Developer: Bioware (previous: Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, later: Dragon Age series, Mass Effect series)
Release Year: 2003
RPG Tags: Real-time-with-pause, Western RPG, Narrative RPG
Similar To: Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect
- System: Xbox One S (Xbox backwards-compatibility)
- Version: OG (2003)
- Performance and resolution enhanced via Xbox One
- Hours Played: 40+
- Completion Status: Completed Main Quest + Most Side Quests
Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) is truly legendary among both RPGs and Star Wars games. Bioware set their game in a virtually-unused time period in the Star Wars universe, giving them a great deal of creative freedom. Even after Disney’s ret-conning of Star Wars Expanded Universe canon, one of the central characters from KOTOR has survived in the canon even today.
Several companions such as Bastila Shan, Carth Onasi, HK-47, and others have remained in the minds of RPG players for decades. And of course, KOTOR features perhaps the greatest plot twist in video games. This game is almost universally on greatest RPG lists and had a profound influence on Western RPGs that came after.
Where’s the RPG?
See here for a reference as to how each of the above aspects are defined and (subjectively) measured.
KOTOR is a third-person Western RPG that uses solely Real-time-with-pause combat (sort of like Baldur’s Gate). The internal mechanics are based on DND third edition, with dice rolls determining whether you hit in combat or not. These are hidden to the player, although numbers do appear to indicate damage dealt. Leveling up, depending on level, allows a character to increase base attributes, skills, or select feats.
Party size in KOTOR is limited to two other companions that can be swapped out frequently. One of the focal points of the game (and one of the first RPGs to ever do so) is selecting good or evil choices and having it affect your alignment. Your alignment will affect dialogue choices, force powers, and certain stat buffs available to you. Your choices can often affect the path of the story as well, although not to the same extent as some other choice-based RPGs. Lastly a heavy focus is places on character dialogue and building companion relationships. It was the one of the first RPGs to do so.
KOTOR is a fantastic RPG, bar none. I played it quite a bit when I was younger, but never beat it. Now having recently beaten it, it still holds up pretty well. The graphics have aged (I didn’t use the PC version so no HD or upgraded textures) and the combat system feels a bit stunted nowadays. However, the difficulty is pretty well balanced, although Jedi characters end up being the strongest companions for sure.
The best part of KOTOR however is the well-written story and companion characters, and the fantastic and fully voice-acted dialogue. Each character comes from a very different background, with different motivations, desires, and skills they bring to the table. Getting to know and influence your companions is really satisfying. Additionally the quests you partake in across the galaxy often feature interesting political, social, and dangerous situations. It’s hard to forget investigating a murder on the ocean world of Manaan, killing a Krayt dragon in the deserts of Tatooine, or curing a diseased, banished people living under the streets of Taris.
I mentioned the good/evil system, and though it feels basic compared to choice systems nowadays, it is still very impactful. There are a variety of choices in the game that can have fairly significant consequences, though perhaps not as much as one might hope for. Nevertheless the good/evil dichotomy certainly increases replayability.
Returning to the combat system, I think this game might be the first hint to me that I have mixed feelings of Real-time-with-pause-style combat. I enjoy the freedom to either play real-time or to take my time strategizing, however it felt like things could get a bit out of hand or jumbled quickly if I wasn’t constantly pausing (which slowed the game down to a halt). Due to the game not being horrendously difficult this wasn’t a huge issue, but I do think committing to full on real-time with some concessions might have been fun (which Bioware did do later on with the Mass Effect series with good results).
Nevertheless the strong characters, locations, and lore of KOTOR remain extremely fun to delve into today, and it absolutely deserves the accolades it gets.
Retrospective Quality: 5/5
– The best Star Wars game ever made, built on a foundation of excellent character design and solid CRPG mechanics
– The graphics and stiff combat haven’t aged well, but the core concepts are timeless
RPG Soul: 5/5
– Built on DND mechanics, and filled with meaningful choice, excellent dialogue and characters
– KOTOR defined what a great Star Wars game could look like, and the later Mass Effect and Dragon Age series find their roots firmly in KOTOR’s legacy
Great Campaign Level: Lv. 18 Grandmaster