September 2013 marked the ten year anniversary of BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, so I set out to replay it and find out if the past decade has dulled the game’s allure and appeal.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Set approximately 4,000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, Knights of the Old Republic follows a nameless and amnesic hero who must gather a team of ragtag companions and set off on a quest to gather resources from several key locations and determine the fate of the galaxy. While this may sound like any other RPG, Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) has something that make it stand out from the rest, just two simple words that has always guaranteed its place among the greats. And though two words are Star Wars.
Exploring parts of the Star Wars universe not seen in Lucas’s films has always been an enticing concept – that’s why the Expanded Universe is still expanding and the Legacy comics were so well received. Star Wars is the gift that keeps on giving, and by setting the game 4,000 years before the movies, it was made free of any possible story restrictions and gave BioWare absolute creative freedom. And they used it well, creating a universe so vibrant and luscious that it kind of made the films feel a little bit dull in comparison.
Released after Episodes I and II, films which had been criticised for being too clean and shiny when compared to the grime and grit of the Original Trilogy, KotOR succeed in finding a happy medium between the two styles. Like the Prequel Trilogy, the game looked gorgeous (the style of the Sith armour is still an absolute favourite of mine, and the overall design of the starships is stunning), but like the Original Trilogy, it wasn’t afraid to expose it grim underbelly, exploring themes like slavery, genocide, racism, sadism, patricide, and torture.
But despite its sometimes dark subject matter, the game never loses sight of the fun and escapism that is prevalent in all of the Star Wars universe, and it is that perfect balance between light and dark that makes it such a thought-provoking joy to play.
A ragtag bunch of heroes
BioWare have a long history of writing great characters, but KotOR definitely has some of their most memorable. Despite a cast of nine companions and countless supporting characters, everyone in Knights of the Old Republic feels believable and well-rounded. The villains are never pantomimey, character crises and conflicts never feel forced, and the dialogue flows naturally. They are characters fit for the big screen, and it’s easy to see why so many fans have been demanding an adaption for years. It’s been ten years since I first played the game, but every time I return, it’s like going back to old friends.
Any good RPG has an interesting mix of contrasting and unique characters, and KotOR is no exception. The nine companions you gather are all so brilliantly diverse and each one comes across as natural and believable as possible. These are characters that you want to get to know.
There’s Bastila, the cold and prejudiced Jedi. There’s Carth Onasi (my personal favourite), the heroic but emotionally damaged war hero. There’s Mission Vao, the brash but vulnerable street urchin. There’s Zaalbar, the strangely philosophical and introvert Wookiee. There’s Canderous Ordo, the charismatic yet brutal soldier. There’s T3-M4, the reliable and loyal utility droid. There’s Juhani, the bitter and angry Jedi. There’s Jolee Bindo, the sarcastic and world-weary Jedi. And finally, there’s the fan favourite, HK-47, the bloodthirsty and hilariously psychotic assassin droid.
With such a rich gallery of main characters, each one as brilliant as the last, it’s impossible not to get drawn into the game, and into each of their stories and lives. The game is worth playing for their interactions alone, and their charm is just as strong as it ever was.
“You cannot hide from what you once were…”
One of the strongest aspects of Knights of the Old Republic is its excellent story, which zips along at an excellent pace, the 60+ hours of gameplay flying past as you completely immerse yourself in the game. KotOR contains one of the most tightly constructed plots that I have ever seen, with every mission (main or side) somehow effecting the main story, be it directly or indirectly, or just helping to build your relationships with the main characters. Most RPGs claim that every decision you make will have an impact on the overall story, but Knights of the Old Republic is the first time I’ve ever felt that rule was true.
The overall story of the game is fairly straightforward and familiar – gather companions, save the world – but BioWare handles it brilliantly, making the formula seem fresh and in no way derivative, and even finding time to work in some genuine shocks – including the greatest Star Wars jaw-dropping moment since Luke’s parentage was revealed. But most impressive of all is just how variable everything is, making no two playthroughs the same, and that makes for a thrilling story.
In a market flooded with modern games designed to be visually stimulating and fast paced, it’s refreshing to go back to a game that wasn’t afraid to develop slowly and naturally, with emphasis on character development and exploration. The galaxy might be at stake, but the game always feels personal and intimate, where building relationships is just as important as killing bad guys.
Ten years old, but still looking good
Knights of the Old Republic has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so for many more years. To this day, it remains not only one of BioWare’s best games, but also one of the best games set in the Star Wars universe (which is an impressive feat, when considering titles like Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Republic Commando). Knights of the Old Republic excels in its rich and compelling story, its memorable and loveable characters, and its addictive gameplay. Still as refreshing as when you first played it, it’s a deeply satisfying game that will have you returning to the Star Wars universe time and time again.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, developed by BioWare and published by LucasArts, is available on PC, Xbox, Mac, and iOS. The game played for this retrospective was bought by the author.