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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords (Xbox) artwork

[Note: Grab a sandwich.]

If it ain't broke, don't fix it... Just upgrade the hell out of it. That's what was running through Obsidian Entertainment's mind for the entire development of the sequel for the 2003 Game of the Year. Did the philosophy work? Or did the highly discussed developer switch cause the best RPG series on the Xbox to fall to the Dark Side?

Obsidian Entertainment had a lot of responsibility when taking on KotOR2. How do you follow up a game like KotOR1? Well, they decided to put you in control of a different Jedi knight all together. This Jedi was banished from the order after going with Revan and Malak to fight the Mandalorians against the council's orders 10 years before. The PC has since lost most of his/her connection with the force. There is mystery in this exile's background, but not in a "I can't remember anything" way. More of a "I don't just spontaneously talk about my past because a camera is following me around" way.

The game starts with the exile waking up in a life support tank. Bodies are seen in other tanks all around you. Lets just say from that moment until the moment you get your trusty ol' Saber, you are running like a little girl. You meet plenty of strong party members before you get your LightSaber, so you aren't just fending for yourself. After you obtain said Saber, you can pretty much be a total badass and investigate the reasoning why the Sith seem to be hunting you specifically.

Also in case you are wondering... By the time I was level 12 I had run in to at least 4 KotOR1 characters. They did a good job of updating you on old characters but also keeping the story focused on what the exile is going through. Don't wanna give too much away here though. Just know that it is a very dark setting this time.

Gameplay is the category in which Knights 2 really gleams. The combat system is a hybrid between Real Time and Turn Based systems. It takes the best of both worlds and combines them flawlessly. Keep it simple and just hit A to make your party attack, or go Uber-Nerd and que up specific attacks for each party member. If you played K1, you know the drill. But this time there is 11 Force/Saber fighting styles. There seems to be one for every situation. To know when to apply which style is to be a master of combat. Also, apparently there is no level cap this time 'round. Thats right all you power gamers out there. Theoretically you could be Level 100 if you wanted too. I'm going to have to call that a bad thing.

Aside from combat, the menus have been streamlined and perfected. The journal and item list is much easier to navigate. You can even have 2 different weapon sets for each character. I like to have a ranged set and a melee set while others like to have different melee sets for different scenarios. Either way, this is a welcome addition to say the least.

Conversations have greatly improved. They are longer and offer at least 3 times as many replies. Light side and Dark side options are smarter then just "Here's some money because I'm a nice guy" or "Get away from me or I'll kill you!". Several times I had conversations with characters that lasted 15 minutes or more. But don't worry; if you don't like that as much as I do you can always take the "I don't have time to talk" way out at any time.

There's a new influence system that allows you to sway your party members to your beliefs or to drive them away forever. It's so deep that I can't even begin to describe it on paper. So many dialogue options. I love swaying them to my side and learning more about their past. The stories they tell are never boring like Juhani's or Mission's were from K1. I love every conversation in this game.

Party members are great. All have histories as deep and engaging as Carth's and Bastila's were. You will come to find that they all have ulterior motives. Its not just a rag tag grouping of outer-rim misfits just there for no other reason but to help you save the universe. You will learn this as you go along. There is 1 twist in particular that will blow your mind... *tease*

The controls of KotOR2 are very well mapped out. Outside of combat, it all seems to come very natural. You'll have the out-of-combat controls down in less then 10 minutes. All the standard things are there such as running around with the stick, activating things or starting conversations with A. But then there's this little menu on the bottom of the screen. This menu tells you what you can do to a the object you are currently looking at/facing. If its a crate, it will give you the option to open it. A person, start a conversation. Really nifty.

But if you use the D-Pad you'll notice you can move back and forth between icons on said menu. This is how you use medpacs, stimulants, and out-of-battle Force powers amongst other things. This is good because you hardly ever need to pause the game.

