A new take on an old republic.
With the huge commercial successes of Everquest, Ultima Online and Lineage: The Blood Pledge, it seems like every company these days is working on a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). From the depths of space with Eve Online to the deepest dungeons of World of Warcraft and even through the Halls of Justice with City of Heroes, dozens of vast new online worlds will be competing in the next couple years for our precious time and money.
But while MMORPGs offer unprecedented complexity, depth and community, they always fall short when it comes to story. Of course, you can't blame the developers, because there's really no way to do it. In a single world, you just can't have everybody playing the prince.
Which is why traditional single-player RPGs will never be replaced. There is no better gaming genre for storytelling, and there is nobody better at it than Bioware. Their classics like the beloved Baldur's Gate series and recent Game of the Year winner Neverwinter Nights broke apart the RPG mold, proving that there was far more to RPG gaming than just stat building.
And this is why I'm so very excited about Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (or "KOTOR" for short, which is what the Bioware guys call it). Coming out this year for both the Xbox and PC (the only difference being control), this looks to put some zing back into the single-player RPG scene.
This story-intensive RPG takes place four thousand years before Skywalker, Kinobi, Solo and the like were even born. Thousands of Jedi and Sith roamed the galaxy showing off their twirling light-sabers.
Though the Star Wars universe is notoriously rigid, you can forge your own destiny in this galaxy as a powerful Jedi, a sneaky smuggler, a brutal Sith or nearly anyone else you wish to be. Your choices and your destiny are your own.
KOTOR will reflect your personality in your character model. If you play as a Jedi and slowly drift over to the Dark side, you'll notice darker facial features, black eyes, etc. Likewise, play the good guy and you'll start to look all sunny and happy.
The game itself is based largely on the D&D 3rd edition gaming system, so all the familiar attributes from strength to charisma are here, not to mention plenty of D20 rolls. Weapons and armor can be bought, found and even upgraded and customized in your ship's workshop. Put a new crystal in your light-saber, tune it to yellow, and see what happens.
The gameplay will be instantly familiar as well, featuring the same real-time combat as other Bioware titles. You can still pause to queue up to 4 attacks or perhaps to just grab a beer.
You can travel across 7 planets, including Kashyyyk, Mannan and Tatooine with your party of up to three characters. You can even swap them out with other characters on your ship, depending on the situation. Going into battle? You might want that giant Wookie or a brutal battle droid instead of that flimsy Bothan, but you wouldn't want them along if you were trying to sneak your way through enemy territory.
KOTOR runs on an enhanced version of the Aurora engine, the same one that powered Neverwinter Nights. Hence, much of what made that game great is here as well. Fantastic lighting effects, smooth textures and a very believable SW universe give you a great playpen.
Add some professional actors providing the 14,000 lines of voiced dialogue (including Ed Asner) and a bunch of mini-games (including "swoopbike" racing) and you've got exactly the sort of top-notch product Bioware is famous for. Aspiring Xbox Jedi should be prepared for a July adventure, while their PC counterparts will have to focus on patience until this Fall. Either way, KOTOR is a Force to be reckoned with.