May the port be with you.
Making the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, the PC version of LucasArts' Xbox space saga, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II " The Sith Lords (phew), re-docked with my computer this week. So, once again I was faced with difficult but welcome choices.
Such as, what kind of Jedi do I want to be? Shall I meditate all day and all night on the Force as a Jedi Consular? Should I follow the intense combat training of the Guardian and wield an unstoppable light-saber or two? Will I become a wishy-washy Jedi Sentinel? No way.
On the Xbox, my fallen Jedi Sal Magicpants eschewed the physical and trained his force powers to alarming potency. He strode confidently down the Dark path and eventually became a Sith Lord, leaving a trail of fear, destruction and dead kittens in his wake. Puny human minds collapsed in terror at the sight of him; the raw power of his Force lightning sterilized entire planets, leaving the universe a much cleaner, eviler place. Muahaha.
So this time I decided to become a Guardian and learn the way of the saber. I donned the humble robes of the Light side. I would be a kinder, gentler Jedi. I would help people, I would seek peaceful resolutions to conflict, and I would try to eat fewer kittens.
But first I had to overcome my troubled past. Having disobeyed the Jedi Council and followed Revan into the Mandalorian wars, I took part in some of the most horrific slaughters of the conflict. Disturbed by the carnage, I left Revan and returned to the Jedi Council to stand before them and receive their judgment. Their hearts hardened - exile was my fate.
Except for the being nice part, this is all exactly the same as the Xbox version. The differences between the two versions are pretty minor and depend in large part on how good your computer is. With a good rig, you'll enjoy better textures, smoother framerates and much shorter loading times.
My main complaint about the PC version is that some of the controls and the menu screens are still optimized for the Xbox controller and are a little clunky for a PC interface. Even though it looks better than the Xbox version, the PC version still uses the three year-old Neverwinter Nights Aurora engine. While tweaked and improved, what was impressive in 2002 is now merely adequate.
Besides, as you progress through the story, it's the great sound that will really grip you. It's as spectacular as ever, featuring both original and classic Star Wars orchestral music. From the buzz of a light-saber to the howl of a Wookie, the effects are perfect, pulled straight from the movies and surrounding you in glorious Dolby 5.1. Perhaps the most impressive audio is found in the voice-acting, as every single entity in the game has something to say. The voice actors are a talented bunch; as well they should be, because they got plenty of practice supplying what must be more than one-hundred hours of spoken dialogue.
But like its predecessor, KOTOR II is all about the complex story, which is a fair bit better than what you'll find in the recent Star Wars movies. The interaction with your party members has also gotten more complex; depending on how you treat them and how much you interact with them, you gain or lose "influence." With enough influence, a character might follow your lead down the Dark or Light paths, even though they wouldn't normally be inclined to. Alternately, you can piss them off to the point that they betray you. Things become even more interesting when you realize there's no "winning" or "losing" in these interactions; if you want to drive a particular character away, you can.
The mini-games of swoop bike racing and the card game Pazaak are both back, and remain essentially unchanged with only a couple minor tweaks. The rest of the game is just chock-full of small additions, fixes and balances. For example, you can now bash open many containers, but risk damaging the contents found within (a concept that should have been in Neverwinter Nights to begin with). There are also lots of new items to craft if you have the proper skills. A great deal of thought has gone into trying to make the mostly incidental skill set from the first game more useful.
Some new feats and powers clearly strive to improve the balance between different styles of gameplay. There are several new light-saber fighting styles to learn when you finally build a new saber, each one with certain small advantages and disadvantages depending on the fight. As a fighter, I found the differences between them to be pretty minor. I was so bad ass that it really didn't matter.
The PC version of Star Wars: KOTOR II - The Sith Lords gives you the same sort of huge, epic story that the fist KOTOR did, plus a few extra goodies on the side. This is not an expansion pack and you do not need the original KOTOR in order to play, which opens the game up to you Padawans as well. Despite some slightly dated looks, the deep plot will draw you in and the near-invincible power will continuously tempt you to the Dark side. I can't make any promises for Episode III, but The Sith Lords will not disappoint.