Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic — First Impressions

The first game on my agenda is Knights of the Old Republic, since I’ve been on a bit of a Star Wars kick lately. Having played just under an hour, and reached the first planet, this seems like an opportune moment to pause and talk about my initial reactions.

Going in, I was a bit apprehensive about the fact that the game is d20-based instead of operating like the sequel MMO, which I’ve played a fair bit of. In a tabletop setting, I loathe the d20 system with a fiery vengeance. Perhaps it’s my dyscalculia, but the mechanics stubbornly refuse to lodge in my brain, unaided by books that expect you to locate critical rules hidden within dense paragraphs of waffling text and that have to have a veritable laundry list of modifiers for absolutely everything. I think I’d almost sooner play Rifts.

Video games are a bit different though, because for the most part I don’t have to memorise all of those horribly laid out mechanics and modifiers. The computer does it for me. But I still have to comprehend how the system is going to interact well enough to build a character that can finish the story without limping through it.

Knights of the Old Republic does offer some pre-generated character templates, but even with my feelings about the d20 system, I’m too much of a control freak to use one. So I started out making a custom character, and discovered a very helpful feature: If you aren’t sure where to put your points in a particular category, you can hit the recommend button to see where the computer would choose to put them. I did my own attributes and feats, but used the recommendations to fill out my skills, and it seemed to make a pretty solid choice, at least as far as I can tell. I suppose I might be eating those words in another few hours.

While the lack of 1920×1080 resolution is a bit of a bummer, at the highest widescreen resolution I was able to select, the game looks surprisingly okay for a 14-year-old title. Maybe my standards have been lowered since most of the last few games I’ve played have been retro, but while there’s a part of my brain that stubbornly refuses to accept that 2003 was 14 years ago, I did go in expecting it to have more of that sculpted-out-of-play-dough look that throws me out of so many games from the time when we all got a bit too excited about 3D before it was quite ready for it.

So, after the random name generator spared me half an hour of agony, Alora Something-or-other woke up on a ship with, judging by the stupid questions I was prompted to ask of the person coming to inform me we were being attacked, no memory of where she was or who was aboard ship. While the ship rattled around us in a manner that suggested we probably ought to get a move on, the NPC whose name I’ve forgotten — let’s call him the Exposition Fairy — filled in the fact that we were escorting the Jedi Bastila when the Sith attacked, that I probably ought to get my armour on and go help, and also merrily took the time to inform me what a great pilot we had. Well, that’s reassuring.

The shipboard play is a little tutorial through winding corridors filled with appropriately spread-out Sith troops. It reminded me of another thing I dislike about low-level d20 play: Damage is really spiky. It tends to go whiff, whiff, whiff, splat. In a combat with five Sith troops, I took such a hard blow that my remaining health was but a sliver, but then killed the remaining four of them without taking another hit. I haven’t died yet, so I don’t know how the game handles death, but I can foresee a fair bit of reloading due to sudden damage spikes, which isn’t my favourite way to play. We’ll see.

Still, now I’m down on Taris, which I well remember in its later incarnation in the MMO (rakghouls, rakghouls everywhere), and I’m accompanied by the excellent pilot. We’re off to find Bastila, starting off by checking out the Undercity, which the pilot described in such shining terms that I feel like setting foot in it is instantly going to get me killed.

I’ll be back at the halfway point to let you know just how much it hurt.

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