Rejoice, Star Wars fans! After a seemingly endless night filled with one mediocre action title after another, Lucasarts and Bioware have done you right with Knights of the Old Republic. Rest assured – if heaven itself presided over the development of a game dealing with Jedi and Sith, Wookie and Twi'lek, this would no doubt be the end result.
The beauty of KOTOR is that it is as complex or accessible as you want it to be. This is a Bioware game, so adherence to d20 rules should be expected. However, not every fan of "The Empire Strikes Back" is a fan of D&D, so there are several options in the game that can be toggled on or off to make the game either feel more like a pen/paper game, or more closely resemble a hack/slash adventure, depending on your own preference.
This is not to say that there is not a learning curve, but the story that has been crafted actually makes you wish to continue to press on, despite the foreignness of this kind of game to most console RPG fans. In the wake of KOTOR, the new Star Wars flicks look like even bigger disasters. It's that good, and the skillfully crafted tale far surpasses any piece of SW lore that has been put out by the man in plaid since the original trilogy wrapped up with Return of the Jedi. Suffice it to say that you begin life upon a republic starship that is under siege, you discover the force flows through your veins, and your own path must be forged from there. To say any more would be doing a great disservice.
One of the greatest things about KOTOR is how it manages to give you the illusion of full out freedom, while still managing to keep the plot progressing nicely. Very few games pull this off, as most RPGs give the player either too little freedom in the name of progressing the story (Final Fantasy), or way too much, to the point where you may not even know there IS a story, ala Morrowind. KOTOR avoids this downfall with ease, by allowing the player multiple paths and choices in almost every situation, without ever becoming too overwhelming. This may be seen as a downfall for those who enjoy the true open-ended RPGs that are prevalent on the PC, but kudos should be given to Bioware for striking an uncanny balance in appealing to both the casual gamer who cannot devote 200 hours to finding everything, and the hardcore audience, who will no doubt want to consume every iota of the scrumptious geek banquet that lies within.
Thanks to the endless customization of force powers, feats, attributes, and light/dark alignment, no 2 playthroughs will ever be alike. Dark Jedi can use light force powers, such as heal, but at a much higher force (read:mana) cost. Light Jedi can use Dark powers, but at a big hit to their karma. This is character customization done right.
Also done right is the presentation – everything here is flawless by my scoring, and though I'm sure I could find something to nitpick at if I looked hard enough, I am not that jaded of a critic. Let's be clear – everything in the visuals, from the rusty old cantinas, to the magnificent skyscrapers of Taris, to the prairie lands of Dantooine are exactly as you may envision them in your head. Alien species of every kind walk around you and go about their business, making you feel like a part in something bigger than yourself. Said races all speak in their authentic film languages, and original music is present in the game that would fit right at home in Episode III. This is more than a great licensed product; this is a labor of love.
If you are a fan of RPGs, you obviously need this game. More importantly, if you are one of the many Star Wars fans who feel the last truly great console title to bear the license was Super Return of the Jedi, then this may end up being more than just a great game to you – it may turn out to be your own personal version of the second coming. A definite contender for Game of the Year.