Combat is also very well done. It's a perfect blend of the real-time and turn-based battle systems displayed in other RPGs. You use the same menu mentioned above in combat to que up attacks and force powers. While you do that, you can also use medpacs and throw grenades. You can do this for everyone in your party by switching back and forth with the Black button. If this seems a bit much to do all in real time, hit the White button to pause the game right there in combat. Then set everything the way you want it and hit white again to watch your commands be executed. Of course if its just a small battle or you can't be bothered to do all that, you can just set scripts for your party and press A to begin attacking the enemy.

Combat is done by turns. You attack them, they attack you, repeat until somebody is dead. Whether you hit them or not is done by behind the scenes dice rolls. If your attack is better then their defense roll, you succeed in hitting them. If not, they either block or dodge. How high your level is obviously effects this. You can get to a point where you are so strong you will dodge/block all attacks and kill the most powerful enemies with 1-2 attacks.

The controls do require one to have a brain. If your looking for a hack and slash, go play Fable. If you want a fantastic RPG control scheme, KotOR2 has it. I'm pleased that Obsidian saw no need to change the combat engine in any major way.

The Graphics could have been much better. Not only doesn't it seem like Obsidian improved them much, but K2 has a lot more bugs then K1. Sudden glitches and jerks just make you want to shudder. Frame rate issues get downright aggravating at times. Its worse at later points in the game where you are fighting 10-15 powerful characters. There are force powers flying all over the screen and Sabers and Vibroblades being swung. The poor framerate looks like a Bantha trying to keep up with the Millennium Falcon.

They did improve the animations quite a bit. No longer will you see just the 3 or 4 attacks and blocks that you saw in KotOR. Now there is 7 distinctly different Lightsaber fighting styles and all have superb animations. From the erratic, offense first Ataru style to the more calm and defense oriented Ataru form, all look great.

But the negatives simply outweigh the positives in the graphics category, I'm afraid. I'm disappointed that Obsidian didn't at least spend a little time on this part of the game. This game is amongst the choppiest titles on the Xbox. If it wasn't such a deep game, you would think it could run on the PS2.

And as for sound... What can I say? It's a Star Wars game. But in this one, its even better if possible. The voice acting is improved. You will still want to chop some annoying alien lips off, but its better. All SFX from the soft tapping of feet on the sands to the almighty Force Storm are fitting. The Lightsaber's sound seems toned down and less annoying then in the first game. The sound effects really help to put you in the game.

The score is top notch. Plenty of new stuff combined with some classic compositions from K1 make one of the best RPG soundtracks I have ever experienced. Perfect is a word that I try not to throw around too much, but this game's sound is as close to it as any other's.

The length of your first playthough will depend on how you play the game. Do no sidequests, pay no attention to the character influence feature, etc and you'll have about a 30-35 hour game. Thankfully most of you either don't have A.D.D. or are on pills to regulate it.

Most of you will do about 40% of the massive amount of side quests. You will also play with the influence and take part in the long conversations. You will probably have a 45 hour experience the first time you beat the game. But if you are like me, you'll do everything there is to do. If that's the case, you could easily have a 70 hour save. That is top notch.

So many RPGs fail in this category because once the game is over; its over. This is not the case with Knights 2. You will have to play this game at least 6 times to see everything. Class specific Force Powers and feats. Treating party members differently. And of course, the endings. This time there ARE more then two. And they aren't just little 2 minute movies that leave the player unsatisfied. They differ depending on how you handled situations and characters throughout the game. It beats the original in this category, and is one of the most replay-able single player games ever created. If you have as much time on your hands as I do you can look at about 150 hours of gaming bliss headed your way.

In summary, I would like to say that I love this game. I won't quit playing it for quite a long time. I want to personally thank LucasArts and Obsidian Entertainment for putting out such a fine sequel. They didn't try to be revolutionary. They didn't try to rehash a good series too early like so many developers do. They just took a good thing and made it better, simple as that.

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Community review by xxgcdxx_johnirving (December 13, 2004)

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