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Page 1 of 4Flashback to E3 2002, Los Angeles. BioWare had set up a preview booth that I would pass by each morning, just after the escalator up to the aircraft-hangar-huge main hall. On their monitor was a looping video of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and a few employees leisurely manning the booth. That first morning of E3, I stood and watched the video--and came away confused, wondering exactly what it was I was viewing at and what type of RPG they were shooting for. Stuttery with an average framerate at best, it looked for all intents and purposes like another hybrid 3D action/RPG, and my thoughts turned elsewhere. That is, until last spring, when the Xbox version was released.
Funny how first impressions can often be so right, and then again in the end. . . .
It's not because I'm a Star Wars fan that I adore the game. That's a misconceived rumor surrounding every major Star Wars game released--that you must already enjoy Star Wars to be a fan of the product. Or worse, to even understand. The great thing about the Star Wars universe is that at its base lay the struggle between "good" and "evil," and that's something we all can understand. The same applies to KotOR.
The game envelopes you in its overall evil dictator plot, so simple that small children will pick it right up. Then it re-emphasizes the good vs. evil approach by allowing you, at all points in the game up to the very end, to choose (mostly through conversation) which point on that continuum you rest. Where you are on that light/dark continuum influences not only non-player characters' (NPC) reactions toward you, but your own party members' reactions, and the magical abilities known as force powers, all throughout the game. It's that consistent freedom to choose that is the foundation for the gameplay found in Knights of the Old Republic.
For those with little previous role-playing experience, the d20 ruleset--a system using only a single 20 sided dice for chance rolls--the game is based upon may at first seem a little daunting. Thankfully, KotOR does a commendable job at catering to both experienced role-players and those who are new to the genre by providing mouse-over text help at any time, and adds the very useful Auto Level Up and Recommended buttons for those who care less or are at first intimidated by stats. In other words, it attempts to cover all its bases and in general, succeeds brilliantly.
To begin the game, you're taken to a screen with three choices each of male and female character templates: the rogue-like Scoundrel, who's more dependent on diplomatic conversation choices and ranged weaponry at the beginning than on a melee weapon; the Soldier, who is built with more fortitude and less finesse; and the Scout, somewhere in between the two. All that's required is that you choose a template, portrait and name (with a nice random generator included), and you're set to begin your adventure. For those who wish to tailor every aspect of their character, the game provides this experience as well; simply choose the custom option and you'll be able to allocate all of your primary stats and assign feats and skills. It should be mentioned that at every subsequent level up you're always given the auto level up and manual options, a thoughtful way of handling it. Throughout the game, several NPC characters will join your party and level up along with your main character, and the auto level up button can be occasionally useful.
The tutorial intro sequence is well done--KotOR takes into consideration the recent design paradigm of throwing players right into a hand-held piece of the action to start the game. It is exciting for the new player with just the right light touch of danger, and provides an opportunity to completely learn the ropes without attempting to cram it all in at once. By the time you've finished, you'll be ready to explore the first of the many vast worlds that are included in KotOR. Thanks to the spaceship, the Ebon Hawk, you're able to travel to several of them during the course of the game, and not all are initially available. With the interior of the ship open to you and your party, the FMVs between worlds and the short space battle sequences, these factors lend an appropriately grand and epic feel to the game, which compliments the overall good vs. evil, fight for humanity story nicely.