With the first teasers for The Force Awakens now out in the wild and wowing fans the World over, I thought a retrospective on the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars games might be in order.
One of Disney’s first acts following their acquisition of LucasFilm, and by extension, everything Star Wars, was to shutter LucasArts, the company’s revered games division. Disney’s plan going forward is seemingly to outsource digital lightsaber-wielding duties to third parties. Nervous about what such a move might mean for the franchise? Well, you shouldn’t be, as some of the best Star Wars games of recent years were licensed, long before the House of Mouse starting eyeing up Skywalker Ranch, including the revered Knights of The Old Republic series for the original Xbox and PC. The second of these, subtitled The Sith Lords, is one of the greatest Star Wars stories ever told.
Development fell to veteran RPG outfit, Obsidian, who took the franchise into darker territory than ever before. Indeed, KoTOR 2 is to KoTOR 1 what The Empire Strikes Back is to A New Hope; edgier and more complex, yet always in mind of its roots. As with is predecessor, it was set around 4,000 years before the original trilogy to allow for as much creative freedom as possible.
It’s difficult to praise the game’s plot without ruining it, but suffice to say that impossible choices and harrowing acts of evil were myriad in the game’s nuanced and intriguing narrative. The titular Sith Lords are perhaps Star Wars’ most compelling ever antagonists; Darth Sion, a corpse given life and immortality by the power of his own hatred, Darth Nihulus, who consumed whole planets to sate his unquenchable thirst for Force power, and Darth Traya, The Lord of Betrayal, who by your journey’s end, has more than lived up to her name. A sombre, morose tone pervades throughout; “You… you are the darkness in which all life dies, my lord” mewls Visas Marr to Nihilus aboard his ship, The Ravager, in one scene. Grand Moff Tarkin’s camp menace aboard the Death Star seems quaint by comparison.
KoTOR 2’s gameplay was very similar to that of its predecessor. The combat system was something of a progenitor to that found in the Dragon Age series, straddling the line between real-time and turn-based. Probably the most important gameplay mechanic, however, took the form of frequent moral choices that would slowly learn you more towards the dark or light sides of the Force. Each bestowed its own set of unique powers, and unsurprisingly, the light side powers were mostly defensive, whereas the dark side’s forte was devastating combat abilities such as Force Scream or Force Crush. You could even blur the lines between the two if you so wished, becoming a grey Jedi, mixing defensive and offensive capabilities but at higher cost in terms of Force Points (read: mana). Repeated interaction with party members, which mostly joined you as smugglers, mercenaries and the like, would not only offer a window into their worlds and flesh them out as convincing characters, but also in many cases allow you to train them as apprentices. They’d automatically align themselves based on moral choices made in their presence, so a party of black-robed sociopaths was certainly on the cards, if you wanted it to be.
KoTOR 2 was famously quite a rushed affair, and as such a lot of content had to be cut from the game to meet its all-important pre-Christmas release date, but Obsidian deserve credit for delivering such a fantastic experience in spite of such compromises. Interestingly, many half-finished environments, lines of dialogue and unused locations still exist in the game files, leading a group of enthusiastic fans to undertake a project to finish Obsidian’s work and add them back into the PC version of the game, which they’ve aptly titled the Content Restoration Mod. The team is certainly not short on ambition, as development has been ongoing for years and has yielded some impressive results. Of course, they are only piecing together what Obsidian left behind; none of the new content is original, but the mod offers fans a tantalising glimpse at what might have been.
A third direct sequel was canned at the planning stage in favour of monster MMO, The Old Republic, but by the time it reached store shelves, the ambitious project had arguably missed the subscription-based MMO boat, as is evidenced by its transition to a free to play model within a year of release. The Old Republic is still trucking along today, and although it has quite an involved story by MMO standards, falls far short of the sophisticated and engaging narratives of its single player stablemates. We’ll likely never see a true sequel to The Sith Lords, but it is second only to the original trilogy in terms of what it adds to the Star Wars franchise. Sure, getting the game running on Modern PCs can be a bit of a time consuming process if you’re installing from the original DVDs, but it certainly beats an afternoon in front of The Phantom Menace.
If you have even the slightest interest in Star Wars and/or RPGs, The Sith Lords is essential gaming.