Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords Updated Impressions

LucasArts gives us an updated look at its upcoming Star Wars-themed role-playing game.

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords
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LucasArts gave us an updated look at Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords at its press event today. The game tells a tale that picks up five years after the events in the original KOTOR, and it features new characters and gameplay elements. Although we saw the game at E3, the work-in-progress version that LucasArts had on display today showed off some of the new features and a new, decidedly unfriendly face.

LucasArts producer Mike Gallo gives an update on the current progress of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

The demo focused on areas of the planet Onderon, a new locale in the game, and it showed off some of the enhancements to the original KOTOR. One part of the demo took us through the city of Iziz, which appears to offer a similar setup to Taris in the original KOTOR in that it provides a nice wide-open space for you to roam and chat with the locals. The party of three in the game--your main character, Atton Rand, and Mira--were the group guided through the city.

During our time in the city we were able to see the enhancements made to the character models. The non-player characters will feature a greater variety in the number and types of heads you'll see. While the NPCs are still being implemented, we got a look at some of the new heads, which have more detail and animation than those in the original game. Some of the art assets from the original game are being used as placeholders at the moment--including everyone's favorite Twi'lek--and serve as a sharp contrast to the new content. The improved art in the game didn't stop at NPCs either; Atton Rand now has a newer head model than the last time we saw it.

Another section of Onderon that was shown had a less friendly space to explore. Due to a rather unpleasant disagreement/uprising going on, there were quite a few corpses littering the ground. This segment lets you mix it up with armored Sith troops, and it had the same party of three characters going through a series of bridges that had force fields and troops aplenty to deal with.

This area served as a proper showcase for two new Force powers: scream and fury. The scream power is an area-of-effect attack that damages characters around you, with the amount of damage it causes reduced the farther your enemy is from you. Fury, on the other hand, is basically a berserker rage-style attack that increases your attack. The fury power also boosts the number of bonuses you receive while in the state--the damage you cause feeds into it (yes, this is a dark side power). To really drive the point home, you'll see a hazy red filter on the screen while you get your fury on.

The last area was an underground stretch. This is where you have your first unpleasant encounter with Darth Sion, a Sith Lord with a pretty unique look. While the past few decades of Star Wars lore has prepped us for all manner of unpleasantness when it comes to servants of the dark side, Sion is a new entry in the annals of evil. The angry Sith Lord sports the ashy, pasty appearance we've come to expect, but his skin is broken, almost like a badly glued-together vase. We discovered that our observation turned out to be a pretty accurate assessment of Sion, as LucasArts representatives revealed that the evil one is pretty much just held together by a special mix of hate and dark side Force powers.

Alas, LucasArts reps were a little less forthcoming about Darth Sion's origins. He looks human, but you just never know with Star Wars, and they would say only that he would be a big problem for you in the game. The encounter with him that we saw demoed, essentially your first meeting with him in the game, found him to be a dispenser of epic and fatal ass-kickings. This, of course, doesn't bode well for your relationship with him in the game.

You'll be able to get your force on once again when KOTOR II ships early next year.
You'll be able to get your force on once again when KOTOR II ships early next year.

In addition to the gameplay demo, we got a look at some brief cinematics that will run during your travels. We saw one that showed the Ebon Hawk near Onderon and its sister planet Duxon, which share a common orbit. It featured a menacing blockade. Another clip showed a shuttle jetting from Iziz to Duxon.

The game's overall presentation is shaping up nicely, with progress being made in its visuals and audio. While the graphics in the game are still being refined, the aforementioned enhancements were looking good. From a technical standpoint, the game is shaping up well, with improved detail and animation. PC owners will be glad to hear that the game will feature a heads-up display that will scale with the resolution at which you choose to play the game, as opposed the display in the original game, which was locked at an 800x600 ratio. Aesthetically speaking, the environments featured interesting designs that fit with the Star Wars universe fans have come to know like the back of their hand. The audio is still coming together, so there was just a smattering of voice to be heard. From the sampling of bits we were able to hear, it sounds as though the game will take the same approach as its predecessor and serve up some solid voice acting.

While the demo was concise and focused on specific elements of the upcoming game, it's safe to say that Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is shaping up well. The game may not offer a quantum leap over its predecessor, but the various refinements and rich story should add up to a game worthy of your time. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is currently slated to ship this winter for the PC and Xbox.

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