Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords Hands-On

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo, we got to play an early build of the sequel to last year's best RPG. Read on for details.

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Leading up to E3, we brought you an exclusive first look and then a follow-up on the just-announced sequel to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which is being developed by Southern California-based Obsidian Entertainment. The original developer of KOTOR, BioWare, is off busy doing other things, but KOTOR 2: The Sith Lords should be in good hands--Obsidian is composed of many former employees of Interplay, who previously worked on such classic role-playing games as Planescape: Torment, Fallout, and Icewind Dale. At any rate, none of this was readily apparent just from playing the early build of the game at E3, which, quite frankly, could have easily been mistaken for the first Knights of the Old Republic. That's certainly not a bad thing, though.

We encourage you to take a look at our previous coverage for further details on The Sith Lords, but here, we'll comment on the specific differences and similarities between the original game and the new sequel we detected from the admittedly brief time we had to spend with the game at E3. For one thing, we noticed that KOTOR 2's interface design, at this early stage, was identical to that of the original game. While the first game's interface was highly functional, we hope it will at least get a new coat of paint before the game ships. The gameplay itself was highly similar, as well. We got to fight through several sequences against Sith guards and various creatures while playing as a Jedi guardian, who could leap into battle with lightsaber swinging just like our character could in the first game. So don't expect any dramatic changes on this front (though it was nice to see our Jedi decked out in flowing Jedi robes rather than the form-fitting threads of KOTOR).

On the other hand, we did notice (and were told about) some new Jedi Force powers, such as force sight, which temporarily reveals the moral alignment--toward the light or dark side of the force--of nearby characters. This power may be used to "see" other characters even through solid surfaces, so we think it may lead to some interesting tactical advantages. We were also told about a power called Force Crush, which, unlike the choking Force Grip power made famous by Darth Vader, will crush an opponent's entire body, presumably dealing tremendous damage.

In The Sith Lords, you will begin as a Jedi character, unlike in the original Knights of the Old Republic. However, in addition to KOTOR's six Jedi character classes, The Sith Lords will be introducing several different "prestige classes" for high-level Jedi characters. Some prestige classes will only be available to light- or dark-inclined Jedi, respectively, which should entice players to choose sides in the game and then perhaps to go back and play through a second time (or multiple times) to explore other options. Dungeons & Dragons aficionados should be familiar with the concept of prestige classes, which confer specific and powerful benefits to characters who qualify for them.

Another interesting-sounding change in KOTOR 2 is that party members will now be affected by your moral decisions. In the first game, each party member had a natural inclination toward the light or dark side, but nothing you yourself did could really change that. In KOTOR 2, though, your decisions will also affect your allies and may possibly cause in-fighting between them or perhaps a change of heart from a character you thought you knew well. Incidentally, during our demo, we got to see one new party member, a female scout named Mira.

We only saw KOTOR 2 running on the Xbox, though it's slated to ship simultaneously for both the Xbox and PC early next year. Of note, this early build we saw suffered from significant frame rate issues, which we expect will be addressed prior to the game's release. But still, it's not necessarily going to be the visuals that draw us back into the world of Knights of the Old Republic. Needless to say, we're excited to see how this game shapes up, and we will continue to bring you updates on its progress.

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