Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

If you ask a bunch of folks which Star Wars video game is the best, more often than not you’ll be told Knights of the Old Republic. The first one, not the second, of course. I disagree.

The first Knights of the Old Republic, developed by the acclaimed BioWare studio and released in 2003, feels like a rollicking blast of a Star Wars adventure. That’s because it really is prototypical Star Wars.

Obsidian’s Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, on the other hand, is the evil twin from an alternate universe. It’s not light or rollicking. It’s ponderous and moody. KOTOR 2 is a deconstruction of Star Wars, rather than an attempt to emulate its most popular traits.

Star Wars is escapism. It’s a space fantasy, rather than science fiction, and more often than not it attempts to paint a picture of a world that is easy to understand and feel comfortable with. That black-and-white portrait is a demonstration of how we wished our world would be, with good and evil and a clear dividing line between them. KOTOR 2 collapses that construct, humanising evil and obscuring that dividing line. Whereas KOTOR 1 provides surface-level enjoyment, KOTOR 2 goes deep enough to be intellectually stimulating

The difference between the two games is apparent in their basic premises. KOTOR 1 is about a galactic war you’re trying to end, and KOTOR 2 doesn’t even have a war. In KOTOR 1 you’re running around the galaxy as a Jedi and representative of the Republic, and in KOTOR 2 nobody knows you nor cares about what you’re doing. KOTOR 1 is fun and simple and earnest, and KOTOR 2 is heady and heavy and noir-ish.

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

Unfortunately, KOTOR 2 is the obscured younger sibling of the series. It’s not necessarily hated so much as disregarded, a side effect of being far less digestible than the original. The fact that it launched with some severe content cuts doesn’t help. Released only a year and a few months after the original, KOTOR 2 had a number of new technical issues and parts were missing. Its development studio, Obsidian, created a lot of content that was cut from the game due to the game’s tight development cycle. The game was rough. It ended so abruptly that fans were put off.

For years, though, some intrepid modders have been working on a mod for KOTOR 2 on PC called the Restored Content Mod that is attempting to include all that stuff Obsidian made but had to cut. It’s been out for a few years, but the work continues; this editorial is making its judgments based on KOTOR 2 running with that mod.

Both KOTOR games take place about 4000 years before the Star Wars films. The backstory for both involves the warmongering society known as the Mandalorians, who invaded the Galactic Republic essentially just to see if they could win. In order to ensure the full might of the Republic would come out to meet them, the Mandalorians committed all sorts of atrocities, including the genocide of all members of the Cathar race on that society’s homeworld.

Jedi leadership was hesitant to get involved, but a pair called Revan and Malak lead a group to war anyway, and the Republic eventually put them in charge of all of its military forces. The Republic won, and then Revan disappeared into the Unknown Regions of the galaxy with a sizable portion of the Republic fleet. A year later they returned with an even larger force and invaded the Republic themselves, with Revan and Malak declaring themselves Sith. This was the Jedi Civil War.

Warning: Massive KOTOR 1 spoiler coming up. Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to know!

In KOTOR you play as Revan after he’s been captured and memory wiped by the Jedi. He and his merry band are tasked with essentially retracing his steps in order to find out where the Sith’s seemingly endless resources are coming from. You do that, either by taking the path of the Jedi or Sith, but regardless, once it’s all over, Revan disappears back into the Unknown Regions in an attempt to reconstruct more of his memories and figure out what exactly happened out there.

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

KOTOR is just another of the Star Wars, but KOTOR 2 is a meditation on that war, five years later. The Jedi Civil War was devastating for the Jedi themselves — 100 or so were left alive once it was over, and most of them were picked off over the next few years by powerful leftover Sith, now operating in secret. The Jedi Civil War was given its name at this point by virtue of the regular folks of the galaxy not knowing the difference between Jedi and Sith; to normies they’re all just dangerous, strange magic-wielders, and so few citizens of the galaxy are batting an eye at the lack of any of them wandering the streets these days.

Enter the Jedi Exile, and the beginning of KOTOR 2. The Exile was the only one of Revan’s Jedi to return to the fold after the war with the Mandalorians instead of running off with Revan and his mutineer forces, but she was immediately cast out by the Jedi Council. And so the Exile wandered through the parts of the galaxy where the happenings of the Republic don’t matter, and returns to civilisation by chance (or is it?) at the crisis point.

