Knights of the Old Republic is a game that needs no introduction. Like Skyrim, Baldur’s Gate, and Final Fantasy, Knights of the Old Republic is a household name. It has ranked highly on Greatest Games Of All Time lists since the birth of HK-47 and it’s often cited as Bioware’s magnum-opus.
I played Knights of the Old Republic practically non-stop as a kid, barely able to wrap my mitts around the Duke – and I loved every second of it. It’s been 18 years though, does this legend still hold up to modern standards? The short answer is yes, but it’s starting to look like the grizzled old bugger it is – in more than one place.
A Really Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Away
Knights of the Old Republic takes place roughly 4000 years before the events of the cinematic universe, which means you won’t be seeing any Yodas, Sam Jacksons, or sand-hating crybabies. What you will see, however, is a galaxy at war, hundreds of Dark Jedi and a brand-spanking-new plot that is not afraid to throw caution to the wind and blow your socks off.
You play as an unnamed nobody who wakes up onboard a Republic ship under siege. The Sith are on board, everyone is dying, and Trask Ulgo, the man of many memes and owner of the galaxy’s largest set of stones, has come asking for aid. You make your way to the escape pods, land on a nearby planet, and the story begins.
Despite being a slow RPG from a time that loved slow RPGs, Knights of the Old Republic starts with a bang to grab your attention before simmering down a notch to let the world sink in. The galaxy may be in flames, but Knights of the Old Republic is not interested in telling that story. It serves more as a backdrop. Like the neighborhood peeper, the grand scheme occasionally sneaks into view and reminds you to keep your blaster close.
Small Scale Stories
Knights of the Old Republic is much more concerned with bringing the story down and focusing on small-scale conflicts, personal trauma, and character development. This is also where it shines. Games may have progressed in the last two decades, but Knights of the Old Republic still managed to get me invested in the large and varied cast, their backgrounds, and their progression.
You can see where games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect got their DNA from, and the best part? Knights of the Old Republic nailed it on the first try. This is (inter)stellar storytelling, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes. There’s even a black and white morality system that drastically changes how certain events play out and even alters how your character plays in the late game.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is probably the weakest aspect of Knights of the Old Republic. This is an old game, and for some reason, all old Western RPGs loved to use dice rolling to determine whether or not you live or die. Think Dungeons and Dragons, in space, and simplified. It works, but it shows its age and the systems surrounding it are not that deep.
This is because character creation (and progression) is pretty basic. You can select between three classes, and then allocate Attributes, Feats, and Skills as you see fit. Problems arise when you figure out a lot of these options are not that great. There is no reason to specialize in hacking doors or chests when you can just punch them. All the interesting dialogue is locked behind Persuasion, so you may as well just pump that, etc.
Outside of your utility skills, combat is heavily focused on melee combat, and this becomes incredibly apparent during the mid-game when your midichlorians start to flow freely. This makes blasters, and any character who specializes in blasters, useless. Not to mention, anyone not a Force user becomes immediately obsolete once your party starts filling with laser-sword wielding space wizards.
It’s all out of whack, and sure, you can beat the game with blasters, or mines, or stealth, but the most efficient way is to grab a big sword and hit things with it. Combine that with unreliable dice rolls and honestly, the game felt like it was on auto-pilot an awful lot. Thankfully, that’s just the combat.
Exploring each world in Knights of the Old Republic is mostly fantastic. The game is packed with interesting side quests and things to do. The morality system plays heavily into this too, giving Knights of the Old Republic plenty of replay value. Console controls are incredibly clunky, however, and it does make interacting and, well, moving, a bit uncomfortable. I managed to tolerate them in the end, but I never fully got to grips with them.
Still Looks And Sounds Great
Being an 18-year-old game, Knights of the Old Republic has aged quite a bit visually. But, modern resolutions and the tweaks here and there have helped this game stand the test of time. Sure, the game lacks details, but there is a real charm to its art style. This is definitely in the Star Wars universe, but it manages to look distinctly Knights of the Old Republic at the same time. The sinister silver-plated Sith armor, the vibrant red and yellow of the republic – it all feels familiar, yet new.
The animations, especially in melee, are great. Characters don’t just swing noodles at each other until someone dies – they engage in choreographed duels. There aren’t that many animations to see, but they are well executed and give the combat the illusion of action, even when it’s all based on hidden dice.
Knights of the Old Republic shines in the audio department though. The music is quintessential Star Wars, the sound effects are pulled straight from the movies, and the voice acting is outstanding. All the alien races mutter away in their native tongues, Carth Onasi is a passive-aggressive bastard, and HK-47 is still the best character in any game ever. Considering this game out during the OG Xbox era, it’s astonishing that the game sounds this good.
Knights of the Old Republic is still a fantastic RPG. Its best years are certainly behind it, but what it does well, it does better than most games released today. If you can look beyond the clunky controls and slightly janky systems, you will find a story and cast of characters that will stick with you for life.
STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Aspyr who provided a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.