04 December, 2009

Game Journal: Knights of the Old Republic

written by Blain Newport on Thursday, December 3, 2009

This is my favorite environment so far in KotOR (Knights of the Old Republic). Futuristic architecture all feels pretty generic. Concrete. Shiny bits. Maybe some flashing lights. And that stuff's still present here, but the land itself is kind of like coastal grassland with the occasional plump tree, pretty clouds, flocks of birds, and flying manta rays.

Part of me wishes they'd "futured up" the manta rays a little. Come on, gills? But I was enjoying the tranquility too much to let that get to me. Of course a lot of that tranquility is thanks to turning the combat down to easy.

The first time I played KotOR, I quit very early. The first serious opposition in the game are poisonous monsters and my entire group got poisoned immediately. We ran out of antidote in frightently short order.

The rules for KotOR are based on Dungeons & Dragons, but unlike a game with a flesh and blood dungeon master, KotOR has no idea when the dice rolls are going so badly that they need to be fudged to keep the game viable. My first experience with KotOR was so brutal that I thought I'd never touch it again. But turning it down to easy has made it much more bearable, and I'm glad I came back.

KotOR feels so much better than Mass Effect. Well, the combat's equivalently mediocre, and KotOR's got more fiddly bits than I care about. But in terms of characterization and storytelling, there's not really a comparison. I think it largely comes down to how conversations are handled.

Mass Effect gives me a little wheel with a few choices that often don't resemble what comes out of my characters mouth at all. KotOR still does that sometimes, but not nearly so much.

Mass Effect basically has a handful of core missions. After a core mission, you can go down in your ship and talk to your group, but it never feels like they have much to say. In KotOR, if you have a character in your party, you'll periodically stop to chat (or not, if you don't feel like it). It breaks up the travel in a way Mass Effect could have used.

Additionally, every character in your party gives you a quest to find out about their past. This encourages the player to see where these conversations lead and to swap out party members to hear everybody's story. This in turn forces experimentation with different combat strategies. Clever, eh?

Perhaps it's just a cyclical thing. When the tech makes a leap, the other elements suffer for a bit. Once the tech and tools have stabilized a bit, it's easier to produce richer content and more effort can go into design again.

We'll see. Mass Effect 2 is due around the end of January.

Well, I won't see. I'm super cheap. But I'll hear about it. :)

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