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

In contrast to the opening of KOTOR, in which you must fight through a boarding party during a space battle gone bad, KOTOR 2 begins very quietly — the tutorial has you take control of Revan’s old droid pal, T3, who must repair a badly damaged Ebon Hawk while the other passengers, including the Exile, lie unconscious. From there it stays quiet. The Ebon Hawk limps to an asteroid mining station called Peragus. When the Exile awakens there’s no one around except a strange old woman who had apparently been the one to put you onto the Ebon Hawk in the first place.

You spend hours wandering the station, fighting off some malfunctioning droids and trying to figure out what happened so you can get out. And that’s all it is. You’re not trying to get out so you can go do something important; you’re simply trying to survive and deal with your own shit. Like who is this old lady following me around? Why is there an assassin droid hunting me? Why does a conglomeration of gangsters have a bounty on Jedi? Who is that gross-looking Sith guy who showed up at Peragus?

Once all is said and done, KOTOR 2 is definitely another grand quest to save the galaxy, but it just never really feels that way. In reality, it’s an epic grudge match between the Exile and this secretive group of Sith, who you learn became what they are because of the Exile’s actions at the close of the Mandalorian Wars. It’s personal enough a skirmish to feel like an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger with one of Walker’s personal nemeses as the villain. It’s just played out in the Star Wars universe on the grandest scale. It’s an almost mundane, personal mystery that concludes with brutal fisticuffs.

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

The Walker comparison only goes so far, though, because the other, shocking appeal of KOTOR 2 is its moral ambiguity. Players see this in a number of ways, mostly through things the previously-mentioned old woman, Kreia, tells you but the game truly is awash in grey areas.

This is crystallized as soon as you arrive on Nar Shaddaa for the first time. As you step off your ship and enter the city proper, you’ll encounter a panhandler. You can give him some credits or tell him to go to hell, and in either case Kreia will give you a speech about how you’re doing it wrong. Becoming a crutch for a beggar, she says, won’t help him in the long run and might actually hurt in the short. Cruelty will only beget more cruelty, which also won’t help him.

At other points when some helpless stranger asks for your aid, she also loudly espouses the philosophy that mortal struggles serve as a cocoon for the beings who are experiencing them. Only if they force their way out of the cocoon themselves will they be fit to deal with their futures. It’s not an unusual metaphor in literature and other storytelling media, but it’s a concept that flies in the face of most of the Jedi teachings that proliferate Star Wars lore.

Sometimes we have had Jedi espouse a “help people help themselves” policy, but Kreia’s stance is simply to just stay out of regular folks’ business. You might say it’s just a trick — Kreia, we learn, is a former Jedi instructor known for controversial teachings. She later became Sith before losing her connection to the Force — but listen to this from her:

“A culture’s teachings, and most importantly, the nature of its people, achieve definition in conflict. They find themselves… or find themselves lacking. Too long did the Republic remain unchallenged. It is a stagnant beast that labors for breath… and has for centuries. The Jedi Order was the heart that sustained its sickness — now the Jedi are lost, we shall see how long the Republic can survive.”

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

Her words make sense to me, even if they do sound like something that might be written in an editorial about those damn millennials in some print publication. Regardless, it’s an appealing philosophy in Star Wars because it sounds like Real Talk. It’s a practical philosophy, one that can be supported by our reality. Jedi and Sith never talk like real people, because they traditionally deal in moral extremes relating to whatever is happening in this exact moment. Kreia is talking about the long term, and not in black-and-white terms. That’s nice!

Beyond Kreia, you have a group of grey companions as well, folks you can sway to good or evil should you get to know them well. The first of these is Atton Rand, a Han Solo type who we learn was a Jedi hunter under Revan’s Sith Empire. Atton tells the Exile why the Republic military followed Revan even after he turned around and attacked the government he had sworn to protect: “We were loyal to Revan. That was enough. He saved us.” There are always reasons people follow evil leaders beyond those people themselves being evil; Atton puts a sympathetic face on those enemy hordes.

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

Atton also serves as a contrast to Carth Onasi, the first companion you meet in KOTOR 1 after the prologue. Carth is an earnest soldier, always sincere, and sincerely good. In Carth’s mind, the ideals of the Republic are everything, and he’s got that “we’re better than them and we have to act like it even if we have to suffer for it” thing going in spades. He is secure in his convictions. He’s a square. Atton, being a wayward soul full of conflict, is simply more interesting to talk to.

