Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic wasn't just the best role-playing game of 2003. It was one of the best things to happen to Star Wars in years. Knights of the Old Republic impressively succeeded on several counts: It delivered a memorable and open-ended story featuring lots of excellent voice acting, an entertaining strategic combat system, and a lengthy, highly replayable quest. Now all those good traits--as well as the game's few shortcomings--are back once again in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. The sequel is clearly aimed at fans of the original, since it's a very similar game whose storyline picks up not long after the first one left off. Given that The Sith Lords arrives only about a year after its predecessor, it's remarkable that the game's quest is every bit as big and complex as the original's. On the other hand, some unsightly technical issues and a general feeling of dÃ©jÃ© vu will probably prevent you from feeling as strongly about The Sith Lords as you did or still do about the first game. Nevertheless, it's hard to fault The Sith Lords for following in the footsteps of the original so faithfully.
Prepare for another journey of self-discovery and major consequence in The Sith Lords.
Like its predecessor, The Sith Lords takes place thousands of years before any of the Star Wars movies and is focused on some of the formative struggles between the Jedi and their power-hungry counterparts, the Sith. In the first game, you eventually discovered your Jedi powers, as well as your mysterious past. This time, you play as a different character that begins the adventure as a Jedi--but your knowledge of the character's past, the character's Force powers, and even the character's lightsaber are all missing. A journey of self-discovery awaits, and as you pick up the pieces of your character's past and discover the reasons for his or her exile from the Jedi order, your path will lead you to the few Jedi who survived the catastrophic events that took place at the conclusion of the original game.
In your search for them, you'll once again visit the remnants of the Jedi enclave on Dantooine. You'll take sides in a political struggle on Onderon between a queen and a general in her army, and you'll search through the lush jungles of its moon, Dxun. You'll also see some ancient Sith burial grounds on Korriban, and more. The story of The Sith Lords turns out to be quite intriguing most of the way through, thanks to some enigmatic and complex characters and a few exciting episodes you'll experience along the way. However, a fairly terse resolution and some occasionally strange leaps of logic near the end are mildly disappointing, especially given how much exposition there is leading up to the climactic confrontations that occur. But the course of the adventure (which should take you 30 to 40 hours each time through) is rewarding enough as it is, and the story is ultimately about as good as that of the original, and is therefore one of the new game's main attractions.
At the heart of Star Wars has always been a traditional struggle of good versus evil, but the franchise is at its best when its conflicts are a little more sophisticated. Much like Knights of the Old Republic before it, The Sith Lords does a great job of making you feel like your actions can have real consequences, one way or another. You'll constantly be faced with good or evil options in your discourse with the game's many characters, and the story pans out differently no matter what you decide. Better yet, the decision making isn't always so cut-and-dried. For instance, one of your companions, a mysterious old Jedi named Kreia, might chastise you for doing what you felt was certainly the right thing. Kreia makes a convincing point, causing you to second-guess yourself: Sometimes, people must learn life's hard lessons firsthand, and helping them out of a bind at these critical moments may not be what's ultimately best for them. The Sith Lords' morally ambiguous storyline has a number of poignant moments along these lines, and since much depends on the decisions you make and the traveling companions you take with you, there will be plenty left to see after you've finished the game for the first time. It also has some nice throwbacks to the original story, most notably in the form of several returning characters whom you'll probably appreciate seeing (and hearing) again.
This will be a very familiar experience for Knights of the Old Republic fans, but a completely new story and some new gameplay twists help keep it fresh.
From a gameplay standpoint, The Sith Lords doesn't make many changes to the formula established by Knights of the Old Republic. Apart from the numerous superficial similarities between the two, the new game turns out to be roughly as long and as challenging as the first, and it too begins with a few linear sequences before later opening up, allowing you to visit key locations in any order. As before, the gameplay fundamentally consists of three different elements: running from place to place across relatively flat, typically corridor-like environments; interacting with the game's huge cast of characters by choosing from multiple dialogue options (some of which are determined by your character's particular abilities); and doing battle with various types of enemies. The latter two aspects of play are once again far more interesting than all the running around, which can occasionally get a little tedious when you're required to travel back and forth between the same areas, especially when they're separated by loading screens. Meanwhile, the controls and interface are virtually identical to those of the first game, so you'll once again typically travel with two companions, who will gain experience levels at the same rate as your main character. And the underlying role-playing system is basically the same as before, too, so if you wanted to create a character with the same skills and proficiencies you had in Knights of the Old Republic, you certainly could. The Sith Lords even features variations on the same turret-shooting, swoop-racing, and gambling minigames as its predecessor.
Despite the overarching similarities, you'll spot a few new twists this time around. You'll find some new weapons, armor, and items on your journey, and the game's cast of characters (including those who'll become your traveling companions) is almost completely original. The Sith Lords also features some new feats and Force powers that your character can learn, and thanks to the new prestige classes, you'll be even stronger at the end of this game than you were at the end of the original. The prestige classes are extensions of the three Jedi classes introduced in Knights of the Old Republic, allowing you to further specialize in lightsaber combat, Force powers, or a well-rounded combination of the two. For good measure, both light and dark versions of the prestige classes are available and have slightly different abilities accordingly. They're a nice addition to the game, although they don't really cause you to rethink your strategy or anything.
You'll meet some intriguing new characters, as well as some old ones you'll fondly remember.
There's some added depth in The Sith Lords in the ability to either create various useful items in labs or upgrade virtually all your existing equipment to make it more powerful, but you won't feel the need to take advantage of these systems very often since you'll be finding so much new stuff everywhere you go. Another new system involves the ability to gain or lose influence with your traveling companions depending on whether you tell them what they want to hear. Your influence will largely determine whether your allies will loosen their lips (or the equivalent) with regard to some of the most important aspects of their pasts. It's pretty subtle and basically not that different from how Knights of the Old Republic would let you try to persuade certain characters into telling you what you wanted to know, but it helps flesh out your relationships with your party members a bit more. Also, once you regain your lightsaber--which takes a surprisingly long time, but there's a good sense of payoff as a result--you'll learn a variety of different fighting forms with the weapon, each suited to a different type of combat situation. These are good in theory but don't have a particularly noticeable effect in practice.