A long time ago in the year 2003, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was released. Set thousands of years before the Star Wars franchise of films take place, Knights of the Old Republic tells a story far removed from the likes of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. This role-playing game sticks you in the role of a character you get to create yourself, a human who has woken up on a Republic starship as it is attacked by the ever-growing Sith empire. After the fall of Dark Lord Revan, Darth Malak seeks to wipe out the Jedi and the Republic to secure Sith rule over the galaxy. Once you’ve made your escape, Knights of the Old Republic opens up to a broader story about learning more about yourself, the Jedi Order, and the Force as you help the Republic strike back against the Sith…
The beautiful thing about Knights of the Old Republic is how open it is to your input. You can choose to be a good guy and do everything a traditional hero might do in their quest to save the galaxy, or you may give into your personal dark side and help the Sith seize control instead. This is all hinged on the game’s morality system, where your dialogue responses, actions towards characters, and your choices during quests will tip you towards either the Light Side or the Dark Side of the Force, with the game having many appropriate results for the path you choose. As you travel across the many worlds both old and new and meet alien species of all types, you will find that there are many decisions to be made along the way, some offered up by the main quest and others cropping up in the subquests. While some subquests are simple and straight forward, I was surprised to see so much thought put into some of them given their optional nature. There are no generic or tedious quests that involve killing a certain amount of creatures of anything like that. Instead, you’ve got things like mysteries you have to uncover, feuds between families and alien races, and small diversions like bike racing and card games. Each quest has multiple ways to be solved and different outcomes for how you went about it, and I found it quite easy to tip towards either side of the Force as I reacted to these quests how I thought best. Although at the start most Dark Side options were cartoonishly evil, the game does add quite a lot of simple options that will tip you to the Dark Side such as aggressive negotiation, demanding higher rewards, or just choosing the option to fight someone instead of talking it out. For the majority of the game, I found my character to be neutral with the Force, only occasionally dipping towards either side depending on what I happened to encounter along the way.
The quests and dialogue options are where Knights of the Old Republic excels, building up an interesting world that managed to ignite in me a renewed interest in Star Wars that even the new films couldn’t match. I wanted to get to know the things I was seeing better, even though the game was doing a lot to flesh them out on its own! There is so much lore to be found about the creatures, governments, and planets in this game that they feel like the worlds they’re meant to be even though you only get to explore a set part of them. Perhaps the most love storywise was given to your party, with each new character that joins coming with their own backstory, character arc, and divergent paths. Well… all of them except the astromech droid who can only talk in beeps and boops. Whether its the fiercely loyal Wookiee Zaalbar, the delightful assassin droid HK-47, or the jaded old Jedi Jolee, each character brings with them a story you can explore or choose to skip, and your influence can help them choose how it ends. Rather than just being party members I chose for how strong they were, I would bring certain party members out and about in the hopes of learning more about them, the characters chiming in during conversations and gradually revealing their tale to you as the game progresses. Another nice touch is that no matter who you bring with you, all characters level up at the same pace, meaning that you can swap them out without there being any penalties.
Yet another nice touch is that you can decide your course pretty well even outside of the story-based choices. The game pushes you pretty hard to take up a lightsaber during the course of the plot, but I had decided I wanted to make my character a bit of a blaster-focused scoundrel and the game was still possible despite eschewing the series’s definitive weapon. I never had to swing the lightsaber once as my created character… although I did have some partners who used their lightsabers in my stead. Sure, there would have been battles that would have likely been easier had I given in and used one, but the lightsaber had its own downsides as well, and no matter which weapon you choose, the game is still possible to complete. One thing that heavily contributes to that is the fact that most numbers are kept pretty low. Your leveling up is slow and steady, with the cap being level 20, and damage numbers usually stay pretty low as well. Although it is certainly satisfying to see high numbers, keeping the numbers low allows you to keep most characters, weapons, and skills viable throughout the game. If you can’t find a better heavy weapons blaster for your good friend Canderous Ordo, he can still go the rest of the game with his default weapon without falling behind in usefulness. You can influence characters with their skill level ups to be better at certain things and learn new skills, but keeping the ceiling low prevents things from growing imbalanced. It helps offset the fact that money is doled out cautiously, stores usually stocking the stronger weapons you can’t dream of buying until you’ve gotten near the end of the game. The money isn’t so limited that you can’t stock up on essentials like medpacks though and the marginal equipment upgrades are usually properly priced so that the stores still serve a purpose early on.
