Long and Short plays through: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (part one)

Evening everyone, and welcome to what is the first in what I’m hoping will turn into a much loved and anticipated weekly post (or fortnightly or something, haven’t quite decided yet) on whatever I happen to be playing (maybe reading or watching as well) at any given time. Essentially a written ‘Lets Play’ with the odd bit of analysis and hopefully the occasional hint of insight (brilliant or otherwise). Fun too, if it can be managed. This’ll probably be a constant work in progress as we go, so criticism and advice on what works and what doesn’t is always welcome. I’m always out to make things better. Anyway, the first game on the list (as implied by the title) is Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, from this point simply referred to as KotOR II. This week we’ll start with a bit of context.

In the real world.

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone when the sequel for Knights of the Old Republic (released at the end of 2003) was announced. A critically acclaimed classic that still tops ‘Best (Western) RPG’ lists, the game was also the fastest selling game on Xbox up to that point (and a game that still sells now) and is arguably what cemented Bioware’s reputation as amongst the best in the business. But with Bioware moving onto their own IP (they released the stellar Jade Empire in 2005) the torch was passed onto Obsidian Entertainment (who were on good terms with the folk over at Bioware).

The second game was released late 2004, barely a year after the first. While the writing had started before the release of the original in late 2003 Lucas Arts had pushed a development window of 14-16 months (compared with the nearly four year – including delays – development of the first). The game was a critical success, with a much more nuanced story and a supporting cast that is widely considered one of the best around. Lotta shades of grey in that cast. Love it. It was, however, buggy as a turn-of-the-twentieth-century sailor’s balls after a week of shore-leave, with an ending that was obviously and disappointingly rushed and confusing. Obsidian Entertainment, being Obsidian Entertainment, had let their ambition get the better of them and would later admit that they should have cut even more content than they already did. But it’s hard to be mad at them for trying to do as much as possible. They shot for the moon and… wait, that is no moon!

Much of the slack for bug fixes was picked up by the champs in the modding community. A great deal of this culminated in The Sith Lords Restored, a mod that fixed some of the worst of bugs and glitches, and (as the name implies) restored a fair bit of the content cut by Obsidian in its rush to release the game (as much as modders can, anyway).

In my personal world.

Playing this game was for a long time my white whale. My unicorn. My… third example I’ll think of later. What I mean is that for a very long time I couldn’t get the bloody thing to work.

Y’see, there are a number of games that I consider to be my ‘firsts’. Games that (despite hindsight) got me into a particular genre. For RPGs it was the original Knights of the Old Republic, which I played for hours at a time and made me the Bioware fanboy I am today. No shock then that I went out and bought the sequel as soon as I was fiscally capable.

I remember the excitement of installing it on my PC. The thrill of seeing the new villain staring at me from the menu screen. The disappointment when I hit ‘new game’ and it promptly crashed. It didn’t take me long to realise that this was going to be a recurring theme. Drove me fucking nuts. The PC wasn’t connected to the internet, so I couldn’t download any patches and I was even less tech-savvy than I am now (and I am not tech-savvy) so my haphazard attempts to fix things myself rarely worked. Too many conflicts between my computer and the game. Video card wasn’t compatible. Operating system wasn’t compatible. The goddamn alignment of Ursa Major and Venus wasn’t compatible. Sometimes I got lucky and managed to get a few hours of play, but for years I never got much further than Nar-Shaddaa before something gave and I’d be back to square one.

Eventually I gave up. Got rid of that PC a few years ago, switched over to Macs. Bought an Xbox 360 and became (gasp!) a console gamer. But it was always on my list of games that I had to get through eventually. Then one day, the opportunity presented itself. I was searching Ebay for something completely unrelated (shoes, I think) and one of those “you might be interested in these” was a twenty-dollar used copy of KotOR II for the first Xbox. I hadn’t gone looking for a copy before because someone had told me it was one of those games that didn’t work on the ‘mostly’ reverse-compatible Xbox 360. But this time I just went, “why the fuck not?” and bought it.

A couple of weeks later I’d finally gotten past Nar-Shaddaa. A happy ending, at long last.

I’m in another country now, well away from my trusty 360 with just my trusty MacBook for gaming. I was pretty stoked when I found out it had finally been released for Mac and picked it up straight away. Now I get to play it again, before my exile is complete. Should be fun.

In the game world.

The game takes place about four thousand years before the events of the films (the fall of the Old Republic in the title and the rise of the Galactic Empire). The Republic is rebuilding after two consecutive and bloody wars (the Mandalorian War and then the Jedi Civil War). The Sith are sorta gone, and the Jedi have either been killed or gotten very good at hiding.

People who played the original KotOR know the story well enough. Two Jedi Knights, Revan and Malak, went against Jedi Council orders and led the Republic’s armies against the advancing (and brutal) Mandalorians who had invaded, and were joined by a number of other Jedi. After soundly defeating the Mandalorians something happened to make Revan and Malak turn to the dark side, forming a new Sith Empire, bringing a lot of Jedi with them and starting the Jedi Civil War. After a fair bit of fighting, a Jedi strike force (bloody hell I’ve said “Jedi” a lot in this paragraph) led by Bastila Shan took down Revan with a bit of help from Malak who had chosen that moment to betray his old master and take over the Sith Empire. Long story short, turns out the player character in KotOR is (shock and massive SPOILER ALERT) actually an amnesiac Revan who (canonically) sticks with the light side, defeats Malak, destroys the source of the Sith’s seemingly unlimited military resources, saves the Republic, hooks up with Bastila for a bit (canon Revan is a straight bloke) and goes roaming the stars.

Everything’s great. Sorta. Like I said, the Sith might seem to be gone, but someone or something’s still hunting Jedi and there aren’t a whole lot left in hiding by the time KotOR II starts. We’ll be playing as one of the last. Sorta. All will be revealed as we go on.

We start the game on a familiar looking starship going by the name Ebon Hawk… No, shit, that’ll happen in a minute. We start the game in the character creator, deciding gender and starting class…

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