When the original Xbox came out, Microsoft had their back against the wall right away. Sony was getting ready to release their second console, Nintendo had been around forever, and SEGA had just exited the console race. The most dominating genre of games at this point was flat turn-based Japanese RPGs. Halo was a huge hit for Microsoft, but how would they move Xbox consoles for traditional gamers only interested in RPGs?
Enter BioWare, the creators of Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate, arguably the creators of the western RPG. They had recently got rights to do a Star Wars game from Lucasarts with two options. Create something that ties into the prequel movies. OR something that is in the Star Wars universe, but with no connections to the films. Bioware wisely chose the second option and gave gamers one of the best Star Wars stories of all time: Knights of the Old Republic.
An even longer time ago…
To fulfill the contract of Lucasarts, BioWare had to set Knights of the Old Republic eons before Phantom Menace. All of that talk in the movies from the Jedi and politicians about “the old republic,” this is it! The Jedi are the peak of their powers, there are hundreds of them running around, and then two powerful generals in the Mandalorian Wars completely disappear in the Outer Rim territories. They come back super evil and vicious under two new names: Darth Revan (the master) and Darth Malak (the apprentice). Oh, and they have an army of Sith with them.
Upon returning, the pair immediately start to wreak havoc across the galaxy, searching for a superweapon named the Star Forge. Eventually, Malak does the Sith thing and kills Revan, claiming the army for himself and cementing himself as the most powerful warrior in the galaxy.
The Endar Spire
After going through character creation, your character wakes up on the Endar Spire, a republic gunship under attack over the planet Taris. The crew is scrambling, and there is one general on board who might be able to save everyone: Bastila Shan.
Bastila is everything you love about Yoda from the original trilogy and all of the badass-ness of Darth Maul from the prequel trilogy. She delivers nuggets of Jedi Wisdom and can hold her own against pretty much anyone. Until she gets captured by warring gangs on the surface of Taris following the crash of the Endar Spire. Afterward, you team up with some truly classic characters, like Zalbaar the Wookie, Mission Vao, and T3-M4.
You eventually rescue Bastila and escape Taris before the Imperial Fleet bombards the planet from above, obliterating a lot of civilization on the planet (more on that later). At this point, of course, your character retreats to Dantooine and becomes a Jedi at Bastila’s request.
Mass Effect Version 1
From this point, you are given a small smattering of planets to explore, searching for maps and keys to the Star Forge, hoping to beat Malak to the prize. You visit planets from the movies like Tatooine and Kashyyyk, and new planets like Korriban and Lehon. It is a journey across the galaxy! The entire thing is voice acted. You can talk to your party, and you get a light side and dark side meter on your character sheet. Everything you love about Mass Effect was beta tested in Knights of the Old Republic. There is one character you recruit to your party that has influenced Star Wars ever since his creation. That’s right, I am talking about HK-47.
HK-47 is hilarious. Every character is a Meatbag. He is vicious and wants to murder everyone. Silly K2-SO from Rogue One? Yeah, HK-47 was making wisecracks like that years before that movie came out. Bones from the Aftermath trilogy? He’s got a little HK in him. He is by far one of my favorite characters in all of Star Wars. He is loyal to a fault but complains at the same time. The entire HK series of droids are designed to be efficient and cold killers. Oh, and he speaks by saying what type of sentence he is going to say. Aggressive Declaration: All of you meatbags need to DIE!
The big twist though, that is revealed before assaulting Malak at the Star Forge after capturing Bastila Shan, is that you, the player are actually … Darth Revan! (Highlight to see, even though this game might as well be considered ancient. Please play it!)
WHAAAAAAAAT?!?! This is such a great and huge mic drop. You then have to assault the Star Forge, a super weapon that is endlessly creating a droid army out of nothing, fight a free Bastila, and then take on Malak. This is all, of course, littered with lots of Dark and Light side choices to make, and is probably one of the most satisfying boss battles ever. You don’t have to fight multiple silly forms of the character, just a bloody awesome lightsaber fight. It is fucking cool, and clean, and I love it.
Knights of the Old Republic is great. I am trying my best not to spoil it for those who haven’t played it because it is one of my favorite games ever made. You need to experience it. It is fully voice acted, it runs off of Dungeons and Dragons for combat, and the characters are larger than life.
The biggest letdown though? None of this ever happens in the world of Star Wars. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, they purged all of the expanded universes, including these games. It sucks. This game takes place so long before Phantom Menace. It has no bearing whatsoever on the Skywalker Saga. It has great characters. You get to see both the Sith and the Jedi at the height of their powers, and it feels like a great war story between two superpowers, unlike the Skywalker Saga where there is always an underdog.
There was a sequel to this game, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, made by Obsidian, which was good! If you can, get it on Steam and download the removed content cut from the game. There is another game too, set a couple of generations after Knights of the Old Republic, an MMO, made by BioWare, called The Old Republic. It is free to play, so if you have a PC, give it a whirl, see if it is for you! But all of it started with a huge gamble on the original Xbox, seeking to tell a huge Star Wars story with none of the trappings of the film. And in doing so, they told one of the best Star Wars stories ever told.