Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (aka KOTOR2) is a single-player, role playing game set in the Star Wars universe. In KOTOR2 we play as an exiled, former Jedi who has been wandering the galaxy since a civil war torn through the Republic, killing most of the Jedi.

At the beginning of the game our character has no (or minimal) Force powers, skills or memory. As we explore and meet other characters our history gets revealed and our connection with the Force returns, gradually restoring our powers. The player has the ability to make occasional moral choices (to help people or extort them, for example) and these choices cause us to shift further toward the Jedi or Sith path. Whether we become a Jedi or Sith character does not appear to have a huge impact on the game, but it does result in some different conversations and determines which Force powers we are better able to use.

As with most role playing games, we spend a good deal of our time exploring new locations, picking up every object that is not nailed down and fighting minor foes. We also get handed a large number of side quests by minor characters we meet. As we progress through the game, we gain new skills and Force powers and assemble the parts necessary to build our own lightsaber.

On paper, this game looks like everything I have been searching for in a role playing game: space travel, lightsabers, Force powers, lots of Star Wars characters and moral choices. I was delighted to find KOTOR2 on Steam for Linux as I had been looking for something like this for a while. However, while there is something fun about Force-stunning enemies, I found playing KOTOR2 a very frustrating experience, mostly due to two general issues.

The first overarching problem is that KOTOR2 plays more like an interactive movie than a video game. There are a lot of cut scenes (I probably spent almost as much time watching characters talk as I did playing KOTOR2) and it soon becomes apparent that our choices do not have a serious impact on the plot. For example, whether we offer to give a stranger a ride off the planet or we turn him away, later he will be found on the ship, either as a passenger or a stowaway. Likewise, whether we are visiting a local crime boss to compete with him or to bargain for a friend’s release, in the end we end up fighting his thugs. The paths we take all tend to lead to the same conclusion, making the moral choices more of a style issue than real decisions.

It took me a while to get used to the idea that KOTOR2 is not so much a game, but rather a Star Wars movie where the plot only advances if we make the protagonist move around and interact with people. We rarely play KOTOR2, but rather watch it. We are left to entertain ourselves through the parts of the story which do not matter, but the game slaps our hands away from the controls every few minutes and engages in long cut scenes and conversations which we cannot affect. Then, when the plot is done happening, we are given the chance to walk around a little and enjoy the scenery before the game takes over and plays a few more scenes of the movie.

To illustrate this point, there was one point early in KOTOR2 when I entered into a series of cut scenes. There were three cut scenes in a row, followed by my character walking across a small map, followed by three more cut scenes, one of which had a flashback within it. That day I watched KOTOR2 for around an hour, but only played for about five minutes.

Eventually, I grew to accept that KOTOR2 was more of a long Star Wars film than a game, but that still left me with many bugs which plagued the interactive bits. There were too many bugs, odd design choices and glitches to list, so I will try to summarize some of the ones which popped up frequently.

The first thing I noticed when I started playing KOTOR2 as former Jedi “Count Coqunstuff” was that the character moves in the direction the camera is pointing, not the way they are facing. In most other RPGs I have played, the character moves independently of the camera. This lets the player scan a room quickly while moving through it, or look behind them when running away from something. In KOTOR2 the character always moves whichever way the camera is facing, meaning if we want to look around the room we need to stop walking. This is more time consuming and makes the main character look like an idiot who cannot walk and turn his head at the same time.

Another issue I faced a lot was it is not possible to skip or escape cut scenes. Some scenes go on for several minutes and, if we realize we want to go back to do previous task differently or simply want to quit the game and to do something else, there is no way to either load a game or save & quit during a cut scene.

Speaking of cut scenes, there are some weird glitches that happen when going into and out of scenes sometimes. As an example, once I returned to my ship and a cut scene started. The party I was traveling with disappeared and I was shown walking into a room to meet a Sith knight. I was then thrown into the fight without my party. The Sith was clearly far above my level and, a few seconds later, my health was gone and I had not scratched my foe. I turned and ran, losing the Sith in the twisty passages. I then went around the ship and discovered my party was all gone and I could not leave, I was locked in a sort of mini parallel universe with just me and the Sith. I decided to take a stab at “hitting and running” to slowly wear down the Sith and walked back into the room where we had started fighting. The game glitched, assumed if I was in the room and still alive then I must have won and showed me the cut scene with me winning the fight. The fight was over and I was shunted off to the next scene.

Scene glitches did not always work in my favour. Once a series of cut scenes happened, dumping me into a bar fight with a party member I had not used in a while. He had almost died in the last fight and, despite that being a few hours in the past, he had not been traveling with me since then and therefore had not healed at all. He only had a few hit points left. Every time the bar fight cut scene happened, he’d be dumped into the action and instantly killed by the first hit.

