by Mike Shea on 18 July 2003
I'm in Indiana this weekend which gives me a chance to get away from the control center and try some other stuff out. Last night's big hit, aside from the cheesefries is Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic on Xbox.
KOTOR is good for a few reasons. It uses D20 pen-and-paper role playing rules which means humans can actually understand them. One of the things I hate about everquest is that while your character's abilities are statistically based, you have no idea how they are calculated into your actions. For example, I may have a strength of 220, a 14 damage 18 delay hammer, a skill of 160 in one hand blunts, and I'm a cleric. There is no way for me to calculate how much that ends up being in some form of to-hit and damage number. D20 rules tell you exactly how often you should hit and exactly what range of damage you can do. Having a strength of 18 means you get +2 to hit and damage, a 1d10 sword will now do between 3 and 12 damage..
This may all sound like nonsense, but sitting around obsessing about statistics is half the fun of a good RPG. If the numbers are meaningless, or their meaning is hidden, it becomes a lot less interesting to sit and spend days calculating how much damage you do. In Knights of the Old Republic they give you all the information you need to spend a lot of time obsessing about statistics.
Knights is set four thousand years earlier than the first three Star Wars movies which means its far enough away from the horrors that Lucas inflicted on the stories to be good. The graphics are excellent. The roleplaying aspects such as equipment, combat, exploration, party control, and NPC discussions are all excellent.
I haven't seen it on a real home theater system but the game does have in-game Dolby Digital. Unfortunately it is not in widescreen. Why they bother to make progressive scan games that aren't widescreen is beyond my understanding. There are very few, if any, TVs that can accept a progressive scan signal but aren't 16x9. All Xbox games should support widescreen, 480p, and in-game Dolby Digital.
KOTOR gives you control of three party members at a time from a total of around nine. With this many characters you will always have one just about to level so you have lots of time to optimize feats or skills. The auto-level is a nice feature for those who would rather skip the technical stuff and just play. You can even auto up on skills but pick your feats separately. I always have a lot more fun focusing on feats like dual wield, power attack, or flurry, than I do on skills like computer hacking or mechanical repair. KOTOR gives you as much or as little involvement in character progression as you want.
KOTOR lets you pause combat and reorganize your three-party battle plan mid-battle with ease. In the middle of one particularly large battle I had all three of my characters attacking a large bodyguard. When it turned out he had an energy shield on, I paused, reset my blaster-wielding guys over to another target, and sent my swordsman over to the shield-wearer. Like leveling, you can have as much or as little control over combat as you want.
One other annoying problem. The save game for KOTOR is well over the size that will fit on an Xbox memory card. This means a couple of things. You cannot transfer your game to another Xbox. I've got about six hours of gameplay in on Gary's machine but cannot take the game home with me after my trip. You also cannot backup your saved game should your Xbox die. This is a major disadvantage for a roleplaying game of this size. Server-based saved games like Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies are starting to look a lot better.Even with a lack of HDTV support and an inability to backup or transfer saved games, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is the best roleplaying game I have played on the Xbox.
Update: I finished Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic a couple of weeks ago. It really is one of the best console role playing games since Final Fantasy 7. I must have spent two hours just customizing light sabers. There is an encounter near the last 3 hours of the game that lets you choose to be good or evil. Evil was really really evil. This let me see both the good and bad guy endings with about two extra hours of work. The melee feats are a little out of control. My main soldier / jedi guardian character with two weapon 3, flurry 3, 24 strength, jedi haste 3, and all the weapon skills was so powerful that not one creature stood up to two rounds of combat. I had five attacks a round, almost all of them successfully hitting for about 35 points of damage. No D20 creature has more than 250 hitpoints so I was just ripping through everything. This was poorly balanced. Other than that, the game is a true joy. $200 for an Xbox and $50 for this game is a great deal.