Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords


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Review by · August 27, 2009

When creating a sequel to a popular game, there are a few ways you can go about it. Primarily, you can create a whole new game, trying to keep the best of what went before, or you can say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and create a new game that is essentially just the old game in a new setting. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords clearly falls into the second category, even employing a tweaked version of the same game engine as the original. The first game in the series is considered by many to be a classic, superior to even the films in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, although admittedly, that may be the writing equivalent to limboing under a freeway overpass.

Full disclosure: I played this game on the Xbox when it was originally released, but I played it again for this review on an Xbox 360. I ran into a few graphical and sound glitches that I don’t remember from my Xbox days, but I felt using the 360 was the best thing to do, because anyone reading this will probably be doing so.

The original Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) was set several thousand years before the movies, but even so, the setting was instantly familiar to any Star Wars fan. KotOR 2 is set just a few years after the events of its predecessor, and while having played the original will clue gamers in on what’s happening when a few characters make a return appearance, it’s not absolutely necessary. The main character is an exiled former Jedi who was for all intents and purposes living under a rock during the last game, which provides a reason for an NPC to tell you what happened then. If you played the first game, you can make comments to change the gender of that game’s main character and whether they took the light or dark path, but doing so doesn’t affect the game in any major way.

In KotOR 2, you are tasked with flying around the galaxy to round up the last of the Jedi masters while fleeing from Sith assassins and a mafia bounty that’s been placed on your head. It seems that the Republic’s in big trouble thanks to the Sith, and if you don’t stop them, things are going to be ugly in the galaxy for the next few hundred (or maybe thousand) years. As in the first game, you begin with very little knowledge of your character’s back story, although this time it’s because important facts have been kept from the character rather than amnesia. As you play, you’ll be filled in on everything you were missing, but the big “twists” just aren’t that shocking. When you reach the end of your journey, you once again get to choose between light and dark side endings, but the differences between the two are quite disappointing. It’s not a bad story, but it’s definitely not as compelling as the outstanding original, and the letdown at the end will probably leave you struggling to remember its good points.

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As in the first KotOR, you gather a team as you go along, and you will generally be accompanied by two of them at all times. Since you start off as a Jedi, you are not dependent on your companions’ Force powers, so you have more freedom in who you choose to accompany you. Your teammates fall all along the light to dark spectrum, and unlike the first game, your choices impact their alignment and the influence you have over them. For example, a dark side Force user joins your party early on, and if you play as light side, you’ll have a very hard time learning her entire backstory, if you’re able to at all. Also unlike the first game, your companions have unique attributes that will influence how often you want to use them. That same dark side Force user, for example, has the special property that any Force buff that she or the main character uses will affect them both. Another character will always come back to life after falling in battle, as long as someone else in your party is still alive. Unfortunately, in terms of personality, the companions you have are not as memorable as they were the first time around. With one or two exceptions, I never developed the emotional connection to them that I did with my team from the first game.

In KotOR 2, you’ll do a lot of talking. You’ll talk to your companions, you’ll talk to NPCs about quests, you’ll talk to merchants, and all of those people have voices. The voice acting is done well, but aliens still have the same extremely limited set of vocalizations for their lines that they had in the first game. No matter what a male Twi’lek says, it sounds exactly the same. You can skip a lot of the side quests if you choose to, but part of the draw to the game is that there’s a lot to do outside of the main quest. If you choose to, you can even spend your time racing swoop bikes or playing Pazaak (a variation of Blackjack), although these are entirely optional.

When the time comes to stop talking and pull out a lightsaber or a blaster, battles are turn-based. You can choose to have the game auto-pause at the end of each turn or continue directly to the next turn, and you can set triggers for when it should pause so that you can use menus or choose Force powers at your leisure. Both pausing and playing in pseudo-real-time are viable options, although my preference was almost always to pause between turns so that I could check on my three characters and the enemies they are fighting.

Your companions each have a number of AI settings available to them (more than just the three from the first game), and switching between them has been made much easier. Force users also learn “forms” that can affect everything from attack and defense bonuses to their force regeneration rate, so having quick access to these settings is very nice. One of the little changes I liked was the fact that you can equip two sets of weapons and instantly switch between them (or even put them away) at any time. This makes it a lot easier to start a fight with blasters blazing and then switch to a lightsaber when your enemy gets close enough to hit him with it.

One of the main attractions in a Star Wars game is getting to use the Force, and KotOR 2 doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The number of powers available to you has been expanded, including the addition of Battle Meditation, which was referenced frequently in the original KotOR, but wasn’t a selectable power. (In KotOR 2, it adds to your party’s attack, damage, and will save rolls.) The increased number of powers makes a big difference in how different your force users can be, which veterans of the first game should appreciate.

There are a number of other small changes in KotOR 2 that are very welcome, like the fact that any container you’ve already looted shows the word “Empty” when you look at it. However, there are also some annoying things that I don’t remember as being part of the first game, like an early planet where most of the areas are tiny. You move between them very frequently, and you have to wait through what feels like an eternity of loading screen every time. Given the very large size of some other areas in the game, this issue seems inexplicable, but at least it’s a relatively isolated problem.

The look and sound of KotOR 2 isn’t unique in any way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It feels like Star Wars, through and through, from the short stings to the full songs, from the droid designs to the architecture. The graphics are identical to the original game, and if you’re playing it on a 360, you won’t be impressed at the last-gen look, but they looked pretty good when the game was released. Blaster sounds, lightsaber swings, and sword clashes all sound recycled from the last game, as are the aforementioned alien language voices, but they sound right, so there really wasn’t any reason to change them.

When all’s said and done, Knights of the Old Republic II hits the mark in a lot of ways. In some areas, it improves on its predecessor, even though there are things that were better the first time around, so how happy you are with it will probably depend on if and when you played the original. It’s worth playing either way, and locating a cheap copy should be easy these days, so if you still haven’t picked it up, you really should. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve probably suffered through some pretty bad games, so you should definitely not miss out on this good one.

Overall Score 87
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John Tucker

John Tucker

John officially retired from RPGFan as Managing Editor in 2017, but he still popped in from time to time with new reviews until Retirement II in late 2021. He finds just about everything interesting and spends most of his free time these days reading fiction, listening to podcasts, and coming up with new things to 3D print.