This is a big one, folks: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). It’s one of the most well-regarded Star Wars video games of all time. I was a young, barely-millennial at the time of its release. As such, this behemoth RPG was overshadowed by flashier titles like Podracer and Jedi Academy.
However, in light of the highly anticipated remake/remaster coming… hopefully at some point… This felt like the perfect time to finally dive into the golden child of Star Wars games. After twenty years (don’t remind me), does the game still shine?
For years, fans of the galaxy far, far away have been begging for the story and lore established in KOTOR to become part of the larger canon. Nearly all hope was lost when Disney seemingly tossed decades of content into the trash. But in the darkest night (that night being The Rise of Skywalker), hope was rekindled. A giant, albeit blurry, statue in the background of Exegol looked like Darth Nihilus, a villain from the KOTOR sequel. The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary confirmed Revan as canon. So, KOTOR is indeed canon again, even if only partially.
With this ‘Legends’ game back in the conversation, the major standout is the story of KOTOR. Not only does it hold up, it remains one of the most captivating in all of Star Wars. Getting to truly experience it for the first time after all these years was a joy in and of itself. The story, though, is arguably the absolute highlight of the game. It’s enough in this case, but that’s not always the best for video games.
A long time ago…
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic takes place nearly four thousand years before the events of the Skywalker Saga. This era, like the entire history of this fictional galaxy, is rife with war and hardship. The war between the Republic and the Mandalorians has just ended. Taking advantage of the chaos, hundreds of Jedi turn to the dark side and join the Sith. Led by Darth Revan and his apprentice, Darth Malak, the Sith hope to extinguish the Jedi and the Republic. This is where your adventure begins.
After choosing your basic appearance and base class, you wake up on a starship with no memories. Your class choice arguably makes the most difference in this early section as it’s part of your backstory. Other than that, your starting class isn’t a make-or-break choice. You can tailor your team’s skills around any weak points you develop. I went with the Soldier class to give me an edge with basic attacks.
You wake up on the Endar Spire, in the middle of a devastating attack by Sith forces. Before long, Carth Onasi, the renowned Republic soldier and pilot, saves you. You narrowly escape with him, and crash land on planet Taris, a crime-ridden, anti-alien world. The crash landing triggers a vision of Jedi Bastila Shan. She is presumed captured somewhere on the planet.
Follow your own path
Taris is a hellish introduction to the play style. You’ll spend a lot of time deep underground and in sewers, fighting gangs and all manner of creepy creatures. Your first major mission is to save Bastila from the Vulkar Gang. As it turns out though, she doesn’t exactly need your help. Bastila immediately notices something strange about you, though. It seems you two share a mysterious connection.
After seeking guidance from the Jedi Council on Dantooine, you can officially begin your free-roaming journey as a force-sensitive fighter. Acknowledging your connection to Bastila, the council instructs the two of you to track down pieces of a Star Map. The combined maps reveal the location of a secret base called the Star Forge. You must find the Star Forge, before the Sith use it to conquer the galaxy. There’s actually a lot more to it than that, but the story has a beautiful way of unfolding as you go.
There’s a section of the game that always occurs after leaving your second planet, whichever that may be. After Taris and Dantooine, my order of travel was Tatooine, Kashyyyk, Manaan, then Korriban. This accelerated my story with Bastila, but you can go in any order you choose. Many choose Kashyyk, then Tatooine.
From a certain point of view
Other than the story itself, KOTOR’s crowning achievement is its freedom of choice. Beyond choosing the path of your story, the game has a rigorous morality engine. Nearly every quest has the potential to gain you light side (good) points or dark side (evil) points.
What’s truly brilliant about this mechanic is that choosing the light side usually makes things harder for you. It’s a great reflection of real life. Of course it’s easier to threaten shop owners than to pay prices you can’t afford! And it’s definitely harder to de-escalate a feud than to blast everyone. That’s a wonderful lesson to teach younger players, and is in line with the philosophy of the Force.
