I put off returning to this game for an embarrassingly long time because I didn’t want to deal with the giant shark. It turned out that the giant shark was actually thoroughly underwhelming. That’s not a complaint — if I have to deal with deep sea monsters, I’d rather they be as unscary as possible, thank you — but it does make my avoidance rather silly in hindsight.
After that I was done with Manaan, and had Kashyyyk and Korriban left to do out of the four-planet Star Map-hunting tour. I felt somehow that Korriban should be last, which turned out to be a good instinct, so I went off to Kashyyyk next. And it was… okay. Most of the story takes place on the ground instead of in the wookiees’ tree villages, and the ground is a spider-filled maze of muddy green, brown, and grey textures. It’s the most visually unappealing the game gets outside of Taris, but Taris has a much more intricate story. I didn’t time it, but Kashyyyk’s story felt like the briefest and least involved, and even the part of it that ties into Zaalbar’s backstory is a bit perfunctory. I think it doesn’t help that Zaalbar isn’t interested in telling you anything about himself until suddenly you’re plunged into his family drama, and then it’s over and done with and he’s got little more to say, so it wasn’t as compelling as the stories you have to gradually tease out of some of the other companions. I just sort of shrugged and moved on.
But you do pick up a great grumpy old man with a Yoda-ish cryptic streak as another companion, and I kind of regretted that despite my best efforts to talk to him, it seemed my game wrapped up before I could get to the heart of his backstory. It looks like I also missed a side quest in Manaan that needs him in the party. I guess I did Kashyyyk too late in the sequence; if I were to replay, I’d do it first or second, Manaan third, and Korriban last.
After you hit the third Star Map, there’s a sequence aboard a Sith ship in which your character finally finds out their true identity. It’s also where I made a kind of hilarious blunder. At one point your characters get stripped of their weapons and armour, but then you reclaim them, and all of the armour gets automatically re-equipped. But I didn’t notice that the weapons don’t get automatically re-equipped… so it wasn’t until several minutes after a boss fight I found curiously challenging, with a figure from Carth’s past, that I realised it’d been challenging because I’d done the entire fight without any weapons. On any of the party. How did I not notice? Um, it was late.
This sequence also removes one of your companions when they make a heroic sacrifice, which was slightly irritating, because it was the companion I’d built up most heavily. All of your characters level up as you swap them in and out so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it did take a bit of fiddling to get one of the others who could fill the same role specced and geared to where they needed to be.
Anyway, it’s that shipboard encounter that made me glad I left Korriban for last. Once your character knows their true identity, it’s a much more poignant story, because on Korriban you have to pretend to be something you’re not — but you now know it’s something that you once were, and have to fight the temptation to become again. Which is non-trivial, as I picked up a few Dark Side points from one quest despite being careful. I think Korriban may have been my favourite of the planets, because in addition to that pretty cool story of subterfuge and resisting corruption, it’s sort of visually arresting in a stark way, and it’s brimming with lore.
I figured that after the four planets were done, it’d be straight onto the Star Forge and the final boss fight, but the last act is a bit meatier than I expected. There’s a crash-landing on a very tropical-looking planet which ties up a number of loose ends like the nature of the Builders and the origin of the rakghoul plague. This is also where I picked up a piece of armour that proceeded to make the cutscenes rather silly, because it gave my rather waifishly built female Jedi a burly male model. All of the other armour sets in the game seemed to have an appropriate female skin so I can only imagine this was an oversight. It was quite a lot better than my other armour though so I went with it, even though it made me want to giggle my way through the rather sterile profession of love that was the culmination of the game’s anaemic romance options, early Bioware feeling their way through something that would become a staple of their later games.
Even the Star Forge itself is a surprisingly large area, or maybe it just felt that way due to its slightly frustrating mechanics. You have to deal with enemies that charge you from front and back in waves that, as far as I could tell, were endless, so progressing through the level is a sequence of two steps forward, one step back, as you deal with the things coming up behind you. I stopped bothering to loot so that I wouldn’t be there all day. Luckily, having remembered to actually equip my weapons, the final fight wasn’t too taxing and didn’t require any reloads, though I did effectively have to fight the final boss about ten times over since I didn’t have whatever Force power is apparently needed to take out the human ‘batteries’ he drains to heal himself, so I just had to keep beating on him until he’d killed them all. (Sorry, guys.) I still haven’t looked up what power I was lacking.
All in all, the playthrough took me 32 hours, with a little bit of sidetracking into Pazaak (basically a simple but compelling built-in collectible card game, which you can wager on) and swoop bike racing. I tried to be thorough with the side quests, but I know I missed out on some due to presumably taking the wrong companions with me in places, like I never found out what happened with Mission’s brother or what the story was with Jolee’s wife. And the fact that that bugs me a little is a sign that the game did a really good job of getting me to care about most of these characters.
In 2003, I imagine this game was revolutionary; in 2017, it’s still a really solid, convincingly Star Warsy adventure with a lot of heart, if you can get past the slightly drab beginning. The callbacks to the films were nicely done without being too heavy-handed (although there was a ‘NOOO!’ that made me chuckle), and the characters generally really felt like they’d work as inhabitants of the Star Wars universe, without being knockoffs of the film ones. I wanted to play this to understand the background of the MMO, but I think the MMO now looks a bit watered down by comparison (although some of that is just due to the demands of the format).
I might replay it at some point in the future because my inner completist kind of wants to see how a Dark Side playthrough would end, even though the Dark Side options in the game all seemed way too over the top for my tastes. For now though, it’s refreshing to actually hit uninstall on a game because I’ve completed it, something of a rarity for me before this blog! I’ll look forward to checking out Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords when I’ve cleansed my palate with a few other games.