Atton is also the companion who explains how little the distinction between Jedi and Sith means to the average person, and it’s through an ingenious conversation with him that you see how the events of the first game affect KOTOR 2 (there’s no good alternate, Mass Effect-style way to do this, since there is no way to import a KOTOR saved game into its sequel). Essentially, the Exile and Atton argue about rumours and hearsay, and regardless of what is decided the message is clear: for regular people, whoever won doesn’t matter. The galaxy in which Star Wars takes place has always seemed so small; this conversation with Atton is a rare reminder that it really isn’t.

The irony is that KOTOR 2 does matter to the people in its universe.

The Exile is facing down Sith who are not so interested in domination as they are committed to sheer destruction. Darth Nihilus “feeds” on Force energy, which involves mass murder — he wiped a planet clean of life using only the Force, and his endgame is to consume all the people of the galaxy before continuing to feed elsewhere. Darth Sion is a more conventional Sith in terms of his approach — he kills like Darth Vader does — but his body, crushed by war and featuring hundreds of bone breaks, is held together entirely by his anger and desire to destroy. These Sith are just out to kill, and that’s something that might actually end up mattering to everyone if the Exile doesn’t succeed in holding them back.

Why Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2 Is Better Than The Original

After playing KOTOR 2, the pure vanilla flavoring of BioWare’s original is quite stark. That’s not a flaw in KOTOR 1; BioWare created exactly the experience it wanted to, an emulation of the Star Wars movie experience. Just as the appeal of The Lord of the Rings films probably isn’t going to be ruined after you enjoy the crass nastiness of Game of Thrones, you can enjoy both KOTOR games without irony.

But KOTOR 1 is a fun, sweeping, unchallenging epic, and KOTOR 2 is the sort of adventure that manages to haunt long after it’s done — the text of this game is likely Obsidian’s greatest achievement in its long history.

It’s a rare Star Wars story for the thinking human, and KOTOR 1 with all its mass appeal can never match it.

This story was originally published in May 2014.


  • Totally agree with you, KOTOR 1 was fantastic and fun but, KOTOR 2 was better and the restored content improves it vastly. A massively underrated game

    • No just no… Kotor 2 was an unfinished underwritten mess, had nice new features and wears the skin of its much better predecessor

      Notice they did the same thing with Fallout New Vegas…

      Kotor 2 could’ve been better than 1… It just wasn’t though plain and simple.

      And this ridiculously blown out article isn’t going to change that.

      • KOTOR II had the potential to be the superior game. The writing and theme was better in every way. Unfortunately, EA ruined it by forcing them to release a buggy, incomplete mess. Mods should NOT be considered when comparing games like this. If you want to mention the mod, add it as an addendum or do it as a separate article, do NOT try and tell us that a game that suffered from a complete balls-up of a release courtesy of the producer pushing a schedule was superior.

        • Obsidian is on the record as it being their own fault that it was released as a buggy unfinished mess due to not having their contract amended with EA, which EA was amenable to when asked about it. Release time came up and they went ‘oops!’ at which point it had to go out.

          Completely agree that Mods (especially fan ones) should not be considered at all when looking at a game. How the game was at release, and how it was after official patches (which there were none) are the only considerations that should be made.

          I didn’t find the writing particularly deep, interesting or good. It was a kind of wanky ‘You’re a terrible person for playing in this game construct we designed’ that Spec Ops: The Line did well many years later, but fell completely flat in KotOR2.

  • Look I think the headline and hypothesis of this article are completely off.

    Firstly, many (If not most) fans would agree that the premise of the second game was better. You’re right about the text in a lot of ways, but the reason nobody actually says it’s a better game is very simple.

    It was a buggy, incomplete mess. It goes well beyond cut content, the whole final act barely made sense in the release version because so much had been cut away. Huge jumps in logic and plot, I remember being completely lost by the end…

    As a game, it kind of just failed.

    You mention fans being off put by the abrupt ending, but that does a disservice to what it was actually like. ME3 was a game who’s ending off put fans, so let’s use that to put it into context.

    Before we even get to the ending let’s cut out the whole genophage storyline. Wrex and Mordin are still in the game and their dialogue hints at a mission where you would go cure the genophage but it just never happens because the mission is sitting on the floor. Now this is the closest parallel I could come up with the fan favourite HK-50 being brought back, along with a plot of a planet creating clones of him only to drop the thread completely.

    But you make it through the buggy missions and missing content and get to the end, you’re flying to Earth and suddenly you’re walking alone on Earth. No idea where your team is, you see a beam of light you walk in and you’re at the end game with Anderson and the Illusive man.

    No explanation of what happened, did you crash? Where’s your team? Oh I guess it’s time to wrap up the story now. Don’t worry, little ghost child will tell you that all your friends will be fine.

