A new take on an old republic. Preview

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.