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The acclaimed Star Wars RPG franchise continues with this new instalment, but does it further the series?
2003 saw the release of a game that quite frankly reinvigorated a brand highly successful in the movie world, but one that always seemed to disappoint in the world of videogames. Going on to win multiple awards including a BAFTA Games Award for â??Xbox Game of the Yearâ?, Knight of the Old Republic managed to attract Star Wars fans and RPG gamers alike when it hit the streets for Xbox and later the PC format.
Although the game was a resounding success for itâ??s developers Bioware, the game wasnâ??t quite perfect with numerous experiences of slow-down and a lack of highly detailed textures, along with a lack of detailed environmental interaction, left the general consensus being â??yes, it was a really good game, but letâ??s hope that they build on it for an improved sequel.â?? So it was understandable that when Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords was announced back in May 2004 (although we first heard rumblings way back in September 2003.) The development baton was subsequently passed from Bioware to Obsidian Entertainment, who had previously developed Baldurâ??s Gate: Dark Alliance II, although Bioware would still be providing itâ??s new Padawan colleagues with the BioWare Aurora Engine to power the new game.
Incidentally, Knights of the Republic had gone on to sell over 2 million copies worldwide and also became the fastest selling Xbox titles in history at the time of itâ??s release so there was quite a bit of pressure on the shoulders of Obsidian to deliver a game that deserved the KOTOR name. At the same time they would also have to work to solve some of the criticisms that the first game garnered â?“ bearing that it in mind, how did they do?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far awayâ?¦
The Sith Lords is set five years after the events of KOTORI, the Jedi Civil War and the death of Darth Malak. The Jedi Order has been reduced to the less than impressive member of one, namely you, while the Sith have spread throughout the galaxy in what has become one of the first, but certainly not the last, Jedi purges. Of course the question remains, do you join them or fight to save the noble Jedi Order?
At the beginning of a new game, as with a lot of RPG titles such as Morrowind, players are given the opportunity to choose the class and attributes of the last Jedi. Whilst there may not seem much of a difference between the Guardian, Consular, and Sentinel classes on first glance, itâ??s worth pointing out one of the additions to franchise, the so-called Prestige Classes, which include Jedi Master, Sith Lord, and Sith Assassin .Of course the ability access the Jedi or Sith classes is entirely based on the characterâ??s alignment to either the Light or the Dark Side of the Force. In a step-by-step manner, players are also given the choice to either manually or automatically set the attributes of their chosen Jedi, with these characteristics affecting the protagonistâ??s abilities in various skills including manipulating the Force, and combat. As with the choice of classes, the listed attributes are quite standard in these types of RPG titles and unless you are an advanced veteran of the genre or just the experimental kind, youâ??ll probably end up doing exactly the same as us and allow the game to automatically set the attributes of the character. Finally, you are given the choice of changing the randomly generated name chosen by the machine do you stick with Raxon Kupun, or change it to a good Jedi name like â??Tim Bisley.â??
Although the game continues the background story arc of the first game, KOTORII is a standalone game that can be played by gamers who havenâ??t sampled its predecessor. The fact of the matter is that between the iconic crawling text at the start of the game and the conversations held between the protagonist and other characters provides with a good overview of the events that occurred during KOTORI. Whilst there are references made to prior events and characters, with some reappearances thrown in for good measure (in fact, you start off the game playing as T3-M4 from the first title) Sith Lords is very much its own game. In fact, the game is pretty much a carbon copy of the first title, something that it perhaps borrows from the films (it may have been slated, but Phantom Menace is essentially A New Hope.) At the end of the day the game is a story about Good vs. Evil where the temptation to turn to evil permeates throughout the narrative.
And itâ??s not only in the reappearing characters that lines of similarity can be drawn between Sith Lords and itâ??s predecessor. Like the force, there are a couple of polar opposites in the environment, although they are not quite as black and white â??Lightâ? or â??Dark.â? One of the new planets features in Sith Lords is the smuggler planet of Nar Shaddaa, which is described as an underworld equivalent, a â??dark mirrorâ? of the Galactic Capital planet, Coruscant. Veterans of KOTORI will of course remember the plant Taris, which was mooted as a rival to the Capital in days gone by before it slid into degradation.
