Fans of BioWare's previous games had high hopes for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but Knights turned out even better than most hardcore BioWare fans expected. It's easily the best role-playing game of the year, not to mention one of the best things to happen to the Star Wars franchise since, oh, The Empire Strikes Back. But let's focus on why Knights is such a good role-playing game, since it's already earned its accolades from us for other reasons.
Knights is an ideal blend of role-playing elements, and it represents the perfect marriage of console RPG-style focus on characters and storytelling with computer RPG-style focus on open-endedness. The result is a game with a surprisingly tightly paced narrative structure, for a game that never ceases to offer you choices as to what to do next. Some role-playing games offer great stories at the expense of letting you make meaningful decisions about what happens in those stories. Other role-playing games are completely open-ended but end up feeling hollow and generic. Knights of the Old Republic truly delivers the best of both worlds.
On top of that, the game is simply fun to play, and it uses the tried-and-true D20 role-playing system for its dynamic combat. You get to explore a wide variety of authentic Star Wars locales and meet and do battle with a huge assortment of interesting characters--a number of whom can become your faithful traveling companions. And, of course, you get to harness the power of the Force, which is implemented very nicely into the game and makes some of the later battles very tactical and challenging.
But, best of all, the open-ended role-playing-game nature of Knights of the Old Republic makes this, in many ways, the most vivid Star Wars experience ever. Since your character can always choose good or evil actions in response to the game's countless quests and situations, you implicitly feel the temptation of "falling to the dark side" as you play through the game. Knights does not judge you, though, and delivers just as entertaining of an experience whether you choose to be good, evil, or somewhere in between. It's an exceptional role-playing game, and the fact that it's an exceptionally good Star Wars game is just icing on the cake.