    Now playing at release 10 years ago (Oh dear god I’m old) it wasn’t even possible to look at the lost content in any meaningful way. I remember looking at the forums of a restoration mod and reading summaries of events that were meant to happen.

    There would be no actual mod for some time. I always intended to try it out when it was released, because KotoR II was a game I desperately wanted to love for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I followed the mod for a few months, maybe a year before I lost interest. Think I checked about 5 years later, still nothing properly released so I assumed it would never happen. Last year at some point I was told that it had been released (But not finished yet) and found I just didn’t have the energy to care.

    I’m also sure that at some point during those 10 years the mod I was following was cancelled and replaced by this one, I’m not sure but I don’t think they’re one and the same.

    Judging the game based on that mod, when most people who have played the game will never touch it is disingenuous at it’s best. The article sounds like you’ve only played the mod and never that oh so flawed original, trust me they are not the same game.

    • Superbly put. One can only judge this game based upon its initial release. Do we base Skyrims judgement on its fanbased mods? On the content cut out by Bethesda and added back in by fans? We chastised those who judged San Andreas by Hot Coffee, after all, it wasn’t a valid part of the game and was taken out… like you said, it’s not fair to praise the game for a mod that adds in that which makes it better. It’s not a fair comparison at all.

      • You could make an argument (Possibly a successful one) that the modded version makes it better than the original, which I could possibly agree with.

        I do think the second had a lot more potential and should have been the better game.

        Hell even if the hypothesis had been that, I could also agree.

        I just can’t agree with suggesting the modded and unmodded games are interchangeable. I would love to know if the article author had in fact played the original unmodded version.

        • That statement is fair if you’re only saying that when returned to its original, intended form. But yes I agree. However, in that case, you’d also have to request a modified version of part 1 with content that was removed from it (I’m sure there’s some somewhere…) reinstated as well. You know, just to make it fair lol

    • Excellent point, and I do agree that comparing a modded game to the original is not a valid comparison.

      On the other hand, if KOTOR2 ended like ME3, Darth Traya would abruptly fly off in her ship before the final battle, and instead you’d end up talking to a mysterious Sith Emperor who shows up in the last five minutes and explains that he created the force because good and evil beings across the galaxy kept killing each other. He then presents you the options of:
      a) Killing everyone in the universe who is force sensitive
      b) Becoming the new “overlord” of the force
      c) Turning everyone in the universe force sensitive.

      You then get a 30 second cutscene and then the end credits.

      Oh, and lots of critics give you perfect reviews.

    • Yep. If you’re going to judge the games based on what they could have been then KotOR 3, aka, The Old Republic, makes a pretty strong argument for being top dog. If you retune it as a single player game, take out the padding and turn end-game into an ending suddenly it’s the most customisable Knights of the Old Republic game ever.

  • Well. IDK how everyone else feels, but I finished the first game multiple times and could never break past the second level of the second game. I assume it picked up later, but the first two levels were pretty dull (When I played it at lease, which was a very long time ago in a country far, far away.)

    So I have to disagree. For me at least, the First game was better. The second game had a kick ass theme though!


    All the music was much more ‘Star Wars’-y IMO.

    • That’s similar to my experience. I’ve played the first game twice and currently meandering my way through it for a third time on my iPad.

      I tried twice to play the sequel but it just didn’t grab me or excite me. It’s just dull.

      • It’s definitely slow to start IMO.

        I never knew about the mods to fill in the blanks though. I might have to check it out because, as others have pointed out, the potential was there and it is, conceptually, a better game.

        And I did love the first one and miss me some star wars right now.

        • The first one had a lot of plot elements that were lifted straight from the movies. A wookie with a life debt to you, the mellenium falc- I mean, Ebon Hawk, the list goes on and on.

          It was very derivative, but still damn fun. And it’s kinda fitting, especially when you consider that the films too are incredibly derivative collages of other genres and tropes.

          I don’t think the game holds up well, the voice acting, dialogue, cut scene animations etc all look super out dated. But it’s REALLY fun watching my 8 year old play it on the iPad.

  • I’ve played Kotor II twice. First when it was newly released on the X-Box and again when I bought it on Steam so I could play with the new content. Despite all the new games and their flashy graphics, nothing has yet to compare to Kotor II’s depth. Exploring morality while satirizing it by placing it all on top of a universe known for it simplistic good and evil conflict.

    It’s not for everyone, but I personally loved it. It transformed me to a person who played for the gameplay into a gamer that played games for a brilliant narratives.

