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.