Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic — Halfway

Ten hours into Knights of the Old Republic, I’m becoming very grateful that I started this blog. Without the challenge to motivate me, I think this is a game that I might have walked away from in the first hour or so, with the good intentions of coming back to it ‘sometime’ but never actually doing so. But having gotten pretty absorbed into it now, I really regretted having to close it down this morning because I was in too much pain to keep sitting at the computer.

Taris was not the most compelling of environments, being largely composed of so many different shades of grey that it could pass for a bad Twilight fanfic starring Jamie Dornan, but despite its glumness and linearity I got quite sucked in by the characters. It’s a really straightforward piece of story — you know the rescue pods crashed in the Undercity, you have to get down to the Undercity, find where Bastila’s been taken, recover her and find a way off of the planet without the Sith blowing you to smithereens — but the overwhelming Sith control means you need to stay under the radar, and rely on favour-for-a-favour deals with various underworld figures in order to get past roadblocks such as the only entrance to the Undercity being under Sith guard. It also means you should probably select dialogue options that resist your character’s hilarious impulse to blurt their name out to anyone who looks at them.

What is a little frustrating is that ultimately, all the time and love invested in the Taris storyline is kind of for nought. It’s a bit like setting a game on Alderaan three days before A New Hope, and getting you deeply invested in the planet’s politics. Not quite that drastic — some of the people you get emotionally invested in here are going to survive — but not that many of them, and I can’t help but think there are better options for bringing home the scale of a tragedy than to make nearly everything the player does in the first eight hours or so of the game a complete waste of time in the larger scheme of things. Did any of us need to see much of Alderaan to appreciate what Leia had lost?

I’ve played around with later Bioware RPGs (though I am terrible at actually finishing them), and in some ways this makes Knights of the Old Republic feel like a prototype. The morality system is present and accounted for, but is extremely simplistic — even the MMO, which made the Dark Side choices a bit too plainly moustache-twiddling a lot of the time, had a lot more nuanced moral conundrums. There’s nothing here that makes me feel like I can see both sides, and understand why one would be tempted by the Dark Side option. To be Dark Side in Knights of the Old Republic is to be a gleefully unrepentant dick. Your followers do exchange some banter, some more hostile, some cheerfully adorable, but their character development side quests are usually advanced by having an ‘X is looking pretty moody’ prompt suddenly spring up to interrupt whatever you were doing, followed by them petulantly refusing to talk to you very much about it. If you don’t want to talk, stop making sad eyes at me! Still, despite this being a primitive form of the Bioware character development systems we’ve come to know and mostly love, I can see how revolutionary it would have been in 2003, and in 2017 it’s still pretty compelling.

I’ve built Alora with all the subtlety of a brick to the noggin. Given this is Star Wars and even now, Star Wars films and tie-in products still seem overly tied to the Force-user, I suspected from the start that I’d end up prodded to head in a lightsabre-swinging direction, so I’ve mostly invested in tankiness and melee damage. Despite a pretty high Charisma that pulls me through most low-level Persuade checks, my solution to most things is to hit it in the face. So far that’s served me pretty well, although at a high cost in medpacs if Bastila isn’t in the party; there have only been two genuinely challenging fights, both of which are essentially boss fights so that’s fine, and I scraped through without any necessary reloads. I remain a bit concerned that my inadequate grasp of d20 balance will fuck me over in the endgame, but I continue to feel that this iteration of d20 is relatively unobtrusive, and despite having to build and gear all of my followers as well as my own character, it’s been a relatively intuitive process.

So now I’m running around Dantooine, having earned a place as Bastila’s Padawan, proving myself to the Jedi Council. Dantooine is a lot less grey, and a lot less linear. Outside of the Jedi Enclave it does feel a bit empty, the spaces aren’t very lived-in, and the fact that you’re mostly running around open areas makes the loading screens a bit more of an immersion-breaking transition than when you’re zipping from building to building in Taris. Still, it’s lovely to see some sunlight and colour.

Speaking of loading screens, I’m running the Steam version of the game on Windows 8.1 (yes, 8.1, I have my reasons), and it’s mostly operating smoothly except for loading screens and cutscenes. Loading screens constantly flicker like I’m staring at a strobe light, and some (but not all) cutscenes randomly tab me out of the game, meaning I have to quickly tab back in before I miss anything. It’s mildly irritating but quite playable; I’m not sure if the GOG edition would be better suited to modern operating systems, so if anyone reading this is looking to purchase the game, that’s something you might want to check.

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