It’s not the first time I’ve written about it, nor will it be the last! This article was originally written for Uproar Comics.
A long time ago, not too far far from here, I picked up a gaming magazine of long forgotten origin. This was before I had decent internet or knew how much content I could find therein. Within the glossy pages that made a nasty creaky, squeaky noise against my thumbnail, I saw a Jedi. The Jedi was fighting another Jedi. There was a yellow lightsaber and a red lightsaber. It was a Star Wars game! Oh, but it was an role-playing game. And it was set in the Old Republic, not even the time we’d seen in the films. Never mind then: it would be a bit rubbish. The graphics weren’t even that great.
At the time, I hadn’t played many RPGs, and my gaming knowledge was pretty much limited to things like Half-Life, Doom and Unreal Tournament. And, of course, Jedi Knight 2! The idea of turn-based combat sounded incredibly boring, as did wandering about picking things up and talking to people. If I’m going to play a Star Wars game, I want to be going about cutting people’s limbs off and Force throwing them off ledges, not having a conversation.
So I didn’t buy it when it came out. The only game I knew the developer, BioWare, from was Baldur’s gate. As brilliant as that top-down fantasy game was, I couldn’t see how it could properly translate to a 3rd person Star Wars game and be in any way exciting.
As time went on, I forgot about it. I think it wasn’t until the following year, coming up to Christmas, that I heard about it again. My dad mentioned it a few times, asking if I’d played it yet and saying it had very good reviews, etc. But I still wasn’t interested.
Then Christmas came. I opened my present from my dad, and there was a plastic box with some bald man, a big-headed woman and a General-Akbar-a-like staring at me. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Goddamn it.
I pretended to be pleased and grateful, even though I’d said multiple times that I wasn’t interested in the game. I went and installed it on his PC and started it up. First things first, I had to choose to be male or female. Scoundrel, Scout or Soldier. Then I chose a face from a handful of presets. Next, I had to assign attribute points and choose ‘feats’. Bored already. Name? When the hell do I get to play?!
Finally, the music burst to life and the yellow text started to crawl away from me. At least it felt like Star Wars.
For the next eight hours or so, I was glued to the computer. I fought my way off a besieged spaceship, falling out of orbit. I rescued an ungrateful Jedi. I listened to my companion’s whining about his family. And eventually, I became a Jedi myself! Or it felt like it was me, anyway, and not the character.
The combat, while pretty simple, allowed me to give some commands and sit back to watch the fight. I got to dress my character how I wanted, use whatever kind of weapon I wanted, and best of all, talk to people how I wanted. I got to have conversations with my companions and get to know them, almost as though they were real people.
The story was a typically simple Star Wars story. Big, bad Lord Malak is trying to crush the Republic and you’re the only one who can stop him, with the help of your trusty companions.
The game is perhaps most famous, though, for its big twist. Perhaps a little more than 3/4 of the way through the game, some information is revealed to you, which left most of us open-mouthed. I probably shouldn’t overstate the quality of the twist by comparing it to that of The Sixth Sense, but to this day it’s often voted as gaming’s best twist. It’s not the twist itself so much as the fact that you don’t see it coming until the very moment the game wants you to. Even while Malak mocks you for not knowing, you’re trying to work out what it might be.
That is, in any medium, the best kind of twist. Not only do you not see it coming, but when you replay the game, you can’t for the life of you see how you didn’t see it coming. It’s clear as day. They practically spell it out for you. And yet we were all shocked when it was revealed. Kind of like The Sixth Sense…
This was my first experience of an RPG of this kind, and it couldn’t have been a better game. It made me feel like I was that character – even though he wasn’t voiced – and it made me want to be a Jedi! It’s probably just as well that I’d finished my first book before I played the game, or else it may have turned out to be a Star Wars clone.
I must have played KOTOR about 20 times over the next year, seeing how different the conversations would be if I played a woman, seeing how the game and story changed if I fell to the Dark Side, and stopping every now and then to check if my own Force powers were working yet. So far, they haven’t come to be, but I have faith…
Then, just over a year after KOTOR was released, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords came out. I knew it was going to be even bigger and better than the first, and I was prepared to have the longing for my own galactic adventure rekindled!
Unfortunately, however, KOTOR 2 was developed by Obsidian Entertainment. They were to KOTOR what Treyarch was to Call of Duty, or Warner Brothers Montreal was to Batman Arkham [XYZ]. They thoroughly screwed that intergalactic pooch.
Bugs galore, framerate issues, missing content, plot holes, one completely pointless villain (out of three). What could have been a good twist – the reveal of who the real enemy was – didn’t come as any surprise, because you’re basically told that this character is bad within the first few hours. But perhaps that was for the best. I can’t blame Obsidian for not wanting to try to follow the original’s twist.
