I first became vaguely aware of Star Wars in the early 90’s—when I was 5 or 6. I would regularly catch bits and pieces of the original trilogy on television. I was completely unaware of the concept of a sequel, so I assumed that the whole thing was a single, gargantuan film. I couldn’t piece together the narrative, but I’d always been obsessed with big stories: the more impenetrable the better. I fell in love immediately.
My relationship with the series has waxed and waned over the years, but only slightly. Through the dark years of the franchise, my dedication to Star Wars was sustained by the video games. I could rhapsodize for a thousand words or more about the hours I spent playing Star Wars: Dark Forces. I even made a short lived attempt at writing a novelisation of the game.
As with most games, I didn’t get around to playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic until several years after it was released. I shoplifted the game from a supermarket in the midwest (a regrettable act, to be sure). Even then, the game sat on my shelf for years before I got around to trying to play the game (read about how I spoiled that game for myself here). It was such a trial to get the game to get the game to function on my computer that I wasn’t in any kind of hurry to play the sequel.
A few months before the debut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, LucasArts and Disney released an official update for KotOR II. Just over 10 years after the game was released! Perhaps this was a delayed show of goodwill. Or maybe it was just clever marketing, meant to keep the already insane episode VII hype train rolling. Either way, KotOR II was suddenly playable on modern systems (along with high resolutions options, modding support, and a number of other technical improvements).
(Side note: Steam Workshop makes modding incredibly easy… so you really should install the Restored Content Mod, which—as the title suggests—restores content that was cut from the original game because the developers simply didn’t have the time to complete before its release. In my opinion, this is the definitive way to play the game.)
Believe it or not, I still didn’t get around to playing the game until months later.
As a game, KotOR II holds up a pretty solid experience. The RPG mechanics of taking turns to vanquish foes and gaining experience to level up are clear descendants of Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Thankfully, KotOR II strips away a bit of the complexity that made those games seem so impenetrable to me. That’s not to say that the game is easy. For the dummy (me), the game can devolve into an unhealthy pattern of saving and loading (and reloading) that does the experience no favors. Yet, as with any system-heavy RPG, there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in the slow ascent to extraordinary power. And few things speak to my childhood aspirations more that becoming a Jedi Master.
As a story, KotOR II is damn near classic. The game’s narrative is essentially the servant of three masters. The story begins with its most apparent element: large-scale intergalactic conflict. A simple story of good and evil. Then the interpersonal drama begins to unfold, and being invested in the characters themselves only adds weight to their involvement in the grander narrative. As an added bonus, this whole multi-faceted scenario is set in one corner of a galaxy that has thirty years of lore. Certainly, there are moments where the Star Wars-ness can be a bit pandering. But for the most part, the universe is treated with a subtlety and respect that begs the Star Wars fan to come and partake of a great adventure.
I’m still amazed that KotOR II manages to strike such a wonderful balance between its numerous story components and delightful (albeit technical) gameplay mechanics. I’m even more amazed that the game received an official patch so long after its release. This game deserves to be experienced, and there has never been a better time than now to play it.
What a time to be alive!