Happy Birthday, KotOR! Thanks For Having Such Great Star Wars

Happy Birthday, KotOR! Thanks For Having Such Great Star Wars
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Today is the 10th anniversary of BioWare’s classic Star Wars role-playing game Knights of the Old Republic. Happy birthday, KotOR! Thanks for having such great Star Wars.

Let me back up and explain what I mean by that. Last winter I was in New York talking with my boss Stephen about the animated Star Wars TV show The Clone Wars. He was telling me to check it out, and that while it has flaws that cause a lot of people write it off, it still “has some good Star Wars“.

I really liked that term, because I instantly, instinctually knew what he meant. It has good Star Wars.

As it turns out, “Good Star Wars” is much easier to say than it is to define.

I brought the idea back up a little while ago in Kotaku group-chat, which led to all manner of discussion and disagreement about which games had “The Best Star Wars.” We didn’t reach a consensus, but we saw a lot of the usual suspects tossed around: Dark Forces, Jedi Knight II, X-Wing, and of course Knights of the Old Republic.

Owen put in a vote for Jedi Outcast, and Evan and Owen both offered the opinion that while the game itself had problems, The Force Unleashed had some great Star Wars, particularly in the back half. Luke maintains that Dark Forces had the best Star Wars of any Star Wars game. (I totally see what he’s saying there.)

We’re in murky territory here, given that we’re talking about a phrase that I haven’t defined all that well. It’s not really the same thing as being a good game, right? But I know in my gut what it means to have good Star Wars, and my gut tells me that KotOR had the best Star Wars possible.

I replayed about 10 hours of KotOR a couple of months ago for the first time since I initially played the game five or so years ago. It’s remarkable just how well-written and interesting this game is, particularly given how much hysterical Star Wars garbage had been thrown at us starting right around the time the game came out. It’s a sign of how far we’ve fallen that, as I replayed, it felt like a miracle simply to see characters on screen showing believable emotions, learning to overcome their traumatic pasts and trust one another.

Sure, the main narrative was based around a typical Lights Side vs. Dark Side Jedi battle, with the fate of our heroes and the rest of the galaxy hanging in the balance. But it also let us go deep into the nooks and crannies of previously unexplored areas of George Lucas’ beloved universe, from the underbelly of a Sith-controlled city to the jungles of the Wookiee homeworld. If that’s not good Star Wars, I can’t say what is.

But there are still so many points of contention. Can KotOR have good Star Wars if it takes place so far in the past that it’s almost irrelevant to the original trilogy? Does Republic Commando have good Star Wars despite the fact that the Force doesn’t show up? Mike says that “Republic Commando is more Band of Brothers than Star Wars.” OK, but what about Dark Forces, then? Battlefront is a pretty straightforward game, but you get to take down an AT-AT on Hoth. That’s gotta be good Star Wars, right?

And what games don’t qualify? I’d say kids’ games, as well as most stuff based on the prequels, most of the newer junk that treats the Force less as a moral test and more as a competition to see which side has the better magic. That pod-racing game… that didn’t really have good Star Wars. Is it possible for a game to have both good and bad Star Wars?

When it comes down to it, the best definition I could come up with was this: It’s not so much about whether or not the game is good (though that helps). It’s about whether the game makes you feel like, as a fan of Star Wars, you’re getting to do and learn some cool Star Wars shit.

So thanks, KotOR, for having some of the best Star Wars I’ve ever seen in a video game. I just bought the sequel on the Steam sale, and I’m curious how it stacks up. I hear it has pretty good Star Wars, too. (And don’t worry, I’ll download all the requisite patches and mods.)

In the meantime, I’m just going to take this primed thermal detonator of a topic and set it here for you guys to defuse in the comments. Which games had the best Star Wars? What does that phrase mean to you? And what’s the one thing you hope the new Star Wars keepers at Disney can learn from the successes and failures of the past?


    • I won’t bother being hyped for KoTOR 3, it will either never happen or Bioware will butcher it. I’m holding out for a remake of this amazing game.

      • …but that ending!

        I would just be as happy with a remake as well, the first game was the best.

        • You’re referring to the ending of KoTOR 2? I haven’t played SWTOR, but it’s apparently somewhat explained (albeit very poorly) in that game.

          Which is disappointing. I have no interest in SWTOR.

          • SWTOR does go into some of the details of what followed KOTOR 1 & 2. It’s a far cry from an actual sequel, but it gives some closure, at least.

    • I’ll be ecstatic if one of the two unannounced games in development is kotor 3, although that’s probably unlikely. EA is still milking that disappointing piece of trash we call “TOR”.

      • Actually, EA milking SWTOR does give me hope for a KOTOR3, as it would them give them masses of new potential content to include in SWTOR, making it a 2-way win for their financial side with a single game.

  • As much as I enjoyed KOTOR, it’s not what I’d consider as having the best “Star Wars”. I’d have to go for Rouge Squadron II. When I think of Star Wars, I think of the awesome space battles and this game covers the original trilogy nicely. Just my opinion though.

  • KOTOR had better Star Wars than the movies, all of them. The movies are enjoyable, but shallow. KOTOR took the cool aspects of the franchise and ‘matured’ them so to speak, all without the pressure from executives to include things that can be turned into toy lines or spin offs.

    • I agree. This is why I’m glad that the expanded universe exists; in it developers and writers can delve into certain themes and topics that would have little mainstream appeal. Not everyone wants a deep story; some prefer just enough intellectual and emotional stimulation to keep them entertained for 90 or so minutes.

  • I’ve always seen mass effect as the true spiritual successor. I just prefer bioware over obsidian’s sequel

  • My top five

    5. Star Wars Trilogy Arcade game
    4. Star Wars Episode I: Racer
    3. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
    2. KoTOR II: TSL (especially with the restored content)
    1. KoTOR

  • Why no love for Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight?? Out of all of them, the architecture of the levels alone was drenched in Star Wars Style. Massive open spaces and not a guardrail to be seen…

    The Katarn Homestead, The Refuelling Station, The Imperial Remnant Base…

    Also, escaping from a crashing space cruiser as the level gets more and more tilted on an angle. With red herring passage ways that could easily get you lost on the way back to your ship! Pure genius!

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