Blasters, grenades, and melee weapons are available--but nothing beats a good old double-bladed lightsaber.
Combat looks dynamic, and at a glance, you could mistake Knights of the Old Republic for an action game. You'll see characters firing away with their blasters, while those armed with melee weapons such as lightsabers will perform a variety of close-combat moves. Characters dueling with such weapons will block and feint, looking for openings in their opponents' defenses. It's all clearly inspired by the dramatic lightsaber battle at the end of Episode I and also resembles the outstanding lightsaber battles in last year's shooter, Jedi Knight II.
Despite appearances, though, the combat is really just a series of statistical checks, just like D&D. Your character's "to hit" rating, determined by his or her class, level, and weapon, is added to a random 1-20 dice roll and compared against the opponent's defense rating. If the to-hit roll is greater, you connect and deal damage. Your characters will automatically attack any foes nearby until either you or they are all dead, so in some cases, you end up simply watching the fight unfold. You'll only need to intervene to use healing kits or stimulants that boost your combat abilities, as well as Force powers and such, or maybe to prioritize targets. You can pause the action at any time and easily queue up specific orders for all your characters, but you can usually get away with just looking after your main character and will rarely need to micromanage things (your party members will lag behind once in a while as you're running around, but it's not a big deal). Generally, the combat is exciting to watch and paced nice and fast. You needn't worry if one of your characters falls in battle--he or she will simply get up once the fighting is over, though you're tossed back to the title screen if your entire party goes down.
The combat and the dialogue are the two main elements of Knights of the Old Republic. Other than those activities, you'll find yourself running from place to place, but you'll have little interaction with the environment other than being able to open footlockers and other objects containing goodies. You can sometimes hack into certain computer systems, but this is all done in text and isn't very interesting. Loading times between areas can feel a little long, especially when you have to backtrack--fortunately there's an option to instantly return to your hideout or ship if you're not in a dangerous area. Some of the environments are pretty big, but most aren't, and a mapping system clearly shows where you can and can't go and what the points of interest are in each area. There's also a very clear record of all the quests you have pending (and all the quests you've completed). As such, you'll probably never get lost in the game, though at the same time, you might feel a bit confined by where you can and can't go. Fortunately, the game opens up later on, allowing you to freely travel between planets and accomplish numerous tasks in whichever order you please.
Hours of expertly done voice-over help make character interaction incredibly engaging throughout Knights of the Old Republic.
Knights of the Old Republic also contains several minigames: You can gamble by playing a fairly entertaining card game that's similar to poker, you can compete in simple drag races on swoop bikes, and you can man the turrets of a spaceship to shoot down enemy fighters from a first-person perspective. These are all simple diversions, however.
As mentioned, character interaction really is the best thing about Knights of the Old Republic. There's a lot of dialogue in the game, all in full speech, and if you listen to all of it rather than read it (you can turn subtitles off), the game will probably last hours longer than it could otherwise. The dialogue is well done, and many of the game's characters are well defined. Most all of the numerous subquests in the game are suitably justified and present you with more than one viable solution. You'll constantly be able to choose between good and not-so-good solutions--early on, for instance, you can rescue a man who's being hassled by bounty hunters. Do you then offer to pay the dues he owes so that the poor man may live without fear, or do you threaten to mug him for his last remaining credits?
Knights lets you play as a really nasty character if you so choose, and that's certainly part of the fun. It's also an interesting aspect of gameplay, considering a big part of the theme is how Jedi constantly run the risk of falling to the dark side--indeed, you'll probably often be tempted to see what happens if you pick the evil dialogue options rather than the good ones, if only because most RPGs simply don't let you make these types of decisions. Certain key points in the game will play out very differently depending on the decisions you make, creating lots of replay value. LucasArts also promises that downloadable content in the form of new weapons and other items will be made available via Xbox Live later this year.
The graphics in Knights of the Old Republic aren't the game's strong suit. Some important aspects of the visuals are handled very well--specifically, the lightsaber combat looks dead-on, though you won't see any forearms getting chopped off or anything. Effective use of bump mapping and environment mapping can be seen on some of the aliens and their shiny armor or slick, oily skins. Many of the environments also look quite good, though some of the others are plain and lacking in detail. Character models are relatively simple, and their lip-synching and facial expressions don't always look quite right. You'll also notice that some character models will repeat often throughout the game--you'll encounter a number of different characters who all share the same face. The frame rate of Knights of the Old Republic also doesn't hold up, and it can frequently bog down in combat or whenever a lot of characters are around. Furthermore, the occasional cutscenes using the game's 3D engine tend to look downright crude, which is disappointing considering how impressive some of the game's production values are. Knights is a good-looking game overall, but it's easy to find fault in its visuals when the other aspects of the game are so well done.
Knights is both an outstanding RPG in its own right and an excellent tribute to the Star Wars source material.
Some of the audio is what you'd expect from a Star Wars game, though Knights deserves credit for featuring a mostly original (yet very subdued) soundtrack, which is a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous John Williams score. But the high quality and sheer quantity of the voice acting are exceptional. Alien characters even speak in convincing alien languages, though you'll pick up on the fact that the alien voice-over actually repeats often. Overall, though, the professional voice cast does an excellent job with the material, delivering believable performances, and this really enriches the gameplay experience. Not only does Knights of the Old Republic have some of the most voice-over of any game to date, but it also has some of the best.
It's apparent from playing Knights of the Old Republic that a remarkable amount of effort, work, and talent went into this game. It's one of the only Star Wars games to truly make you feel at times as though you're a key player in and a part of this unique and beloved sci-fi setting. You'll get to do all the sorts of stuff that you've seen and enjoyed in the Star Wars movies, and you'll get to emulate any of your favorite characters' personalities and actions over the course of the game. You'll also experience a much more morally complex version of Star Wars than what you get from the movies. Along the way, you'll find a few aspects of the game that you'll wish were better, but that's mostly because the vast majority of Knights of the Old Republic is so exceptionally good. You don't need to be a fan of Star Wars or of RPGs to appreciate all the impressive qualities of this game--but if you are, all the better.