I’ve gotten quite far in without directly mentioning the combat, so I suppose I should mention that if the game falters in anyway, it might be in that aspect. Battles in Knights of the Old Republic involve you and up to two party members facing off with foes in what could almost read as active turn-based combat. This game has a lot of number crunching done under the hood for how certain attacks and skills will act and be reacted to, but you don’t really need to learn them so long as you know how to influence them a little. The main issue with the combat comes in the execution though, as it is quite easy to miss or have your attacks dodged no matter how far you are in the game. It is the most annoying at the start though, where you have very few skills or tools so battles just involve you choosing to fight before you sit back and watch your characters automatically attack, slowly missing repeated blaster shots or sword swipes until they hit enough to kill the foe. Things do get better once you start getting skills and especially after you get Force powers, and there are a few things in place to make battles more interesting even when you feel you’re up against something that is much more powerful than you. At any time, you can freeze combat and set up a queue of actions for you and your party, or you can just straight up pause and activate certain items from that menu to heal up or power up. When healing is difficult near the start, there are many doctors around and a teleport option to take you back to base to heal, and there’s usually enough healing items to be found in enemy remains or containers to top you off if you can’t teleport. After the rocky start the combat gets more interesting, although if you’re strong enough you may find battles might devolve back to just waiting on your guys to hit enough to win… although they thankfully miss a lot less as you level up.
There are a few undeniable quirks to Knights of the Old Republic that hurt the experience. The AI is awkward at times, some enemies or your allies standing in place during fights or failing to find their way to a target. Glitches and freezes happened every now and again, but not so much that they were a constant nuisance. Save often and keep a few files and nothing will hold you back too much. The game also does a strange job of balancing enemy encounters or establishing threats, with fearsome bosses and creatures turning out to be pushovers but then a random ambush on Tatooine turns out to be incredibly difficult. There are usually workarounds for any encounter though, such as running away and taking potshots or doing a lot of micromanaging of the combat from the menus. None of these are big enough to strip away the broader enjoyment of the game though, but they are quirks to expect nonetheless.
THE VERDICT: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a phenomenal role-playing game. Your character’s behavior and skills are up to you and the world and plot react appropriately to your influence. Choosing to be good or bad provides equal rewards and support story-wise and you can even play the neutral route and still have a deep experience. Tons of subplots with interesting means of involvement break up the main plot and really elevate this game beyond typicality, and while the combat isn’t always there, it’s open enough for exploration and adjustment without punishing you for making wrong choices. Fleshed out characters, diverse worlds, and all of this without giving in to including cameos from other Star Wars media allows Knights of the Republic to not only appeal to fans of the franchise, but work as its own stand alone piece of entertainment.
And so, I give Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox…
A FANTASTIC rating. Despite the hiccups in the battle system, Knights of the Old Republic manages to still have some good combat to support the absolutely incredible level of quality found in the writing. Allowing you to have so much of an influence on the world and its characters and see actual reactions to it as the game progresses makes for a game that is not only interesting to play, but one that makes you wonder how things would have went if you had made certain small decisions along the line. Even ignoring the impact of the game’s morality system on things, it made me a bit sad that more RPGs don’t make such fleshed out quests for you to participate in or stories for your allies that you can explore. Even this game’s main story packs a few punches despite needing to carry you along the through line of the plot.
Even though it doesn’t have faces like Han Solo or Yoda, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is perhaps the best video game the franchise has ever had. With so much love given to the franchise’s lore, worlds, and history, as well as the open-ended approach for those who want to explore the parts of it that films and books couldn’t capture due to their format, Knights of the Old Republic is a stellar game and one that even people somehow unfamiliar with the absolute juggernaut of a franchise its tied to can still enjoy.