Knights of the Old Republic II–or just Kotor 2, as it’s known in fandom–is one of the most respected games in the Star Wars fandom. The more or less common consensus about it is that it was a bit underdeveloped but still very good (and you can always use Restored Content Mod). And anyway, it’s the best because of its story, not its gameplay.
I have no problem with this opinion, actually. I vaguely remember playing it in 2005, and I remember I kinda enjoyed it. But lately I decided to make use of a holiday discount and try replaying it. And…well, now I feel it was a mistake.
As the story part is considered the best thing in Kotor 2, I will mostly talk about story–though a bit of gameplay talk is in order, too. But before I dive in, I must remind that I am not in any possible way “a gamer.” My list of played games includes only several Star Wars games, Heroes of Might and Magic III and IV, and Loom, (which, by the way, is the best game I ever played both gameplay-wise and story-wise). I’m absolutely sure that more experienced person would find problems I encountered to not be problems at all. But as I’m equally sure games should consider casual gamers’ needs, too, I will still talk about them.
How Does It Work as a Sequel?
As Kotor 2 is, obviously, a sequel to the first, Revan-themed, Kotor.
That game had two basic endings: either Revan is hailed as a hero and savior, or Revan installs themselves as a dark emperor. Basically, whatever ending do you choose, they seem to be immensely prominent figure in the Republic. What does it have to do with the second game? Nothing.
We start in the midst of a civil war that started…somehow. Three mighty Siths emerged from nowhere and devastated the Republic while Revan was, for some reason, out from the picture. The lame-ness of this plot device is actually kinda lampshaded in the game itself. If you chose Revan to be a woman, then you can get the deliciously sexist, “You know, those women and their feminine logic!” remark from several characters.
Nothing that happened in the first game has any bearing on what happens in the second one. The war that was ended there, continues here. The problems that were there are no more. The ideas that were there are no more. The few shared characters could as well be totally new characters, having so little in common with their previous selves.
The only thing that is really important is, Revan. Not as a person, a hero or anything, but as something our playable character, Meethra, can be constantly compared to.
There are things that improved since the first game, sure. I appreciated the rebalanced pazaak game, for example. Or that when you loot a crate the game marks it as “empty.” Also, the ability to equip two weapons and switch between them was something the first game was thoroughly lacking, as well as much more advanced crafting system.
But all this came at a cost of Fake Difficulty as it is. Consular class lacks its past abilities. As you constantly play with your companions as PCs, you have to equip them all no less than your main. Counterintuitive skill trees, crafting options, and the sheer amount of sudden changes don’t help at all, as well as lack of autosaves and quick travel. They changed so much, while seemingly having the same interface, I’d even say that playing the first game can impair your ability to understand second’s gameplay, not improve.
How Does Its Main Character Work?
This was sadly something that soured the whole game for me. The main character, The Exile, is basically…no character. Sure, they have a bit backstory and some informed attributes, but that’s all. Remember how you could talk, argue, bicker, and commiserate as Revan? Forget it.
You have choices, sure, but those are far less personalized. You almost cannot joke, or brag, or anything. You either do or don’t, either agree or disagree, and in the end, each and every companion has much more personality than your main hero, your in-game avatar.
The hero’s main function is to listen. Listen to the companions. Listen to the NPCs. Listen to the authors that wanted you–a player–to listen to their pseudo-philosophical harangues. That are very, very long and you shouldn’t (and sometimes cannot) skip them.
I guess this setup could work better, though, for those who don’t want their PC to be anything more than an interface for interacting with the environment. When I “switched” to it, I felt it really works. The game has no interest in The Exile, true–but it really wants you to think and listen.
Also, I should commend the game for the fact that it has little gender preference. Though it’s obvious The Exile was written as a male, you can play a female Exile and miss nothing important (it’s more dull, though).
It was…okay, I guess? Sure, if you like playing consular, you have to spend several level-ups on game-essential skills you weren’t given just for fake difficulty’s sake, but otherwise it works surprisingly smoothly.
How Do Its Other Characters Work?
They don’t work, they talk. Talk. TALK. You cannot escape it; every single one of them has some important idea or other to bestow on you. And, as mentioned earlier, you either literally cannot skip it, or you can but you shouldn’t as somewhere inside that rant was a grain of game-essential information.
Let me make myself clear: it’s not that they are badly written or have dull backstory. It’s that the main function of such monologues is not interaction but lecturing. Interaction-wise you have Mira and Bao-Dur who at least would listen to you and you even can have something like a dialogue with them. Otherwise, everyone seems completely uninterested in anything but themselves.
They are fine. You will have to equip them all to a tee, that’s true, but otherwise they are fine. The only problem is, the game has an influence system but doesn’t have any place where I can actually see what influence I have on which companion character. It’s just a quick “you get”/you lose” notification and nothing else I could find.
Let’s Talk About Kreya
She is lauded as the most interesting and subversive character, and I hated her. Yep. That’s all I can say about her.
Why do I hate her? You see, she is the epitome of what is wrong with that game. Her main and only function is to be dismissive, sassy, and lecture the protagonist. If you happen to agree with her point of view–you’re lucky. If you don’t, it will be game-long mind torture.
I won’t say her point of view is morally bad, more that it’s poorly thought out and incredibly dull, nihilistic junk you can freely get from our beloved HBO series. By the way, I can describe her using that series: imagine a cross between Dowager Sasstress and Batfinger. That’s Kreya in all her glory.
Actually I’d argue she is the true protagonist, not The Exile, who is there only as a device for watching her incredible story of hard labor and bitter betrayals. Problem is, I don’t like her, so I’m not interested in her story, but I cannot escape it anyway.
She is mostly okay as well, actually, apart from two aspects. First, she is so obviously a villain, your character has to be very dumb not to notice it. That, or your character is a plot device that has to play dumb so that we, the players, could see Kreya in all her Batfinger glory. Second, if you don’t like Kreya’s particular sort of sass and don’t want her in your party, you’re screwed. She will sass you anyway and you cannot escape it.
I could talk at length about other little and not so little aspects of this game that bothered me. The non-romance. The constant sexism of all the NPCs and companions who will never hold their offensive remarks if you play female Exile. The astonishing laziness of game development that can’t be hidden even by restored content more. Or, how I feel the “subversive” and “interesting” Kreya’s goal to extinguish the Force is kinda similar to the goal of extinguishing Newton’s Laws. Or, that many quests and some features totally require a manual.
But I still managed to enjoy the game, even if it was kind of a hate-play. It still has nice fights. It’s interesting to try playing different characters with different skill sets (though you have to make several tries before you configure what skill sets they or your PC need because it’s not intuitive at all).
Basically, it’s a fine, if glitchy, game that has its good sides. It’s just neither really deep, nor the best-written Star Wars game, and one that really wants you to listen to the authors’ nihilistic rants.