  • This article could not be any more wrong! And I’ve played both Kotor games more than 5 times each.

    Firstly, the story of the first KOTOR game was leagues better than the second. The pacing, the worlds you explore, the plot twist (on bioshock levels of awesome-sauce) was so good! Possibly even better than in Mass effect 1-3. Of course, that part where you launch an attack with Mandalorians was pretty cool, but the Rakata planet and the starforge part of Kotor 1 is better. Also, the first planet, Taris, had main missions and numerous side-quests that were SO EPIC!! You had to explore the underground Taris, deal with Rak’ghouls, determine the fate of the underground people, become involved in a gang war, become a racer, and save Bastila Shan, then find a way to get off the planet, deal with the crime lord Davik and his mercs….WAY better than the second game. I can barely remember what the first planet you explored in the second game was.

    Now in regards to characters, both games created cool and interesting characters; which is basically why we loved all the Bioware games released (and yes, obsidian made the second one…). You can talk to them on your ship, learn more about them, and influence them. The second one expanded on this of course; it had that dark/light side mechanic where you can influence them, and even ****SPOILERS**** turn them into Jedi. And you also had Kreia, who was the “closed-fist” (jade empire reference) teacher, and she was very nuanced, etc. But most of the characters were…flat, in KOTOR2 in comparison to the first. Sure, KOTOR2 had more ‘interesting’ characters in regards to their backgrounds, like G0-T0, but most of them were at best Mission Vao levels of awesome-ness.

    And just to cap it off (cause I’ve written too much on this lol), there were a lot of glitches and unresolved story lines in KOTOR2. Also, had too many complicated and ridiculous concepts for the force. I mean, you had a guy that could kill AN ENTIRE PLANET in almost an instant! How is anyone in the galaxy not crapping their pants? And that hole in the force thing. Also, telekinetically controlling 3 lightsabers is awesome, but always made me wonder why people like Yoda didn’t do something like that instead of jumping around like that.

    • I think your opinion would hold more weight if it didn’t use phrases like “awesome-sauce” and “SO EPIC”.

      I also think that plot twists are pretty gimmicky and while they can be a nice story element if done right, we’ve only really seen the first good narrative in video games (as in good full stop, not “good for a videogame”) with The Last Of Us. Mass Effect, Bioshock, KOTOR, all of these games, never delivered slam dunks with their plot due to the limitations of their creators and their inability to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the medium, so we’re left with appraising the way games like KOTOR vs KOTOR 2 deal with their setting and how they deal with story (rather than plot, and if you don’t know the difference between them, which is totally understandable, google it).

      KOTOR 2 had far more ambiguity and maturity as a narrative, as Phil Owen states in this article. Its decision to not even hand you a lightsaber for 10 hours says a lot about its commitment to try and build a world and ask more questions than it answers. A lesser game would rush you towards the set pieces and fan trappings, but KOTOR takes a slow and methodical pace that builds tension and mystery. It questions even the things it tells you itself, and that’s a really interesting direction for the game to take.

      The game was bizarrely unfinished so that didn’t help, and I actually played KOTOR 2 before I played the first one, which definitely might have affected how i perceived the first one, but it’s a better class of game all around.

  • The first KOTOR was much better. Revan,Bastila the star forge.. Oh! and don’t forget how alien NPCS voicing included the phrase “Winky smack” buried in the giberish!

  • KotOR is basically A New Hope, and KotOR II is Empire Strikes Back, the better-written, darker and more impactful sibling.

    I vastly, vastly prefer KotOR II in every way, even despite the fact it’s a fairly broken game on a technical level. The writing is better, the tone is better, the plot elements are a lot more interesting. There’s so much more subtlety to everything as well, like how if you play the canonical path with the female Exile, you get the strong impression that her relationship with one of the Jedi you track down was a bit more than a master-pupil relationship.

    • I have to agree with a lot of what you say. It’s obvious that Obsidian needed more time to work on the game to get it’s point across more successfully (I’m convinced that most people who didn’t like the second game didn’t quite understand it). That being said, the first game is still great in it’s own right … it’s just a bit formulaic in its storytelling. It can be risky to produce morality that is painted in all shades of grey as opposed to just black and white, but it feels like a more rewarding experience and it stays with you a lot longer (as was already mentioned by Owen in this article). Life isn’t always as straightforward as making simple ‘good’ or ‘bad’ decisions, so why should games be restricted to this overly simplistic notion of pressing ‘1’ for good or ‘2’ for evil? Archetype characters and obvious choices make for predictable endings.

