We had a chance to meet with BioWare at the ongoing Game Developers Conference to get an updated look at Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, its upcoming RPG set 4,000 years prior to the events seen in Star Wars: Episode I. The game has come quite a ways since our last look at the Xbox version. The team has managed to refine the graphics and general presentation, as well as tighten up several elements of the gameplay. While Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is still a few months from release, we're quite pleased by how the game is coming together.
During our earlier experiences with the game, Knights of the Old Republic's combat system was still in a very embryonic form and a bit difficult to properly gauge. The build we saw at the GDC featured a fully realized combat system that should be accessible to a wide variety of players. The core of the combat system is rules-based and should be familiar to fans of the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars game. If you aren't familiar with these rules, don't fret--the game offers plenty of help in the form of in-game cues and instructional text in the menus. But you'll actually have several ways to experience combat. Your primary choice is in real time, which is fairly self-explanatory--you'll simply deal with your foes in a real-time battle by selecting your attack commands from a context-sensitive menu. The options available on the menu will vary according to your character's ability and your proximity to your foe. Your second option is tied to your ability to pause the game at any time during a battle, which gives you time to choose your method of attack more carefully. The final option is a variation on the aforementioned pause method but brings the game closer to the standard turn-based structure seen in traditional console RPGs. While you'll be able to customize the pause options in a number of ways, you'll basically be able to have the game pause between the actions of the combatants. This option actually changes the dynamics of a fight considerably, turning battles into more-strategic experiences. The option to think things through a bit more carefully affords you a better chance of making it through a fight without sustaining as much damage as you would by wading into one in real time.
Another component of the game that is now more fully realized is the robust item system, which will offer more than 300 items to use such as weapons, armor, and support items. We also got a look at the workbench in the Ebon Hawke--your ship and base of operations in the game--where you can customize and upgrade your weapons using various crystals you'll collect in the game. Besides offering the expected stat upgrades, the crystals also let you customize the appearance of weapons, such as the blade on your lightsaber.
The GDC build of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic also gave us a taste of how the visuals have progressed. We got a look at the opening text crawl and the opening cinema, which showed the Republic ship Endar Spire under heavy attack from Sith fighters over the planet Taris. We got a taste of Taris, which was very reminiscent of the Coruscant we've seen in the latest Star Wars films. The city is a huge mass of skyscrapers that stretches off into an impressive draw distance in every direction. Our next stop in the game was the Sith Academy on Korraban, where we found an excavation site that will play an important role in the game's story. The academy showed off an impressive particle system that featured motes of dust gently falling from the ceiling--not only did they leave a trail, but they also caught the light drifting into the room. The site also showed off impressive environment mapping on an impossibly clean droid, a variety of ambient lighting, and the overbrightening technique we'd seen in earlier builds of the game.
Following Korraban, we got a look at an unknown ocean world that you'll apparently find yourself on when the Ebon Hawke experiences some engine trouble. The planet was a distinct change of pace from the other areas we'd seen in the game and featured a sandy beach and mountainous artifacts off in the distance. Another area on the same planet featured a mysterious temple that seemed a little too prominent not to be important. The temple was surrounded by grass that moved in reaction to player movement and trees that reacted to wind in the area. We also noticed some nice ambient touches such as flocks of creatures heading off into the distance and slowly moving clouds.
Our last stop was in two cantinas, one on Tatooine and another in the upper area of Taris. The taverns let us get a feel for the dialogue and its loopy humor. The cantina sequences also showed off an instance in which the gender of your character affects an encounter in the game. In the Taris cantina, a patron will blow you off if you approach him as a male, but if you choose a female character, he'll be on you faster than white on rice.
The audio had also been implemented in the GDC build, and it gave us a taste of the enormous amount of voice work in the game. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is slated to feature roughly 13,000 lines of voiced dialogue, and they will all be synched with the movement of the characters' faces. The game will also feature a great deal of ambient sound.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic seems to be coming together nicely. We've only touched on a bit of what the ambitious game is going to offer. For more, check out our video segment with Ray Muzyka of BioWare here. Look for much more on the game in the coming months.