I recommend the game Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords to anyone disappointed by the complete lack of storyline in the new Star Wars Battlefront game. That’s not me being sarcastic; Battlefront, the sequel to Battlefront 2 (named in the same confusing fashion as the Xbox One), has no single-player campaign. Which makes me sad.
KotOR 2 is the opposite. The 2004 Xbox and PC game (it also finally became available on Linux and OSX earlier this year – a testament to its enduring appeal) is one of the best RPGs created. It doesn’t have the sprawling open world of games such as the recent Fallout titles, the Witcher series, or the Elder Scrolls, but its storyline is remarkably complex, with three dimensional characters, strong themes, and interesting twists. While many games are striving to be like blockbuster films, KotOR 2 feels the closest to a novel a big name game has ever been. The story is more nuanced than anything I’ve encountered in any of the Star Wars films or expanded universe (and I had a substantial collection of Star Wars novels which I gave to Oxfam in a crisis of identity in my teens. A decision I now regret.)
Everyone knows that the Jedi are the good guys and the Sith are the bad guys. That’s just how Star Wars works. Rebels vs Space Nazis. KotOR 2 is bold enough to challenge that, it asks whether the Jedi really are paragons of virtue and whether the Sith really are the (now literal) Disney villains that the films paint them as. Set 4,000 years before The Phantom Menace, both KotOR games are distant enough from the canonical Star Wars lore that they can challenge conventions like this. In Kreia, your master of sorts, the game finds one of the most intriguing characters the universe has ever seen. Of course, the sheer brilliance of the story is heightened by that unique element that only videogames can offer: choice. Faced with the question of what is right or wrong, whether morality exists on a spectrum, and whether or not you want to be sincere or sarcastic, you make the decision. What a simply incredible storytelling device. Multiplayer only shooters like Battlefront really give games a bad name, it’s like comparing To Kill a Mockingbird with a Panini Sticker Book.
It’s not all millions-of-voices-crying-out-in-terror-and-being-suddenly-silenced though; there are some really fun bits too. Despite the time between the games and the films, KotOR 2 sees the return of the Ebon Hawk, a suspiciously familiar looking smuggling vessel. You slowly populate the ship with companions. This being Star Wars, one of the best characters is a droid. The HK droids, which first appeared in the original KotOR, are the brilliantly realised comic relief of the game. In complete contrast to the bumbling campness of C3-PO, the HKs’ sardonic wit and thinly veiled contempt for all things human is hilarious.
At this point I feel that I should mention that I also recommend playing KotOR 1, I’ve just chosen KotOR 2 to recommend here because I played it recently and it builds on everything that was so good about the first one. You also should not be put off by the age of the game. I am not looking back at them through nostalgia and rose tinted glasses. I first played both games in the last couple of years. KotOR 1 was released for IOS and I played it on iPad, and the second one I played on Xbox. While the graphics are obviously not up to the jaw dropping high definition of, say, Battlefront, they are good enough. With a game like this, that’s all that matters. I can also heartily recommend the spiritual successors to KotOR: the Mass Effect series. They continue the epic space opera style, but in a new universe.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention combat. There is combat. It’s turn-based and strategical, based on a levelling-up system which gives you a choice of weapons, force powers and abilities. It’s engaging, but not really what I play the game for. If you’ve got your heart set on shooting some enemies in between the dialogue, maybe skip KotOR and go straight to Mass Effect. The choice, as always, is yours.