A massive rumour broke the other week, positing that EA’s Bioware Austin studio was working on a revamp of one of its most beloved video games, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic (also known as KotOR). This, combined with a recent revelation in Star Wars Rebels that certain events from the classic game are still considered canon, made fans of KotOR very excited indeed.
Sadly, it’s since been stated that the rumour of a KotOR remake of some sort was just a fabrication, and that no such project is currently on the cards. Sigh...
Still, fans will always have the original game. Whether or not it ever gets remade or fully inducted into the new canon, KotOR remains a phenomenal creation.
Many Star Wars games came before and after KotOR (including its slapdash-but-serviceable sequel, The Sith Lords), but arguably none of them hold a candle to KotOR in terms of quality or depth. Here are 15 Reasons KotOR Is The Best Star Wars Game So Far...
With a lot of Star Wars games, it feels like you’re on a preordained path, bumbling along from one cut-scene to the next without many choices along the way. This is a flaw that KotOR simply doesn’t have. Once you’re through the initial training bits, you’ve got free rein to explore numerous planets and forge your own paths through them.
If you get bored of one, or stuck, you can hop over to another world for a change of pace. Plus, each place you land is populated with unique characters and challenges, and although the ultimate aim remains the same throughout (finding the ancient Star Map on each planet), there are endless side quests and alternate routes to keep it from ever feeling repetitive.
KotOR offers a sense of freedom like no other Star Wars game to date. The game's sequel The Sith Lords, and the years-later online follow-up The Old Republic, took this idea and ran with it, but neither of them quite match up to that initial experience of KotOR. At long last, when you booted this game, it felt like the galaxy far, far away was yours to explore.
Although these graphics may look old hat nowadays, it’s impossible to deny that KotOR had an absolutely stunning visual palette, filled with colour and imagination. For a game produced in 2003 for Xbox and Windows, KotOR looked brilliant, which made the joy of playing it even more intense.
The environments looked great, from the water world of Manaan to the barrenness of Tatooine, via the lush greenery of Kashyyyk and the tropical sands of Lehon. And so did all the characters, with background species like the Selkath catching the eye just as much as the major players' unique looks. The central Sith characters, Malak and Revan, stand out as having particularly excellent designs.
In fact, Revan’s masked visage was so ace that it ended up inspiring the movies. It’s impossible to deny that Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren has a certain Revan-esque style about him. If KotOR ever does become canon again, perhaps they could imply that Kylo wasn’t taking inspiration solely from his grandfather. That would be fun.
The main story of KotOR takes place a few thousand years before any of the movies, with the Force-sensitive player character being drawn into an on-going conflict between the Republic and the Sith, and helping the former track down some Star Maps that might help locate and defeat the latter. Across multiple planets, ships and space stations, there’s an awful lot of story to play through.
But the game doesn’t stop there. The writers knew that anyone playing this would have an interest in the ancient history of the Star Wars galaxy, so they stuffed in contextual details about events that happened even earlier than the main story of the game.
For those players that want to gobble up every piece of information available, exploration and conversation offers details about what this world was like before you started playing in it. For example, you can learn of past battles from the Mandalorian warrior Canderous Ordo, and you can study the history of the Sith on their home world of Korriban.
Star Wars obsessives will find heaps of stuff to learn here. There are really rich and layered stories embedded into KotOR, if you’ve got the patience to piece them together.
Mini-games! Everyone loves mini-games. As if a sprawling main story, endless exploration, a huge pile of side quests, heaps of character interactions and extra history lessons wasn’t enough, KotOR also throws in some games-within-the-game to add even more fun to mix.
One of these is Swoop Racing, which has all the fun of that Pod Racing arcade machine, without that dirty feeling of supporting the prequels. Most places you go will have a Swoop Racing circuit, with some extra cash acting as an incentive to join in. The gameplay is remarkably simple – it’s just accelerating, breaking and moving side to side – but getting the top times provides a decent challenge.
And although Swoop Racing is mostly an optional piece of larking around, completing the races sometimes opens up different options for progressing the main story. This comes in handy if you’re trying to finish a planet without choosing dark side options to get things done. Speaking of which...
KotOR offers one of the widest ranging explorations of the Force in the entire history of Star Wars. The game doesn’t just see the Jedi and Sith as binary opposites; instead it displays a murky middle ground filled with conflicted supporting characters.
Jedi turn to the dark side over the course of the game, and Sith to the light. And then there’s the ‘Gray Jedi’ Jolee Bindo, who dabbles in both sides, having exiled himself from the Jedi Order years prior to meeting the player character.
