REVIEW: Star Wars – Knights of the Old Republic

Never Played: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (aka KOTOR) is one of those games that I always heard was great but I never played it myself. Like Escape From Butcher Bay, I didn’t play this great game as a kid because I didn’t have an original Xbox. This blog is the perfect chance to play it, especially with my recent reinterest in the Star Wars universe, thanks to the excellent Marvel comics and of course the new kotorfilms. KOTOR was developed by Bioware for the Xbox and PC in 2003. The game takes place in its own corner of the Star Wars storyline, it does not include or conform to anything from the original movies. It is a semi-live action RPG, with a game system strongly influenced by the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. KOTOR had fantastic reviews and sales which led to it receiving a sequel the very next year.

My first Bioware game was the first game of the Mass Effect series, which I’ve become obsessed with over the last decade. Playing through KOTOR was a fun experience for me because I got to see these early beginnings of several design choices Bioware used and improved on later in Mass Effect. Things like the Paragon/Renegade mechanic, the short skill tree system and the focus on conversation choices. All of these mechanics help me become more easily engrossed in Bioware games and KOTOR was no different. I really liked the base plot and character set-up I was given and how I was able to shape him over the next 36 hours through my own decisions. The skill and leveling systems, while not deep in any way, are more than adequate and are easy enough to pick up. Ease of use is important to me personally because while I’ve enjoyed tons of RPGs, I’m not one of those die-hard RPG players who want a million options and an endlessly deep skill tree. I like just a touch of hand-holding and that’s what I got in KOTOR.

From a technical aspect KOTOR was very hit or miss as a game to come back to and play now, over a decade after its release. Graphically it is quite unappealing, as it attempted to look (and at the time was kotor-osuccessful) realistic, but certainly doesn’t look the part on my gigantic modern day Plasma TV. The soundtrack I personally found unimpressive, but overall true to the Star Wars themes we’ve heard in its various media. The controls were perfectly adequate and I had no problem with them at any point in the game. What I do appreciate about KOTOR and is actually still impressive even to today’s standards was the voice acting. Like Mass Effect, KOTOR had phenomenal voice actors, who must have recorded thousands of hours of footage in a game with dialogue as diverse as KOTOR. Again, this great dialogue helped me feel more in tune with the plot and my character. Speaking of plot, I very much enjoyed it. For those who don’t know, in KOTOR you are given control of someone who wakes up on a ship as it is crashing and being overrun. You escape and are in search of a powerful Jedi named Bastila. After meeting her and other very interesting characters of various races of the Star Wars universe you start to unravel what is truly going on in this world, especially concerning a Sith named Darth Malak. I won’t spoil any more for you so I can avoid the many plot twists. While certainly not ground breaking or unique in the Star Wars setting, it was one that was interesting enough and had enough twists to keep my attention and keep me wondering what each character’s true motives and roles were throughout the story. The personality of the characters and their involvement in the plot was a high point of the game and held my interest.

All in all you will notice that I brought up many times the theme of KOTOR holding my interest. I bring it up because to me it is a cause for concern in long RPGs. If the plot line or character development isn’t top notch I tend to get bored quite quickly. So for KOTOR to hold my attention and make me not want to go to sleep, to want to keep diving into the story and get to the bottom of things was an impressive feat. I think anyone who’s a fan of RPGs would enjoy a play of this old gem, whether they’re a Star Wars fan or not. It has all the ingredients you need in a good RPG: interesting characters, intriguing base plot, adequate leveling systems and adequate combat systems. I’m very glad I chose KOTOR to play through now and as soon as I’m done with this entire blog project KOTOR II is near the top of my “Games To Play” list.

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REVIEW: Halo 2

Poll Winner: HALO 2

The original Halo game put the XBox on the map and quickly became a household name. It deservedly is often credited as a blueprint of how to make a first person console shooter, the pinnacle for developers of that time period to strive for when developing a console shooter. So Bungie had big shoes to fill when developing a sequel, they needed to knock it out of the park with equal quality and some new ideas for the genre. They did just that in 2004 when Halo 2 released for the XBox to overwhelming reviews. It became the highest selling game for the system, selling 8 million copies.

Rarely does a sequel outshine its predecessor when the originhalo 2al is widely considered a masterpiece. Whether we’re talking movie sequels, a new music album or new video game, sequels to great media tend to crumple under the pressure or not live up to the ridiculously high expectations we set for them. Halo 2 was the rare exception to this rule. Graphically it pushed the boundaries of Microsoft’s system, with cut scenes that are almost on par with most we see today, good textures and elaborate alien landscapes. Speaking of the cut scenes, Halo 2 had cut scenes that at the time were better looking than ones any other studio was doing (sans maybe Square Enix). It delivers strong in the audio department also, matching the original game’s quality sound effects and large scale orchestral tracks.

The gameplay manages to keep that same wonder and originality seen in Halo, like the alien weaponry, unique alien enemies and use of futuristic combat vehicles. It does so while halo 2 gifslightly improving them and more importantly, showcasing them all. Halo 2 added a handful of new weapons, the ability to dual wield some of them and it also put a focus on vehicle combat.  My only minor beef with the combat was the AI was not the smartest I’ve ever seen, but that has been a common theme for me while doing this blog. Developers have made big strides in that department so its more noticeable than some other game play mechanics. Multiplayer modes were just as fun as the original but with more options in game type, weapons, vehicles and maps. It was the first console game I personally remember as being THE reason to console game online. There were a few people playing console games online before that with the original Halo and some with SOCOM, but Halo 2 is the first game I remember that everyone just HAD to get access for their console online so they could play multiplayer around the world.

For me personally the biggest improvement Halo 2 has over the original is in a department some gamers don’t even care about when discussing shooters: the story. It isn’t the same story of like “Hey guys let’s stop this invading alien force and kill them all!” Halo 2 has depth and character development that very few shooters had at the time. The focus of the story is split between Spartan and Arbiter (an important character of the Elite race). It gives us much insight into the Covenant’s reasoning, hierarchy and intentions in a way that Halo didn’t. It also introduces a handful of characters who will become extremely integral to the overall story of the Halo universe which has now spanned comics, anime and live action films along with its games. Not only is the story just overall far more intriguing than the original game’s, Halo 2 does a better job of making it seem an important part of the game and make the player truly feel like they’re a part of it. What I mean by that is there are several endings to levels in Halo 2 where the gameplay focus changes dramatically from just typical run-and-gunning to focused events the player controls. For example, the mission where you’re on board a falling space station and have to work your way down to escape before crashing to your death, or the mission where you are on a bridge and must fight your way across the important tactical highway in your Scorpion tank.

With us now having several spectacular entries in the Halo franchise it is easy to just focus our awe and appreciation at whichever is the most recent entry at the time, especially since this is a series of shooter games (a genre that tends to make slight, non groundbreaking improvements over-time instead of large overhauls). But Halo 2 to me is the most important entry of the series and is responsible for the Halo universe becoming the phenomenon it has over the past decade. Halo 2 was the perfect improvement in shooter gameplay and story development that captured the attention of millions of young and malleable console gamers, turning them into lifelong Halo fans and rocketing the world of Halo from something that all gamers were familiar with to something that every American, gamer or not, have heard of.

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