An elegant weapon for a more civilized ageâ?¦
At the beginning of the game, the â??lastâ?? Jedi is severely wounded, with no memory of who he is, or what has gone on before. Once again the story is one of demystifying your past, which means that for quite a proportion of the game youâ??ll actually be without your trusty lightsaber. Even though you start off neutral to the Force, the fact that you are an amnesic Jedi means that there is quicker sense of pace to the game compared to its predecessor â?“ itâ??s no longer a surprise to learn that you are a Jedi at all. Although there are various weapons to hand as you explore the environments in the game, including blasters and blades, itâ??s only when you discover your lightsaber that players will truly feel like a Jedi.
Like martial arts, there are many forms of lightsaber combat in Sith Lords, in fact there are eleven forms in the game, of which players can learn up to seven. Each form has its own pros and cons, so whilst the Ataru style of combat is a better style to use against a single enemy itâ??s actually quite poor when faced with a blaster. In direct contrast to the Ataru form, the Shien style is excellent at defending against a blaster shot, but poor when used against a single enemy. With the sheer range of forms and the fact that the Jedi can learn up to seven styles players are sure to learn a balance to deal with virtually any situation. In addition to the forms, the lightsaber (as well as some of the other weapons and armour) can be upgraded by utilising any of the workbenches that can be found dotting the environment in Sith Lords.
On top of the workbenches, Sith Lords also includes Labs, which can be used to breakdown various components that litter the planets and facilities in the game to new items from Med Packs to various Grenades. Whilst this does sound like a neat touch, the truth of the matter is that like the workbenches and the labs themselves, lockers and storage barrels are rarely in short supply, and you can rest assured that a lot of the provisions that can be manufactured by the labs can actually be found in quite plentiful supply.
The Force is an energy field created by all living thingsâ?¦
As well as the reliable lightsaber, the game obviously includes a significant number of Force Powers, although at the beginning players are heavily restricted by the choice of power they can learn. Advice on which ability to learn can be provided on request, although with the sheer amount of droids that youâ??ll face in the opening sections of the game, weâ??ll give you a free tip â?“ learn Droid Stun, as it comes very handy indeed. Whilst players are not restricted by which side of the Force their Power comes form, going against the grain and using a Dark Power when you are closer aligned with the Light Side of the Force will prove to be more costly for your character. As well as the Dark and Light Powers, the game also includes the so-called Universal powers that donâ??t handicap players regardless of their Force alignment, and again there are several of these to be had throughout the game.
I have a bad feeling about thisâ?¦
One of the main selling points of the last game was that it allowed the player to choose throughout the course of the game to either align with the Jedi or the Sith, done through actions and conversations. This feature once again returns in Sith Lords, although it has been developed so that the â??teamâ?? around you also begins to lean towards your chosen alignment and not only that, if they go against that alignment they will let you know. Itâ??s a nice feature that doesnâ??t really push itself forward hard enough, and for a vast majority of people it will actually make them press the â??AutoAssignâ? button more readily than before â?“ after all for gamers who just want to get on with it, the idea of manually updating the characters may not occur until the game is restarted along a different path.
Visually the game isnâ??t too dissimilar from its predecessor, which means once again that there is a distinct lack of highly detailed textures. Whilst this can be forgiven in an RPG to some extent, the fact that the game still suffers from drops in frame-rate is inexcusable. We donâ??t mind if the game follows in a similar format to KOTOR, but Obsidian could have taken a quick look at improving the frame rate in combat situations â?“ to be honest slow down sometimes occurred as we explored the levels, so we hope that if KOTOR III ever emerges, we can only hope that this irritation is reduced to a minimum or removed entirely.
In complete contrast to the gameâ??s visuals, the sound and sheer amount of speech is truly unbelievable, and the fact that the voices do actually seem to belong to the characters that they are supposed to helps to immerse you into the story. It does have to be noted that it is all to easy to find yourself caught in some conversation loops, something that is evident fairy early on in the game when you talk to the HK Protocol Droid (C-3POâ??s sometimes annoying personality has nothing on this heap of junk, which insists on prefixing every reply with itâ??s expression and tone.) Being Star Wars, the game has its fair share of SFX right out of Ben Burttâ??s audio library which again add to the gameâ??s overall credibility in the Star Wars Universe â?“ fan boys might recall that George Lucas actually regards the events of KOTOR I as being part of the true history of the SW Universe and not just part of the so-called Expanded Universe.
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