Teaching an old jedi new mind tricks.
During the Mandelorian Wars, there was a great schism between the Jedi. Some advocated a path of peace, arguing that the destruction caused by war would be far worse than anything the Mandelorians could possibly do on their own. Others, led by Revan, suggested that the Jedi carry light sabers for a reason, and that the Mandelorians must be stopped at any cost. You followed Revan.
However, Revan and his followers were, uh, changed by the conflict, and when they returned, the schism erupted into an outright war between the two Jedi factions. For your own reasons, you chose not to take part in any of it, instead returning to stand before the Jedi Council and accept their judgment. Branding you a traitor, the Council stripped you of your Jedi title and your connection to the Force was severed.
For years you wandered distant planets with no will or purpose while the Jedi civil war raged on. The universe, for the most part, ignored you…until now. The Sith, nearly complete in their victory, have determined that you are the last Jedi, though you are no true Jedi. Suddenly, you have become the most wanted man in the galaxy.
Where you go from there is up to you.
For those of you who have actually been living in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, is the sequel to GR’s Game of 2003 and has also already won my personal award for the Longest Game Title Ever. Aside from adding more verbiage, The Sith Lords also adds a few new features to what was already a potent game. There are new feats and new Jedi abilities, more effects to your in-party relationships, and lots of little gameplay tweaks.
Essentially, though, The Sith Lords is the same RPG as the original KOTOR, only wearing some new Jedi robes. It’s on the exact same game engine and the focus is another epic Star Wars single-player game, the gist of which I’ve already given away (Spoiler! Ha! Too late!). Many people were concerned when Bioware handed over development to Obsidian, but staffed with some old Black Isle RPG veterans, the new crew has crafted a storyline just as compelling and original as the first (and a damn sight better than those recent Star Wars movie prequels).
Progressing through much of that story involves talking to members of your own party. The interaction with your party members has 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 might not be normally inclined to. Alternately, you can piss them off too much and they might betray you. It becomes even more interesting when you consider that there’s no "winning" or "losing" in these interactions; you might want to drive a particular character away. As in KOTOR, you’ll enjoy different outcomes as you partake in the game’s numerous sub-plots.
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 for improving the balance between different styles of gameplay. There are several new lightsaber fighting styles to learn when you finally get to build a new saber, each one with certain small advantages and disadvantages depending on the fight. There are now six Jedi "prestige classes" (three per side) to eventually develop, each of which comes with a special Jedi power.
The thing about these changes is that they are all relatively minor. The prestige classes are merely extensions of the three Jedi categories (Guardian, Consular and Sentinel). The new feats and powers are mostly minor upgrades, such as the ability to deflect blaster bolts with your hand instead of your lightsaber, or, in return, the ability to make your blaster bolts a little harder to deflect. Don’t expect any new major combat moves or abilities or a force power that lets you set your enemies aflame. You’ll be playing The Sith Lords exactly the same way you played KOTOR.
Likewise, the graphics haven’t changed much. The various interstellar locations have their own unique flavors, and while a corridor is still just a corridor, some of the larger outdoor areas will have you using the first-person camera just to look around. On the other hand, the original suffered from some framerate stuttering when the action got thick, and it’s slightly worse in the sequel. With games like Fable and Halo 2 resetting the visual benchmark, the Neverwinter Nights game engine is starting to show its age.
The sound is 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 there must be over a hundred hours of game dialogue if you actually stopped to listen to what everyone has to say.
The Sith Lords brings back everything that was great about the first KOTOR while adding a couple of minor garnishes to the already full plate. The campaign retains the magic and moral flexibility of the original, and The Sith Lords‘ ability to branch the story based on your choices and your chosen compatriots gives it the same great replay value. On that note, the once-impressive engine is starting to waver and there really isn’t a great deal of new material here despite a good year and a half since the original game stormed shelves. But don’t let that stop you from spending time with The Sith Lords. It’s like having an old friend drop in – you might already know all his jokes, but damn, it’s nice to have him around again.