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COLUMN “Knights of the Old Republic”: the best “Star Wars” game ever made

Canadian development studio BioWare has become well recognized within the games industry. Their knack for character development and storytelling is perhaps their biggest claim to fame, and is best exemplified within their “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age” series of games. However, I think that the best work they have ever done can be found in one of their earlier games, “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.”

Released in 2003 for the Xbox and later ported to Windows, “Knights of the Old Republic” is a role-playing game set roughly 4,000 years before the original “Star Wars” trilogy. The Galactic Republic is at war with the evil Sith Empire, led by the fallen Jedi Darth Malak, and is on the verge of defeat. In the midst of the chaos, a Jedi apprentice named Bastila Shan is given command of the Republic cruiser Endar Spire and is tasked with seeking out the source of the Sith’s incredible military power and destroying it. However, the Endar Spire is intercepted above the city world of Taris, and the player, a Republic soldier, is forced to escape to the planet below.

As the game progresses, the player will encounter a variety of interesting characters, some of whom will even join your party, and will eventually learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi Knight as the story unfolds.

“Knights of the Old Republic” takes full advantage of its “Star Wars” setting, and one of its more noteworthy features is directly tied to the two different aspects of the Force. The game has a morality system built around the Light and Dark sides of the Force, serving to keep track of the character’s progress, ideals, and development while also amplifying certain powers. A player who sticks to the Light will earn Light Side points and will get more use out of healing powers and ability buffs. Those who are seduced by the Dark will earn Dark Side points, and will be able to devastate their enemies with powerful energy attacks.

While on the subject of combat, “Knights of the Old Republic” uses a system that’s pretty unique for “Star Wars” games. Rather than being a high-energy action-role-playing-game, the game uses a D20 dice roll system and turn-based combat, much like “Dungeons and Dragons.” Stats are key, as they are the biggest determining factor over whether or not your attacks will actually land a hit, meaning that it’s vital that you build a character around a specific skill set, as opposed to attempting to be an every-man. The every-man approach will still work, sort of, but it’s much less of a headache to build a character around certain skills and using your party members to fill in for skills that you lack. Again, this is a traditional role-playing game, meaning that an understanding of class-role balance and stat management is vital to playing the game well, and I love it for that.

By far, though, the best aspect of the game is its writing and characters. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t delve into any more of the story than I already have. I will say, though, that while the story itself isn’t groundbreaking, it is executed very well and has a phenomenal plot twist about half-way through that caught me off guard, despite being hinted at throughout the game.

Where the writing really has its time to shine is in the character department. There are nine party members that will you will encounter on your journey through the galaxy, each with a unique personality and backstory. There’s Carth Onasi, a stoic and skilled pilot with the Republic, but ultimately too untrusting for his own good, Mission Vao, a wisecracking street urchin that grew up in the Tarisian lower city with her Wookiee companion Zaalbaar, and Canderous Ordo, an aggressive, yet honorbound, warrior from a Mandolorian clan, just to name a few. Talking to the different party members, listening to their stories and points of view and even starting romantic relationships with them, really fleshes them out as if they were real people, and it is by far my favorite aspect of the game.

There really aren’t many complaints, if any, that I have about this game. If you aren’t a fan of doing side quests, the game can be pretty rough, since you’re likely to encounter an enemy several levels higher than you that just wipes you out. But, it’s nothing that can’t be solved through lowering the difficulty, or just doing side quests to level up more.

In my opinion, “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” is a close to perfect as a game can get. It offers up a fresh and original take on the “Star Wars” property, tells an interesting story with wonderful characters, and is just a great RPG to boot. I’d highly recommend playing it in any way you can. There’s the original Xbox release, which can now be played on both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, the Windows port which runs well on modern systems without the need for any compatibility fixes, and there’s even an iOS version for iPads and iPhones that works remarkably well. It doesn’t matter which platform you play it on, I promise that your time will be well spent.

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