predecessors (with exception to Dragon Age 2, of course) and stories so well crafted that very often non-RPG players were drawn into these virtual worlds. There was also a sequel released roughly a year later under the name KOTOR II: Sith Lords.


Getting back to the Bioware's Star Wars game. It was met with some skepticism at first but before the game was released it was shown to have the kind of depth of story, character and moral consequence that it defined how Bioware was to craft the every forthcoming game since its release. Players had to make choices in-game that defined whether they would ultimately serve the light side or dark side. Your alignment in game defined how strong certain powers were, and how dark-side-aligned powers could be weakened by serving more of the light side, vice versa as well.

The combat was turn-based with a queuing system that relied on Dungeons and Dragons rules. KOTOR was basically a D&D game set in the Star Wars universe. Weapon attacks combined with force powers were used to defeat enemies from many races, some were Wookies (as on Kashyyk), others were corrupted jedi turned to sith. Later on, more force-resistant monstrosities were faced. Players were able to switch between each member of their party and combine different skill sets in combat as well as item interaction. 


There was a great modification system too. Lightsabers could be modified with crystals that gave attacks unique qualities. Weapons could be upgraded with different parts to enhance damage and other traits. Skills development naturally went quite deep with different bonuses and penalties granted to balance out each characters' strengths and weaknesses. Using the wrong weapon with certain attributes and skills had the effect of weakening players.

Oh, and if you wanted to, you could dual wield a light saber or build a light saber staff, darth maul style.

Perhaps the best part of the game was the character interaction that allowed players to influence party members through their actions and words. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong juncture led to party members mistrusting you. Saying the right thing on the other hand sometimes provided negative results, but often led to closer relationships within the crew. Very often, a NPC needed to face something, and you supporting them in their time of need led to combat bonuses. The story arched in line with character development, as you leveled up the story advanced. It was an approach that worked for the most part, and timing was needed to keep up with your crew's needs.


The same choices you made for dark and light side extended to the worlds visited around the universe too. Whether people helped certain people over others opened up other possibilities. Killing a possible party member when they could've lived made enemies later in the game that could've been avoided. The same light side choices could've become dark side choices in another situation. Very often, helping a merchant when he needed to survive an attack led to some unique items being given to you later on in the game. The way the game played was profound. The same gameplay dynamics extended into KOTOR 2: Sith Lords, although the sequel was not as complete a game as the first.

For Star Wars fans the ship provided mirrored the Millennium Falcon enough to make it familiar, and Carth Onasi is regarded as the closest character  to Han Solo in the entire Star Wars universe. 

Many party members were quite interesting to explore. HK-47, for example was an assassin droid whose mysterious origins and violent way of thinking was intriguing enough to keep him on board just to see what he'd say in the field. Carth Onasi was a deeply troubled man hiding behind bravado and was later revealed to be a potential jedi. Canderous Ordo's stories were often entertaining enough to be a reason to listen to the grizzled old mandalorian after every mission. Jolee Bindo was jaded old Jedi Consul with more criticisms for you than your father, mother and grandfather combined, yet he was royally likeable and one of the most memorable characters to have around. T3-M4 had just as much personality as R2-D2 too.

No Star Wars story is complete without its villains. Darth Malak was a sinister force in the game. Not only was he closely linked to the player's character, but he was also once one of the most powerful jedis in his time, rivalled only by Darth Revan. His discovery and use of the Star Forge is perhaps more compelling than The Emperor's building of the Death Star itself.

As players traversed each world, the diversity of the Star Wars universe became more and more apparent. Korriban's deathly dullness combined perfectly with the Sith Academy's sinister modus operandi. Kashyyk, the Wooki home world was green as the most wonderful gardens yet its wild fauna were untamed as its native species. Dantooine's open spaces reminded us why the Jedi Council chose to remain on the planet.

10 years have passed and we're reminded that real innovation never ages. Graphics and sound systems grow old and useless on new platforms but real creativity spreads into new territory, feeding the games industry as a whole. If KOTOR were not a success we wouldn't have had the epic Mass Effect trilogy we see today. So Bioware, When is KOTOR 3 coming out?

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is available on PC (Steam) and on iOS devices.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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