Against this backdrop of shifting allegiances, the player is constantly asked to choose light or dark options. Many conversations and tasks will build up to a point when you’re forced to choose a path. Each choice you make earns either Light Side Points or Dark Side Points, which are totted up on a sliding scale.
This means you can see exactly where you fit on the spectrum of the Force. And thankfully, making one Dark Side decision doesn’t mean you can’t do nice things later on, and vice versa.
The other mini-game in KotOR is Pazaak, a card game played in cantinas and other hives of scum and villainy throughout the galaxy. It’s a bit like blackjack, but the aim of the game is reaching the number 20. You can increase the awesomeness of your deck by buying extra cards from vendors.
A number of NPCs will challenge you to a game of Pazaak as you traverse the galaxy, and while it’s strictly optional, there is a lot of fun to be had. It can become a very addictive once you get the hang of it, too.
There are occasional benefits to playing: big money wins, or discounted goods, for example. In the early stages of the game, when credits are hard to come by, this comes in very handy.
Fun fact: Chuck Wendig’s new canon novel Aftermath (which is set between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens) reintroduced Pazaak to the canon, allowing one of the ideas from KotOR to live on in the new Expanded Universe.
Romance is a tricky thing in Star Wars. From the awkward-in-hindsight Luke and Leia kiss from The Empire Strikes Back to – shudder - “I hate sand” from the prequels, affairs of the heart aren’t really what the movies do best. But KotOR did a decent job of working in some romantic entanglements for the players that wanted them.
For male characters, there is romance with Bastilla Shan, the female Jedi who acts as your character’s guide. This forbidden love takes a lot of conversations and side quests to initiate, and results in an off-screen snog.
The equivalent of this for female players is the romance with Carth Onasi, a soldier and pilot that joins you early in the game. By doing all of his conversations and side quests, and sticking to the light side, you can trigger a full-on declaration of love from Carth.
Female players are also capable of initiating a lesbian romance with the former Sith Juhani. Again, it’s a tricky path full of conversations and quests and careful decision-making, but in the end – if you do everything right - Juhani will admit that she cares for you.
That’s rather a lot of romantic options for such and old game, then. It’s just a shame there’s no option for gay male characters. That would be a refreshing thing to see if there ever is a remake of KotOR.
Between Palpatine, Vader, Maul, and Kylo Ren, the Star Wars film franchise has never had a problem coming up with cool villains. And because those legendary characters already exist, adding something new to the mix is never easy for the Expanded Universe writers.
KotOR, though, was one of those occasions when they managed to create a fresh villain that can stand next to the iconic baddies of yore. Darth Malak is the big bad of the game, a Sith with a metallic mouth piece and a tinny voice.
His design is very cool, and so is his story: Malak was a Jedi, but turned to the dark side – with a pal named Revan - after ignoring the orders of his masters and getting involved with a massive war.
Over the course of the game, as you fight your way through his lackeys and piece together the all-important Star Maps, you realize that Malak has amassed enough power to destroy the Jedi and the Republic in one fell swoop.
Whether you’re playing the light side plot or the dark one, that final confrontation, with its huge stakes, feels like a deeply important and personal battle. Plus, it’s ruddy difficult.
The depth of this game never ceases to amaze. Not only do you get to visit an array of planets, but you also get to explore different areas of them. It’s not just the surface level: once you’ve worked through the basic stuff (space ports, cantinas, vendors and the like), each planet offers you something new, something unique.
Highlights include the criminal under-city of Taris, the ancient ruins on Dantooine, the underwater segment of Manaan and the Shadowlands of Kashyyyk. The more time you spend on this game, the more you discover. Some of it is familiar (such as a Sand People skirmish on Tatooine) and some of it is completely new and surprising.
All the while, as you uncover the secrets of each world, the pieces of the Star Map start to slot into place, moving you closer to finding Malak and uncovering his plan. The overarching story and the ground level action are tied together nicely, resulting in a game that never feels like a slog, regardless of the hours you might be racking up.
Another great facet of KotOR is that actions have consequences. Bad things can and do happen. The game teaches you this early on, when a planet you were just on gets blown up, and you can’t go back to it. You can’t stop that destruction from happening, but there are a few points later on when you really need to be careful. If you’re not, doors will close.
There’s one playable character, Juhani, who it’s possible to kill before she joins your party. If you’re too gung-ho in your pursuit of action and XP, it’s very easy to do that. And as the game reaches its finale, it’s all-too-simple to turn your friends against you and convert them into enemies.
Also, the greatest example of actions having consequences in KotOR takes place on the watery Manaan. If you do the main mission wrong here, and fail to explain yourself adequately, you’ll be banished from the planet and you won’t be able to return. Unfinished side missions on the planet become impossible.