      • I have played the untouched KOTOR 2 through about 5 or 6 times. The ambiguity in the game is great, the scope for character development is awesome too. The way in which your interactions with the other people in your ‘crew’ shape them and others is amazingly well done.

        I absolutely love the sheer range of ways in which you can play the game, and it helps that you start as a Jedi, rather than the terrible design at the start of the first. The level 50 cap helps you to feel VERY powerful late in the game compared to the level 20 cap in KOTOR.

        At some point, though, you see the major issues that begin to occur with the game. Somewhere about when you board the Sith ship, cutscenes are just missing entirely. No obvious explanation is given for why you are in a certain area, or why you are playing a certain character. The absolute juxtaposition to the early game makes it blaringly obvious that time or money ran out and the product was just shipped AS IS.

        In a way it reminds me of Mass Effect 3. Where ME3 was just a product of lazy storytelling, KOTOR 2 was a victim of a failed quality control and a rushed production cycle. Which is a shame, even a few more weeks/months could have given that game what it needed to be the best star wars game since the entire X-Wing series.

    • In the mod now, there is an update where you can be female and now also have the handmaiden go to you with certain dialogue choices. But, I have yet seem to find out which choices they are..

  • I agree that KOTOR II is the superior game from a storytelling aspect. The single most memorable scene for me was when the Jedi Masters you’d just spent the first third of the game gathering were informing you that you had to die because you were killing people and stealing the strength of each being that you killed – even giving this trait to your followers. Didn’t you notice that? It was one of the first and best examples of twisting the conventions of a game’s tropes on it’s head.

  • I dunno maybe i played number 2 years later, and the loading screens took way to long to load, but number 1 is the better game for me

  • So, like a lot of “journalists” Phil is in love with concept over content. This isn’t particularly surprising actually, as writers tend to imagine themselves as clever and are prone to be attracted to all sorts of intellectual sophistry regardless of it’s quality 😉

    The contrast between Carth and Atton is very telling to this above point;. Carth as noted is a character drawn without a trace of irony. He’s an idealist, but pragmatic about his chances and how the world works. Atton is a character who in contrast display supreme moral ambiguity or, to be succinct, he indulges in moral relevancy. The former character actually has a more compelling story since the drama is how does one reconcile strongly held opinions or core character beliefs with a world that constantly challenges them, the later character is actually more childish and boring since his own code allows for the author (plotters? players?) to wave a magic wand and justify any action, particularly expedient ones, as being true to the character.

    I am not entirely unsympathetic to Phil’s viewpoint here – but I have left it behind in my own journey towards adulthood. For me, there came a time and place where I finally understood the power of a true belief, or strong moral code. Without that appreciation, I too probably thought that stories like Carth’s were boring and dull, but that’s only because I didn’t know what it was to struggle to maintain identity and belief in the face of circumstances that want to rend them from you. This is courage, true courage, and it’s compelling.

    • I’m interested to hear more about your understanding of the power of a true belief or strong moral code. Can you elaborate?

      It’s interesting that you relate more to Carth because he is, in your words, courageous. I think it’s a little sad that people often need to play as courageous characters in games. I think morally ambiguous are more interesting, and you can tell better stories with such characters.

      Real people are rarely steadfast paragons of humility and truth, we’re flawed, we make mistakes, we make selfish decisions and we shift our values constantly to justify them to ourselves. Real-feeling characters are people like Joel from The Last Of Us, who makes decisions (and one in particular) that would seem reprehensible to us but are simply what needs to be done in that character’s world, or are an extension of the subjective morality of the person responsible for them.

      I feel like games like KOTOR 1 appeal to what the player wants rather than what the player needs. It’s a problem that’s rife in the games industry, and KOTOR 2’s decision to serve the story rather than the player is the more laudable one.

      The main contention of this article is that KOTOR 2 gives us a view of the normally black and white dichotomy of the Star Wars universe that’s more nuanced and ambiguous than we generally get. And that’s, in this writer’s opinion, what makes it a more vital entry into the series than the first game.

  • I played KOTOR II before KOTOR I, and aside from the abrupt ending, I couldn’t help but think that KOTOR II was superior in every single way. Nonetheless, I can see how a KOTOR player might scorn KOTOR II for its appropriation of “the big reveal”.

    It’s funny, because I played Mass Effect 2 before Mass Effect as well, and I struggled to get through the first game without the improvements of the second game.