The thing I couldn’t forgive KOTOR 2 for as I played through it the first couple of times was, as well as an unnecessarily convoluted storyline, the fact that they decided to alter the story of the first game, albeit only slightly. They basically told us that your character in the first game did what he did with motives unknown to us in that game. They even went so far as to practically ignore the fact that my character had been a Jedi. They were quite intent on making it canon that he’d fallen to the Dark Side. Now, that may have suited their own storyline better than him being a Jedi, but I didn’t like them saying that my hundreds of hours of play was kind of irrelevant.
The other problem was that the game was barely finished. In fact, it wasn’t finished. Whole planets were missing from the released product. One of your companions, the much-loved droid HK-47, was missing his side quest. This resulted in gaping plot holes and loose ends.
That wasn’t Obsidian’s fault, though, as LucasArts rushed them and forced them to release the game before it was ready. They were given very little time to make a very big, complex game. Despite this, many people have come round to the idea that KOTOR 2 is actually the better game. I’ll admit that the story, while convoluted, is probably better and more in-depth. It did an even better job of making you feel like a Jedi, albeit an outcast, exiled one. There were several parts of the story where Force powers actually had a place outside of combat – such as using the Force to control your breath while the room is flooded with poison gas. All these things were an improvement over the first game, but I just can’t bring myself to count it above the original. Although, you did get to wear proper Jedi robes in it, which was an unforgivable omission in the first.
But then came…nothing. No more Star Wars. BioWare moved on to other things, claiming not to like making sequels. Of course Dragon Age 2, with 3 upcoming, and the Mass Effect trilogy, with 4 upcoming, don’t count. They don’t like to make sequels. But is that a good thing?
Mass Effect 2 was okay. It was nothing special and I didn’t like how much they changed it from the first, which is still just under KOTOR on my list of all-time favourite games. It was just padding to make Mass Effect a trilogy, really. It didn’t need to exist. The first Dragon Age is probably third on my list of all-time favourite games, but DA2…oh dear. From reused areas, to an overall claustrophobic play area, to magical nuclear bombs, it was pretty damn bad. Then came Mass Effect 3. Now, I could quite literally rant about ME3 for hours – and I have. But for the sake of brevity, let’s just say it was an absolutely abysmal, spit-in-fans’-faces atrocity. And I don’t just mean the controversial ending. From start to finish, it was piss-poor and, frankly, kind of disrespectful.
So do I really want BioWare to make KOTOR 3? Yes. They’ve fallen very far from their previous greatness: Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect. The time that I didn’t even have to think about whether I would buy a BioWare game or not has long passed. But I don’t give a flying f***. It’s Star Wars. It’s Knights of the Old Republic, goddamn it. I need it! Sure, they’d probably simplify the combat and make it mindless button mashing, like DA2, but I don’t really mind that. In fact, I later came to quite like that button mashing. I just want to feel like a Jedi again.
Is it likely? No. I told myself and others that if 2014’s E3 didn’t bring news of Knights of the Old Republic III, then it would probably never happen. After all, the timing couldn’t be more perfect, with the Star Wars hype kicking in once again. But, of course, E3 brought ‘news’ – if you can call it that – of Mass Effect 4 instead, as did E3 2015. It seems BioWare is mastering the art of ignoring their fans desperate pleas and giving everyone what they don’t want instead.
They did make The Old Republic, an MMO that no one really wanted. And when they happily told fans that we didn’t need KOTOR 3 because TOR was essentially KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, we knew that our hopes and dreams were doomed. And that BioWare had become delusional f***king idiots.
Help Us, Obsidian; You’re Our Only Hope
But that’s okay, because the fans aren’t alone. Obsidian Entertainment wants KOTOR 3 just as much as we do. In fact, to this day, more than ten years on, they are still trying to get permission to make it. They nearly did make it. The series was meant to be a trilogy, as the so-called ‘ending’ of KOTOR 2 suggested. And the closing chapter of that trilogy was in pre-production at Obsidian, but LucasArts never gave it the green light. Even Obsidian don’t seem to know why.
But even now, Obsidian are pitching a new Star Wars RPG (or they were – I haven’t heard a thing about it since). It’s not KOTOR 3; it’s set within the timeline of the films. But it is Star Wars, and it is an RPG. So it may not be the Star Wars RPG that we deserve, but it may be the one we need right now. I don’t know why no one has thought that a sequel to two of the most popular and successful games of all time could probably do quite well, but never mind. Not all hope is lost. Even if it will be an Obsidian game.
I don’t have a lot of faith in Obsidian, but after playing a few of their games, I’ve come to the conclusion that they actually have pretty good writers. They have some good ideas for gameplay and systems. They just can’t program. And they can’t seem to get on with each other all that well. The latter is a problem, but they aren’t alone in their inability to program. Look at Bethesda. I’m not even sure their programmers know Dark Basic, let alone all the coding they need to know for AAA games. And yet theirs are some of the most popular and loved games out there: Oblivion, Skyrim, and Fallout, most famously.
So all is not lost yet. Let’s pray you can help us, Obsidian; you’re our only hope.