I eventually found a way around the bar fight scene issue. In KOTOR2 AI-controlled characters usually will not chase you if you run around a corner. They also will sometimes stand and simply look at attackers who are shooting at them, even if there is only a table or the edge of a doorway between them and the foe. This means the player can sometimes kill an entire room of foes by himself just by standing in a doorway and firing a blaster. However, the glitch works in reverse too. Sometimes enemies attack the player or other party members and they will just stand and take blaster bolts to the face without reacting. Several times I noticed my party had been wiped out simply because they stood and refused to fight while enemies stabbed them.

Combat had some other weird quirks. One feature of KOTOR2 I liked was that the game would let the player queue actions. So I can decide to activate a shield, then shoot, then switch to a melee weapon, then attack with that. These actions get processed one after the other, letting us plan out battles. But sometimes this feature backfires. For example, if there are three enemies standing in a room and I decide to throw grenades at all three, what actually happens is the player’s character throws a grenade at the first enemy, then the other two enemies run forward and the player ends up throwing his remaining grenades over their heads at the empty space where the enemy used to be while they stand in front of him and stab him with swords. My point is queuing actions more than one action at a time is usually pointless. This becomes more evident when mixing close combat with other actions like healing or Force powers. The player’s character forgets who he was attacking last. This means if I was fighting five foes and paused to use a healing pack, my character would switch to attacking a different character, leaving alone the one I had left hanging by a thread.

While not a bug, a big problem I had with KOTOR2 was that I spent very little time actually playing the game. Earlier I mentioned cut scenes take up a lot of time. But so does combat. Most fights are against many minor foes. The player can just click on the first enemy to fight and they will swam him until the player kills them all. This requires little to no interaction on the player’s part. We just need to click on the first foe and then monitor the situation to make sure no one spaces out and stops fighting. Then we need to wait while health regenerates, which (if we do not have a rested Jedi in the party) can take a few minutes. Then we walk into the next room, click the first enemy, wait while the party clears the room, then wait a few more minutes while everyone heals. All I am really doing is telling where the character to walk between battles. The rest of the time I am watching the party fight, talk and rest, not playing so much as supervising.

Some bugs work in the player’s favour. Enemies almost always stop chasing a player if they go around a corner out of sight, or run too far ahead. This is very important as, in boss fights, the player will usually die very quickly in a straight fight against a boss character. Generally the player can win these bigger fights by running away, healing and returning to the fight. Ideally, putting down some mines in the enemy’s path before being spotted. However, the same glitch poses a problem in escort missions. If a character is following us to safety and the player runs too far ahead, the escorted character just stops waling when we get too far ahead. They will wait until we realize they are no longer following and go back to collect them. Once again, this is where having an independent camera would be helpful as we could constantly look back without stopping.

At this point it is probably clear I was not having a lot of fun with the game and one might wonder why I kept at it for as long as I did. The thing is, as buggy and slow paced as KOTOR2 is, if the player can get used to the idea that they are just along for the ride (there to watch rather than do) then KOTOR2 is like watching a Star Wars movie. A long Star Wars movie that takes days to complete. It has the usual collection of villains, aliens, blaster fights, lightsabers, epic music and a pretty decent story. I actually found myself thinking that I’d like to see KOTOR2 done as a film. As a game, it’s frustrating and drags a bit, but as a movie (or a series of movies) I think it works. It’s a pretty powerful tale of ethics, redemption, settling scores with the past and moral grey areas. I’d suggest watching all the cut scenes in place of playing the game.

I eventually gave up playing KOTOR2. At one point, though I’d only completed about half of my quests in a given map area, something I did triggered a series of cut scenes, followed by minor fights, followed by more cut scenes, more minor fights, escapes, more cut scenes. I was completely railroaded for about four hours. The whole time I kept hoping the game would eventually drop me back to where I had been so I could continue my various side quests, but it never did. I just kept getting deeper into the game’s sub-plots (unable to escape or do anything else) until I hit a point where I was tossed into a scenario with two playable characters where as soon as I walked out of the starting room I’d be cut down. No amount of shields, healing packs, cloaking devices, glitches or Force powers could save me; my party would be wiped out in seconds. At this point I had a choice: stop playing, or go back in time about five hours and hope I somehow didn’t trigger the same seemingly endless string of cut scenes and minor fights again, knowing I’d have to do this all over again eventually.

I gave up. And I don’t think there is any shame in that because the game wasn’t fun. My concern wasn’t the difficulty so much as the bugs and railroading me from scene to scene without any meaningful choices or puzzles or chances to stop and equip my characters. Doors to other areas were blocked by invisible barriers, and trying to take a different path would simply trigger a new cut scene and put me back on the rails. Trying to switch to other members of my party didn’t work as the character selection screen was simply inactive. KOTOR2 wasn’t acting like a role playing game, it was acting like an impatient screenwriter – no time to explore, get back to the plot! Sadly, I never got to complete building my lightsaber because whenever I went back to try to get the last part, I’d be whisked away to another scene. And, seriously, what is the point of role playing a Jedi if the game prevents one from having a lightsaber?

Game: Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
Developers: Obsidian Entertainment for Lucas Arts
Platforms: Linux, macOS, Windows
License: Unknown
Genre: Adventure, Interactive story, Role playing, Science fiction

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