  • Completely agree, KOTOR 1 was awesome. But KOTOR 2 has one of the best stories in a videogame of any sort, highly underrated

  • I disagree, in that I think KOTOR I was the better game and experience – but I still think KOTOR II was brilliant.

    KOTOR II was certainly far more ambitious and complex, though I think the foundation for the central question KOTOR II was asking was in KOTOTR’s Jolee Bindo – the idea of a character who was intrinsically “good”, but recognised that too much power in the hands of the light was a bad thing. Similarly, the prequel films with their foucs on “bringing balance to the Force”, and the conceit of the Jedi in not really considering that they were part of the problem, not the solution. KOTOR II’s storytelling strength was taking this implicit concept in the prequels and in the first game, and explicitly examining it. And I completely agree that KOTOR II is a game that sticks with you – it does a fantastic job of not just asking hard questions of the player character, but of the player themselves.

    By comparison, in looking at Bioware’s two attempts at a similarly more “adult-themed” sequel to their works in Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn and Mass Effect 2, I thought that the absence of Obsidian’s (neé Black Isle) in the latter showed Bioware were less able to deal with that sort of complexity. Where BG2 was superior – and darker – than the already incredible BG1, ME2 was a more tehcnially impressive but narratively weaker entry. Not only did I prefer Mass Effect 1, but I also preferred Obsidian’s Alpha Protocol (they were released a few months apart, from memory), which dealt with the adverse consequences of trying to be a “paragon of good” much better. Mass Effect 3 – for all its problems – was a much better attempt by Bioware (I felt it was a good game in its own right, but a terrible conclusion to the trilogy), but I think still shows that Obsidian is better at creating a dark and complex narrative.

    • Bioware have for too long received credit for their storytelling and characterisation that simply isn’t justified. The plot and character development and interactions are constantly the weakest elements of their games. It’s bizarre that only now that Mass Effect: Andromeda is out, people are finally seeing what has always been there.

      Don’t get me wrong, I liked Mass Effect, but it was always for the greater universe, setting and its history, never for the power fantasy of a protagonist and the monologue dispensers of a supporting cast. I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: if developers want to tell good stories, they need to stop giving players the power to determine the protagonist. You can’t write a good story when your leading character is a question mark.

      • I think I agree with your sentiment, but not your points. In Bioware’s independent days, they demonstrated a good degree of narrative skill. The progression of story and characters from Baldur’s Gate to Throne of Bhaal was well-handled, and delivered a satisfying conclusion (well, conclusions, given the variety of endings). I certainly agree that since it became EA Bioware nearly 10 years ago, there’s been a drop in the quality of their stories that seems to be in inverse proportion to the volume and aggressive tenor of their marketing campaigns. I know it’s still controversial to say, but the objective evidence is that EA “buys” good reviews for Bioware games now the same way the movie studios “buy” Oscars. It’s relatively easy to check, too. A quick look at Metacritic show that up until ME2, the critical and user scores aligned pretty well. Post-ME2, and even one of their “better” games, like DA:I, still has a sharp drop between critic’s and user’s scores. So I think we agree on where Bioware are, but not where they’ve been.

        As to your statement that “[Y]ou can’t write a good story when your leading character is a question mark”, I again agree with your sentiment – I much prefer a game in which I can form an attachment to the protagonist, such as Nathan Drake or Lara Croft. That being said, a good writer or writers should be able to rise to the challenge imposed by the medium. Obsidian’s South Park: The Stick of Truth is a really good example of an excellent story-driven game, where your character is completely generic. In fact, the story probably wouldn’t have worked as well with a fully-fledged and fleshed-out central character.

        • That’s a fair position. My experience with Bioware is largely in the EA days, so maybe the good will they still have is a holdover from those earlier years. But like you said, that was over 10 years ago; at what point do their missteps change from being only missteps to being the actual standard the developer (or its shell of a name) is capable of?

          I mean yeah you look at Dragon Age Inquisition vs. The Witcher 3 for a perfect example of how two games with very similar open worlds fare with a create-your-own protagonist vs. a properly written, static character who has history with not just the characters they interact with but with the world and its lore. Put those two side by side and it’s clear that Bioware can’t cut it, and that open world doesn’t have to mean “weak story”.

          I think South Park Stick Of Truth (and I haven’t played it so i’m just going off what I know of the show – which i don’t watch – and the gameplay trailers) works with a silent, generic kid protagonist because of the tone of that universe. It makes complete sense and there’s already characters like Kenny that don’t speak. But you have Bioware who are clearly shooting for a realistic world and realistic characterisation but still playing with childish notions of good and evil and cardboard cutouts for main characters.

