I remember when LucasArts and Bioware first showed KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC at E3 2001. Since then, we've suffered delays, and a move of the game to the Xbox as its first release (the PC version is coming later). Finally, the game has arrived, and it's a game that STAR WARS fans and videogame/role-playing fans are both going to absolutely love.
KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC is set 4000 years before the Star Wars film saga. The Mandalorian wars have ended with several Jedi heroes of the Republic turning to the ways of the Sith, and coming out of nowhere with an enormous fleet. Gamers play a Republic officer who was aboard a ship with the Jedi Bastilla. Bastilla has mastered the art of Battle Meditation, a force power that allows Republic forces to move with utmost cohesion. She's the biggest threat to the Sith, and they attempt to destroy her starship.
The game begins with your character meeting Carth, a republic soldier who needs your help to protect Bastilla. You take an escape pod to the surface of Tarris, a city world much like Coruscant, and then begin your search for Bastilla there. This encompasses just the very first hour or so of the game, and sets up for a very interesting tale of what is yet to come.
Much of the game you'll spend exploring with the ten characters that will ultimately form your party. These characters range from a Wookie, to a Twi'Lek, to several Jedi Knights, a homicidal protocol droid, and an astromech. You'll meet these characters and have to switch around in order to get different reactions, as well as get new side quests to complete. There's also several storylines involving the characters that will require you to travel and talk to them in order for that part of the game to be revealed. A nice feature of the game is that the entire party gains experience points, so no worries about keeping your party balanced.
The makeup of the game is very similar, if not identical, to that of a paper and dice role-playing game. It just puts all of the gameplay rules, stats, dice rolls and powers, behind the engine of the game. It makes it a lot more accessible, and you can easily sit back and take minimal control over the battles, or you can pause after every combat round and issue your orders. It's up to you. I'm personally a fan of letting the game play itself out in real-time fashion, as the combat never proves to be incredibly difficult.
One of the most interesting parts of the game is the perception you get based on your actions. Everything has consequences, and your character will slowly begin to tilt towards the light or dark side of the force. Along with this changes your force powers, the cost and strength of those powers, how people react to you, and even your appearance! It adds a ton of replay value as you'll finish the game playing one way, and want to play another.
RPGs typically have a lot of dialog to go through, along with a lot of meaningless choices. Not so here. If you screw up in conversations, you might bring an entire colony down on top of you trying to kill you. On the other hand, you might negotiate a deal where someone pays you, or you might have to pay something. The things you say are very important in the game, and you have to pay a lot of attention.
As a whole, the gameplay is very sound. It's really deep, lots to explore, and lots of people to talk to. There is a ton of sidequests to complete in addition to your main quest and this game will keep you busy for a very, very long time.
From a graphics perspective the game is gorgeous. It looks really well, and the character models are all nicely done, wonderful animations and effects, especially the reflective ones. The environments are gorgeous and the game is very pretty to look at. The only problem is that the framerate takes a few hits here and there.
While all the Star Wars-related sound effects are here, Bioware chose not to use the John Williams score. This is a good thing, because very little of this game has anything to do with the movies. The score is absolutely excellent, and is perfect in the game. Voice actors do the entirety of the dialog in the game, and the voice acting is top-notch.
KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC will satisfy even the most hardcore of Star Wars fans that only cares for the classic trilogy. This is the best game to be released this year, even eclipsing WIND WAKER. These KNIGHTS will keep you up playing all night.