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Blast From The Past | Knights of the Old Republic

Matt Gardner
BioWare, Blast From The Past, RPGs, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Blast From The Past | Knights of the Old Republic

ALERT: May contain spoilers for a decade-old game. You have been warned. If you've not played this game, rectify that fault immediately and then come back and read this.

When it comes to Western RPGs, or at least those games that give you a choice in how you can affect the world around you and the characters that inhabit it, I nearly always begin by doing an initial runthrough as myself. I make the decisions that I feel I would make were they presented to me in real-life, immersing myself in the story honestly, in the hopes of a return by way of emotional or narrative payoff later on.

But you could be a absolute dick in KOTOR, and in the subsequent playthroughs that I've made (I do one every year), I've been both beatified saint and abhorrent sinner, and everything in between. It's important, I often feel, when it comes to BioWare's games in particular (and Bethesda's for that matter), that to see as much as the game has to offer, you always need to do at least three plotline runs: one for yourself, one as a good guy, and one as an utter bastard.

Blast From The Past | Knights of the Old Republic

KOTOR was perhaps the game that made me feel really horrible about myself for the first time, when it came to some of the decisions I made. Like when I Force Persuaded Zaalbar to murder Mission, just because this 14-year old girl character's voice was getting on my nerves. Mission has been something of a Marmite character for everyone who's played the game over the last decade, but that's only because the scriptwriters and Cat Taber did such an excellent job at bringing this adolescent street urchin to life. I fired up the game last night, and within an hour I'd blackmailed a doctor helping out the poor and the helpless into giving me all of the money he had, and bounty killing a woman who's only crime was resisting the drunken advances of a would-be rapist.

Then again, two simple words made all of that manageable: Force Storm.

Blast From The Past | Knights of the Old Republic

KOTOR was an affecting game, that's the point. You could go to some really dark places in that game, and particularly i n the Obsidian-developed sequel, and do it all set against a familiar, yet wholly different setting. If Rare provided the quintessential masterclass in Film Tie-Ins For Dummies with GoldenEye 64, then BioWare wrote the book on How To Deliver A Magnificent Licensed Game with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It shouldn't be underestimated just how difficult that would have been a decade ago given the circumstances.

We'd just had Attack of the Clones, and over 2002/2003 LucasArts would milk the franchise for all it was worth: Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds: Clone Campaigns, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Star Wars: Racer Revenge, Star Wars: The New Droid Army, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, and Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided just to name a few of KOTOR's contemporaries.

Blast From The Past | Knights of the Old Republic

Now, one or two of those games were pretty damn good, but the vast majority of LucasArts' post-Phantom Menace output had been average at best, and frequently awful. We were sick of half-hearted tie-ins, bored of titles lacking in imagination, and fed up to breaking point with this new trilogy.

So, in a stroke of genius, the licence was handed over to BioWare -- a company with serious pedigree -- and the developers were gifted the most important tool of all: freedom. Set thousands of years before the Battle of Yavin IV, KOTOR didn't need to fit into anything particularly canonical. Drew Karpyshyn and the writing team were given carte blanche to craft their own stories, and cherry pick the best bits of the Star Wars universe and mythology to incorporate into their tale. So along came the cosmic battle between the Jedi and the Sith; lightsabers and blasters were along for the ride; hilarious droids (and meatbags too) and loyal Wookiees were in, alongside a moralising Solo-esque captain with his own code of ethics and a chip on his shoulder.

Blast From The Past | Knights of the Old Republic

Having delved heavily into the Expanded Universe novels as a child, I was already Star Wars mad when KOTOR came along, and had been merrily slicing and dicing Imperial goons as Kyle Katarn for years. But this game allowed me to create my own identity within a universe for which I had fallen head over heels in love. I could swash and buckle from Coruscant to Tatooine to Korriban, and make my mark, all set to a backdrop of familiar, iconic music that sent shivers of happiness down my spine.

The amnesiac conceit was perfect, and looking back I really should have seen the twist coming, but I'm so glad that I didn't. KOTOR shuffled you along through the storyline relatively resolutely, you could never stray too far, but I never really found myself wanting to. Caught up in the midst of  Galactic crisis, in which I knew I (my character) had played a part, I needed to find out what happened next for me as much as for KOTOR's universe.

Blast From The Past | Knights of the Old Republic

But I'll always love KOTOR for giving me the freedom to be a truly reprehensible being, and forcing me to deal with the consequences of those actions, and this is something BioWare have always done well. But whereas you perhaps focused more on the grey area -- the ability to be a good guy that got results through deplorable actions -- in Mass Effect, you were allowed fundamental characterisations off good and evil in KOTOR. And the finale, where you can opt to force your crewmates, companions who've been with you every step of the way, to choose sides, can legitimately end in a bloodbath. It's not like consigning the Council to death aboard the Citadel; you're turning your back on helpers who you've grown to know over the course of thirty hours. It's hard; you remember it.

I don't know if that'll be the case on a mobile device, and I certainly found The Walking Dead to be a slightly less impactful experience on my iPad than I had on the Xbox 360 plugged into my TV. But I don't have to really worry about it, since I already have the original disc, a Steam copy just to be sure, and the Xbox version. I like the fact that this 10-year anniversary re-release means tht the game continues to spread to new platforms. As I said earlier, it's a shining example of what can be done with a licensed IP when a talented studio is given time and freedom.

It's just a real shame that LucasArts completely failed to recognise that, and rushed Obsidian to breaking point for the sequel. You can see glimmers of absolute brilliance underpinning KOTOR II, but damn the publishers for screwing the pooch there, and for near-completely squandering the IP in the meantime.

Still, Bastila and I will always have Dantooine.

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