The main events of the plot unfold as you choose which planets to visit first. There’s so much to do, and many ways to do nearly everything. From swoop racing to playing Pazaak, there are tons of side quests with multiple endings. There are even quests that, if you plan to be purely light side, you can’t (or shouldn’t) do! For example, The Genoharadan bounties are essentially a dark-side-only questline.
Your choices also change little things, like the way your companions talk to you. You accumulate a team of nine companions, including a Wookie, a Mandalorian, and three Jedi, including Bastila. Dipping more into the dark side changes the way Bastila relates to you most of all.
If you take the dark path, she’ll express her worry and outrage over your choices. Dark side choices even make her question her own choices, and whether she could defy the Jedi code. How you respond to Bastila (or Carth if you play as a woman) even determines whether a romance option becomes available. The romances are quite spicy, and frankly, a little devastating.
I have a bad feeling about this
The gameplay itself, at times, doesn’t quite hold up. Setting aside the fact that the graphics haven’t aged extremely well, there are more than a few portions of the map that are essentially just very long walks. Perhaps beautiful at the time, it feels a little monotonous in 2023.
The only version of quick travel is the ability to return immediately to your ship and then back to your last location. This action heals you automatically, which is great, but it did cause the game to crash more than once for me. Save often!
The fighting style is, from a certain point of view, rather genius. It’s a turn-based combat system with a wide variety of moves and bonuses. It allows you to strategize attacks and coordinate between team members smoothly. However, it feels stuck between styles. There’s more traditional turn-based combat systems like Fire Emblem, and there’s the real-time fights like in The Force Unleashed.
In KOTOR, having to stack moves or change strategies on the fly makes the combat feel delayed and a bit clunky. The satisfaction of a lightsaber strike is diminished when it takes up to 10 seconds for a strike to land.
With so much to do and such belabored lore, the sheer amount of alien dialogue can start to feel a little maddening. Overall, though, these issues are generally small potatoes. There are hundreds of opportunities for varying levels of combat. With a forgiving attitude, the scenery is often quite gorgeous. If you’re a Star Wars nerd, there’s hours of fun characters and history to discover. There’s a reason so many people love Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
*MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION!*
I have to mention one of the most surprising and horrifying side-quests of any game I’ve ever played. On Dantooine, a woman informs you that her droid, the last memento of her dead husband, has been stolen. She tasks you with finding him and bringing him back. However, upon asking her a few questions, it becomes evident that this droid broke out of her house. The plot thickens…
You find her droid being attacked by Kath hounds. He tells you that his master, the woman, is addicted to him and treats him as her husband. Even at night… in bed… the droid is implied to be a sex slave! In a T-rated Star Wars game!
To earn light side points for this mission, you must grant the droid’s request to be taken out of his misery. You have to mercy kill him and condemn the woman for her actions. It’s randomly one of the darkest moments in the game. But she finds new love, so it all works out? We need justice for droids in Star Wars.
In the realm of spoilers, it’s worth noting that the big twist in this game (you are Darth Revan) has a detrimental effect on a romance with Bastila. You can choose to forgive her for manipulating and essentially re-creating you (not a great basis for a healthy relationship). If you try to profess your love after rescuing her, though, she basically blames your love on her fall to the dark side. Yeesh. At least it’s a great example of why the Jedi discourage romance. “Bastila, you’re breaking my heart.“
Final thoughts on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, after 20 years, mostly lives up to its stellar reputation. It’s an incredible story with engaging twists and turns. The combat is varied and well-animated for its time. While there were some bugs, glitches, and a couple of crashes, I was playing on the Switch. It could be that the Aspyr port has trouble with a smaller capacity system.
It’s clear that KOTOR has had massive ripple effects across the Star Wars fandom and the world of gaming itself. While the remake is still far from release, we all wait with anticipation. In the meantime, give in to your
hatred nostalgia and play this vintage, timeless gem.