Taking the Concept of ‘Faithful Port’ Too Far…

HIGH Kreia remains a high point of writing and voice acting in videogames.

LOW Launching without the cut content restored. 

WTF Several crashes resulting in lost progress!

I said in my review of the The Force Unleashed that certain games in the Star Wars franchise did a great job of exploring the mythos, moving focus away from the Skywalker dynasty and instead looking at how the force and the Jedi/Sith wars affect the galaxy. Knights of the Old Republic 2 is one such game. 

As a quick history lesson, the first iteration of KOTOR 2 was released in 2004 and developed by Obsidian, not Bioware, who crafted the first KOTOR. Because Obsidian was only given a year to develop a sequel, the result became known as an often-broken, unfinished and unpolished experience. For an in-depth look at the game, you can read the full GameCritics review from 2005 here.

As a result of this rushed development, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the original. However, over the course of a handful of replays I grew to appreciate it, despite its flaws. After learning that this port would reintegrate cut content that was missing from the original, I figured it was a good time to revisit.

Unfortunately, this version takes the concept of ‘faithful port’ and runs with it to an almost-comic degree — much like its original release, during my time with it I found it to be crash-prone and I lost progress on more than one occasion. There were even widespread reports of players being unable to progress the story due to a bug. For a game as infamously rough as this one, releasing a port in this state is unbelievable.

There’s also a big missed opportunity regarding the original’s cut content, which has been available for the PC version via mods.

Part of the selling point of this Switch port is that this content will be included — emphasis on “will.” That’s right, it’s not actually in this port yet! The word is that it’s to be available sometime in Q3 2022, but nothing concrete as of yet. As a result, the ‘unfinished’ feeling of the original’s plotline is carried over here with notable script gaps still left unfilled.

The state of this port, both technically and artistically, is a shame because it would otherwise be a great companion piece to the original, with the story being its biggest plus.

This adventure tells the tale of the Exile, whom the player controls. They’ve been cut off from the Force for unknown reasons, and the Jedi are almost wiped out as a result of a Sith-led hunt. The Exile is then tasked with finding the last of the Jedi council and bringing order to a broken galaxy.

This is a fine start, but where KOTOR 2 truly excels are the characters. The Exile is an interesting (if typically cypher-like) representation of whoever the player decides they are, and shaped by choices that align them to the dark or the light side. However, the supporting cast soars thanks to a return of a couple of favorites, such as the homicidal assassin droid HK-47 and others serving as fascinating deconstructions of Star Wars archetypes, such as the Wookie Hanhurr, and the resentment he holds towards his life debt.

Apart from those, the true highlight has to be one of the best-written characters in the whole Star Wars saga, Kreia.

Kreia plays the role of the Exile’s mentor. However, unlike other role models who extol the virtues of the force, whether light or dark, Kreia detests the Force and its hold over people’s freedom. Via excellent voice acting, Kreia often expresses disgust to the player character if their actions land too far on either side of the light/dark side divide, and there are many times when she’ll interact with side characters without the Exile’s knowledge, manipulating them to her will. It’s refreshing to have someone openly question the Force in a way that’s rarely done elsewhere in the franchise, and because she is such a fascinating character, she had a permanent place in my active party.

Gameplay-wise, this port of KOTOR 2 retains the trademark Bethesda gameplay loop seen in the original KOTOR and many of their other titles — visit a new area, pick up side missions, continue the story and move to a new area. It’s familiar, but remains interesting due to the well-acted and well-written dialogue.

The turn-based combat involves players lining up actions such as weapon- or Force-based abilities to attack enemies. Players can also switch between characters to use different abilities. This aspect hasn’t aged as well as the story, as it feels far too simplistic (I often found myself sleepwalking through combat by spamming the “Flurry” ability) but it’s inoffensive and functional.

KOTOR 2 did move away from its prequel by introducing a system where the Exile can influence party members by carrying out actions that will appeal to certain characters while also repelling others. This serves as an interesting addition to the light/dark system by forcing the player to consider how teammates may react to their choices. Successfully increasing influence levels result in companions revealing more about themselves and their pasts, but can also result in non-Force characters becoming Jedi. Ultimately, it leads to a good degree of replayability as it’s almost impossible to gain influence over every character on a single playthrough.

Despite 18 years passing between the original and this port, it feels like not much has changed at all — it remains a heavily flawed but interesting work. Unfortunately, I was hoping that it would right the wrongs of the original version, especially in terms of the additional content, but fails to do so. That’s a bit disappointing, but even with the game being re-released in the state it is, it remains more enjoyable and refreshing than most of Star Wars‘ more recent offerings. 

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by and published by Aspyr.  This port is currently available on Switch but is also available on PC and Xbox. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 50 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated and contains Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is a role-playing game in which players assume the role of a Jedi struggling to reconnect with the Force. Players explore fantasy locations, interact with various characters, perform missions, and engage in melee-style combat in a sci-fi setting. Characters use blasters, swords, and light sabers to fight enemies (e.g., droids, republic soldiers, Sith figures). Battles are highlighted by blaster fire, impact sounds, and explosions. A handful of scenes depict corpses with bloody wounds and burn marks. Some female characters are designed with revealing outfits (e.g., low-cut tops, deep cleavage, partially exposed buttocks); the dialogue also contains brief suggestive material (e.g., “No tougher than enduring your false sympathy while you’re staring at my chest.”).

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. (See examples above.) They cannot be resized. As a turn-based game during combat, KOTOR 2 does not require fast reactions or audio cues. This experience is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but movement is on the left stick. Camera is the right stick. L pauses the action. R switches player characters. ZR and LR switch between non playable characters. Left and right on the d-pad switches between types of abilities. Up and down on the d-pad switches between abilities in that category. A is the action button.

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4 months ago

Typo, you said that the first KOTOR was developed by Bethesda. You clearly meant Bioware! No biggie. Just trying to help. Feel free to delete this comment once the issue has been corrected!