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Page 1 of 3Put a good RPG development team on a game, then force the product out on the market too early. The result? Knights of the Old Republic II (KotOR2). In some ways, this title surpasses the original. In others, it falls short, not merely of KotOR, but of a variety of computerized RPGs that have become standard references in this field, such as Baldur's Gate 2, Planescape: Torment, and even Ultima VII: The Black Gate. What sets these games apart from the rest? Depth of roleplaying universe. Each one of these three RPGs provided, in its separate measure and fashion, a layering of involvement and simulated activity that brought the gaming environment alive. By contrast, KotOR2 sometimes feels like a pretty empty place. Emptier even than KotOR, which is saying something.
First, there's the matter of what we might call, to wax technical, Lots of Little Improvements. Each may seem small on its own, especially to marketing teams that want blazing headlines, but taken together, they stack fairly tall on the horizon. Consider: in KotOR, ranged weaponry was pretty much a dead loss. Those rifles looked good, but the best could only dent a helmet if you really tried hard and fired at it for a very long time, preferably at point-blank range. Melee was King, whether with a lightsaber or something equally slicey and dicey. KotOR2 remedies this, with better balance among weaponry types, and numerous improvements you can make that turn a rifle into a work of murderous art. Want to stun your victim, do electrical, sonic, cold, flaming, or even unstoppable damage all with a long-range item? This game delivers.
That brings up another LI: the sheer variety of items you'll find. KotOR seemed limited in this respect. There were a lot of weapons to find lying about, seemingly waiting for your hot little hands, but they tended to be all too alike. Obsidian has invented a whole raft of well-balanced goodies of every sort. Not the least attraction of all this is to read the background on a given headband, shield device, suit of armor, etc. There's some nice pieces of lore to be found, and many ways to configure the equipment of your party.
Improvements you can make is a phrase I used above for weapons in KotOR2, and yes, that's another LI. In fact, there are two kinds of workbenches you can access. One lets you make upgradeable devices for lightsabers, ranged and melee weapons and armor; then you can add or remove from items in your inventory that support the changes. (Not everything will, but there's a gratifying number that do.) One drawback: you can't create upgrade devices and apply them on the same screen. Instead, you have to back out of the creation screen, then enter a separate one for upgrading. Yes, I know; I feel your pain. But surely a jedi can withstand a little of that.
That brings us to a corollary LI: another workbench dedicated to what we might call (other stuff.) This includes all those power-ups for feats, skills, attributes and such that you wear, as well as health improving items (medpaks, etc) and health decreasing items (mines, grenades, etc). So even if you can't find that next merchant with just the stock you want, provided you're near a workbench, you can build it, yourself.
To do so requires parts that you breakdown other items in your inventory. What you choose to breakdown is up to you. Nicely complicating matters is the fact that most items require a specific level in a given skill to make; so if you don't have a Security skill level of 20, you won't be able to craft that Vibration Cell Mk3 you've always wanted for your very own.
And that's another LI: unlike KotOR, skills actually count for something in KotOR2. Sure, certain party members can substitute for you in making items associated with a given skill, but everybody in your party uses your Repair skill when it comes to breaking down items so if you don't have a very high score in that, you'll get far fewer parts to construct new items. What's more, you get experience for disarming/recovering mines, so you'll want a high Awareness skill; experience for accomplishing goals on the computer through the Computer Use skill; better rewards with a high Persuade skill; better healing for all your party through your own personal Treat Injury skill; and some nice experience bonuses for opening doors and containers using your Security skill.