          The industry have developed all of their graphics and physics technology but not their storytelling ability. And unfortunately, the more realistic the games look, the more jarring it is when the humanisation of their characters isn’t up to snuff.

          • Agree with pretty much everything you say. If you’ve only dealt with EA Bioware, then you are definitely seeing a team with a greatly over-inflated reputation based on an organisation that essentially no longer exists. I mean, Mass Effect 4? Remaking Knights of the Old Republic? Their last original IP is now 10 years old (probably not a coincidence), so you’ve got a developer who is basically more Disney-esque than Disney in their approach to risking investment on a new IP.

            Compare that with Obsidian, whose willingness to take a chance has nearly killed them multiple times, but created a fanbase that has literally kept them in business with cash injections. That’s why I stopped grabbing Bioware stuff that isn’t in the bargain bin after Dragone Age 2, but am perfectly willing to throw a few hundred bucks at Obsidian to wait years for a title that demonstrated a bit of courage (and to be fair, it has also taken years for me to get through – I haven’t quite finished the main Pillars campaign, yet, but Christmas 2016 got me through a huge chunk of it).

            I think there’s fantastic irony in your point about “childish notions”, in that both ME and SP:TSOT have their own instances of childish/ simplistic mechanics, but in opposite ways. The former looks adult, but plays childishly, while the latter looks childish, but is too “adult” for Australians to play!

          • Polygon just posted a really good article about this whole discussion we are having. Lots of awesome points that we’ve also touched on.

            This was a good discussion! Even if it was 3 years after the original article was posted.

  • Superbly written sir. I played this game constantly throughout high school without the restored content, and loved it. Since using the restored content, it’s made the game that much better. It built so expertly upon KotOR 1’s foundation. There will always be a hole in my geek heart for a KotOR 3 game that will never come to complete what KotOR 2 has done.

  • Awesome response, Jake! I’m totally with you. Wallowing in moral ambiguity is neither mature nor realistic. It demonstrates blindness to the world in which we live and to the effects of our actions on the people around us. “Gray areas” as presented in K2 are more like spiritual darkness forced on the player insofar as there are no in game options to really make the right choices. In reality, right is always right, wrong is always wrong, and the truth is immutable.

    Make no mistake, we have to deal with difficult realities, and I feel that K2 could have been amazing had the player been given the chance to respond properly to the confused characters surrounding him. The light of goodness appears all the more brilliant the darker the darkness through which it shines. I personally believe this is why evil is allowed to exist at all.

    On the technical side, K2 was schizophrenic because it fixed some minor things that drove me nuts in the first game (“outta my way, npc”), added mechanics that made the game much more immersive and life-like, yet was so buggy and incomplete. It’s fun for a bit, but ultimately disappointing.

  • The first game was great but this one was absolutely amazing. Fully agree with this article. It’s one of my all time favourite games.

  • I wonder if we’ll be having the same conversation about the Mass effect games in 10 years or so? Or any other reputable game with an under-rated sequel?

  • I loved KOTOR 2, but here’s why the first KOTOR was better.

    1) KOTOR 1 is everything you love about Star Wars. You start from humble origins and grow to challenge an empire. You get a whole cast of companions that are new enough to be memorable while at the same time seeming familiar, from the comedic protocol droid to the wise old sage. The main character is simultaneously Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Darth Vader rolled into one, in a way that actually makes sense. Finally, you get to play through and end the story on your own terms.

    2) KOTOR 2 doesn’t have the same hook. It’s characters are interesting and it asks fascinating questions, but that’s it. It also ends on a cliffhanger.

    • 1) KOTOR gives the player what they want.
      2) KOTOR 2 gives the player what they need.

  • I played KOTOR1 obsessively, I bought an Xbox for it. I was so excited about KOTOR2 and when I finally got it, it felt really bland and flat. I tried getting through it twice but it never held my interests. I really wanted it to be good too, but whenever I tried to go back to it I would just end up go back to other games.

  • When bioware actually finishes KOTOR 2 we can talk.
    P.S.-it’s all in the name buddy^

  • “this editorial is making its judgments based on KOTOR 2 running with that mod.”
    Well, yeah. I would agree with you then. The mod actually makes the game complete, so of course it would be superior.
    I believe the main reason why most people prefer Kotor 1 over Kotor 2 is because of the rushed, tacked on ending we were given instead of the full game due to the time constraints Obsidian had when making Kotor 2 (well that’s the reason I still feel the first Kotor is superior)

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