It seems harsh, but this theme - ‘if you make the wrong decision, bad things happen’ – only adds to the charm of KotOR. This is not just a slash and dash action fest, it’s a game where you have to think.
Sure, lots of games let you do this. But there’s something particularly exciting about building your own character in the Star Wars universe. The fact that KotOR lets you choose a gender, a name and a skin tone is a nice touch, which makes the game feel unique to you from the off.
The fact that there are multiple ways through every situation, and no rules about which order you have to do the planets in, only enhances this feeling. Playing through KotOR for the first time is like crafting your own Star Wars movie, since you get to choose the planets and the conversations, and which characters come with you on any given mission.
If you love Jedi, you can pack your party with Force users. If you prefer gruff guys with guns, you can bring a load of them instead. If you want romance, it’s there. If you want mini-games, they’re there. No other single player Star Wars game allows this much control and freedom.
And you even get to pick whether you’re a nice person or not - a hero or a villain. Of course, there are beats and cut-scenes that you can’t avoid, but for the most part this game is totally under your control.
Before Rey and The Force Awakens came rolling around, the idea of a female Jedi taking an important role in a story was left exclusively to the Expanded Universe. And KotOR is one of the best examples of how wonderfully that can work.
Bastilla Shan is a brilliant character. She is introduced early on, as a strong yet caring presence within the Jedi Order. She has a strong bond with the player character through the magic of the Force, and she’ll teach you new skills as the game progresses as well as offering a powerful helping hand in the manifold scrapes along the way. She's wise, but also a warrior when she needs to be.
Bastilla is not perfect, though, as evidenced when she’s seduced by the dark side near the end. How you deal with her turning to evil is one of the biggest ‘light or dark’ moments in the game, and it could turn all your chums against you.
By this point, many players will have initiated the romantic subplot with Bastilla, which only make the choice even harder... Man, this game is great.
Quirky droids with a flair for violence are fairly common now, thanks to Mr. Bones from Aftermath and K-2SO from Rogue One, but KotOR’s HK-47 is the one that kicked off the trend. He remains one of the funniest, darkest characters in the entire Star Wars franchise.
This assassin bot costs a fair bit, from a vendor on Tatooine, but he’s be worth every credit. His sardonic sense of humour and thirst for bloodshed make HK-47 one of the true highlights of the game. Stick him in your party and he’ll interject regularly with his droll insights, adding a unique strain of pitch black humour to proceedings.
He’s keen on calling humans ‘meatbags’ and dreaming up brutal ways of killing them. Plus, thanks to his massive blaster and unquenchable bloodlust, HK-47 is fairly handy in a fight. Of all the great characters that KotOR introduced, this murderous droid has to be the best.
Warning: from this point onwards, there will be some major spoilers...
Another great thing about KotOR is its multiple endings. Again, this is a feature that many games have, but this is one of the best examples of ‘choose your own destiny’ storytelling in Star Wars gaming.
Even though the final fight is always a dust-up with Malak aboard his Star Forge space station, the outcome is very different depending on your light-or-dark alignment.
If you’re a goodie, you’ll topple Malak and bring peace to the galaxy once more, being heralded as a hero of the Republic. But if you’re a master of evil, you’ll defeat Malak only to take his place as the dark lord of the Sith, ending the game with hordes of Sith soldiers saluting you. Whichever path you choose, KotOR’s ending feels suitably epic.
Another fun fact: If you’re careful with your dialogue choices, you can bring Bastilla with you to either ending, but the rest of your party can only make it to the happy outcome.
The best thing about KotOR has to be its amazing twist. It was a proper water cooler discussion point at the time, and remains one of the best rug-pulls in Star Wars history. Obviously, "I am your father" will always be top of that league table, but KotOR’s twist would be somewhere in the top five.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game, but want to know how it ends, let us fill you in: it turns out that your player character is actually Darth Revan, Malak’s former friend who disobeyed the Jedi and fell to the dark side at the same time as him. But the Republic managed to capture Revan and erase his memory, in an attempt to bring him back on side and even the odds.
The reveal is a major turning point in the game, and it's executed very well. It also makes those dark side options even more tempting going forward, as well as making the central relationship with Bastilla (who was involved in Revan’s capture and reprogramming) very fraught indeed.
This massive plot twist, along with the epic scale and the depth of choice, heightens the sense that playing KotOR is like crafting your own Star Wars movie. It’s also the moment that sets KotOR apart from other Star Wars games, and makes it stand out as a truly awesome story in its own right.
If you’ve never played this game, you really should...