Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Updated Preview

BioWare demos this hotly anticipated RPG for us. New details inside.

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BioWare recently held a press event at its offices in Edmonton, Canada, to show off the Xbox version of its upcoming RPG Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. We were given a demo that provided an overview of everything the Canadian developer will be packing into the game, and we than had an opportunity to get some hands-on time with it. While Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is still quite a ways from shipping, it looked quite promising.

The wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk is a nice place to visit.
The wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk is a nice place to visit.

The demo of the game provided us with a closer look at several aspects of the game and even revealed some new details on its content. The demo began with a glimpse of several areas in the game in varying states of completion to give us a feel for how everything is coming together. We had a chance to get another look at some of the levels we saw last month and some areas we hadn't seen. The grasslands of Dantooine sported improved shadowing, refined lighting, and new ambient details such as flocks of birds moving in the sky. The interior of the Ebon Hawk, which will serve as your base of operations in the game and let you heal yourself, research items, and interact with the characters you can use in your party, sported improved dynamic lighting. We were able to see a variety of environments in Tatooine. The interior of a droid shop gave us a peek at a hammerhead alien and the precursors to the astromech and protocol droid models, whose later iterations would be recognizable as R2-D2 and C-3PO, respectively. We also got a look at one of the new droids to be used in the game--an assassin by the name of HK47. We saw another street exterior that featured awnings and tarps that moved thanks to the game's wind system and a ronto standing near a building. We were able to see the interior of a hangar that housed the Ebon Hawk as well. We got another look at Kashyyyk, home of the wookiees, which included more NPCs and refined lighting. The final area we saw bore more than a passing resemblance to Coruscant and featured wide-open streets and a healthy amount of traffic on the ground and in the air. An interior area in the same city showed off the game's combat elements as the main character attempted to infiltrate a Sith base.

You'll see some familiar faces in the game.
You'll see some familiar faces in the game.

Besides showing off the graphical improvements in the game, the demo also revealed a bit more about the gameplay mechanics of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The gameplay will be roughly divided into combat and exploration. Conversation in the game will change dynamically according to your character's force alignment and context. For example, early conversations will usually offer a general mix of light and dark options. However, as you progress through the game, your actions will start to align you with one side or the other and come to affect the tone of your conversational choices. Fans of the evil conversation options found in Baldur's Gate II will be pleased to know that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic will take things up a notch and offer some dastardly options that should satisfy most players' inner dark Jedi.

More Than Just an RPG

The demonstration also revealed four minigames that will be included to offer a change of pace: a turret minigame, a racing game, a card game, and a gladiatorial arena. The turret game, shown previously at E3, is clearly an ode to the sequence in the original Star Wars in which Han Solo and Luke faced off against a horde of TIE fighters. You'll man the Ebon Hawk's turrets and take out waves of Sith fighters in a sequence that will pop up as you travel to various worlds. The racing minigame you'll come across on Tatooine is a precursor to the pod races seen in Episode I, although considerably more low tech. You'll need to pass over pads on the track to boost your speed if you want to get the best time. Although you'll be forced to play the minigame only once, you'll be able to voluntarily participate in various competitions in your travels, and you can even bet on the outcomes. There wasn't much revealed about the gladiatorial arena minigame beyond the fact that players will find one in the game and take on a variety of foes. There wasn't much revealed about the card game, either, but we do know that you'll have the opportunity to play against certain people you encounter in the game, and you'll be able to win cards and improve your deck by doing so.

You'll face off against some very familiar baddies in the game.
You'll face off against some very familiar baddies in the game.

The presentation wrapped up by showing off some of the prerendered cutscenes in the game. Most were early and lacked sound, but the latter ones were more complete. The opening sequence showed off the expected introductory scrawl that is synonymous with the Star Wars franchise and smoothly flowed into a space battle that ended with a large craft being sent lurching toward a planet by a swarm of fighters. The other scenes ranged from simple shots of the Ebon Hawk landing on different planets, to more complex shots of ships going through a massive debris field in space. The last sequence showed a massive destroyer bombarding a city from orbit.

That looks like it could be Jabba's great great great great great grandfather.
That looks like it could be Jabba's great great great great great grandfather.

Following the demo, we had the chance to get some hands-on time with an early build of the game and play through a sequence set in Hrakert station, an underwater facility on the planet Manaan. While still early and a little rough around the edges, the sequence gave us a taste of the game's combat, character interaction, and puzzle solving. At its core, the game follows many of the standard RPG conventions. You'll manage your party using menus and have access to an area map. We were able to interact with some scientists on the station who were under siege by creatures called Selkath. The conversation trees were fairly varied and gave us quite a few conversation options. The combat element is still being refined, but at the moment you'll have the ability to attack in real time or pause the game and choose your actions from menus to make fighting a bit more strategic. The puzzle we encountered forced us to use our heads and do a bit of math in order to avoid straying toward the dark side of the force--we had to overload a storage container in order to humanely drive away some surly aquatic creatures. While we've played only a fraction of the game, we were pretty satisfied by what we saw. The game looks good and plays fairly well. The combat is still a bit rough, but it's one of the things BioWare will be focusing in the coming months, so we expect it will be far more polished in the final release.

Judging from what we've seen so far, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is shaping up to be a very ambitious game. BioWare is packing quite a bit into the game's graphics and gameplay, which should definitely give RPG fans something meaty to explore. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is currently slated to ship next year. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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