Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II is stronger in the Force than most Star Wars fans realize…
In the Original Trilogy, the eternal war between Darkness and Light screamed across the galaxy as the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire fought for total hegemonic domination. There was never any question as to which side had torn down what took millennia to build. Never any question who was fighting to restore democratic rule to the oppressed trillions suffering beneath an iron boot.
They told a narrative of save-the-galaxy-and-get-the-girl heroism painted in the same black and white hues storytellers have used for centuries. Yet, through solid writing, directing and taking the best bits of the greatest stories ever told, Star Wars has managed to carve a place in human history as one of our most preeminent cultural icons.
It’s forged some of Sci-Fi’s most enduring and memorable moments, both in the movies and beyond. Among these are Knights of the Old Republic and its inheritor, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Depending on who you talk to, one represents a shining beacon upon a hill while the other is little more than half-baked trash worthy of little more than Bantha Fodder.
While both games are true to their origins and embody everything that made the Original Trilogy a masterpiece, TSL delves into the deeper philosophies of Jedi and Sith doctrine. KoTOR had a very classic story. It was your clear cut adventure mixed with Star Wars tropes: you’re a no-name soldier who survives a crash, rescues a legendary Jedi, becomes a Jedi, learns he used to be Lord of the Sith, defeats the new Sith Lord and saves the galaxy all by himself. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a very enjoyable and well done game.
TSL, however, takes those familiar tropes and flips them like a coin. There’s no themes of heroism, clearly identifiable good vs evil, or understanding character motivations. There is only betrayal, secrecy, revenge and death.
The concept of morality is spat on and scorned, asking questions KoTOR and the movies never did: what does it mean to be strong, to be wise, to be good? Aside from a handful of people, most want you dead, gone or are using you as a means to an end. Everyone else doesn’t really even care you’re there. The life you once knew not only banished you, it’s now rotted and in the past.
TSL gave us a dark and noir-ish take on the Star Wars we really haven’t been given before. And though you save the galaxy, it never really feels like it. In the end, all that really changes is the long standing grudge match between the Exile and Sith comes to a close.
Even your companions have their dirty little secrets once you dig past the surface. KoTOR gave us Bastila, Carth, Jolee, Juhani, Mission and Zaalbar on team goody two shoes. Canderous and HK are really the only “evil” companions.
Bastila falls but can be redeemed, Carth is a cold but caring Republic soldier and Mission is the Tweliek Aladdin swept into a galaxy changing adventure. Aside from some easily forgettable side quests and HK, they’re like that college roommate you don’t really talk to. In TSL, your party has far more intrigue and mystique.
Atton initially seems like Han Solo analogue, but there’s far more to him than a quick wit and trigger finger. And of course, there’s Kreia. She’s a force sensitive old woman who holds no clear allegiances, to either Darkness or Light. Even when we learn she’s Sith, her philosophy doesn’t match usual Sith doctrine. Jedi and Sith alike would denounce her views.
Character interactions with Darth Sion felt more in-depth and less like talking to a stereotypical evil villain. Malak had his moments, but Sion expressed his feelings in a much more complex way. Despite being dedicated to the utter eradication of the Jedi, his thirst for power blinded him to the teachings of true Sith dogma.
And his motives were often unpredictable. Sion showed mercy to Kreia on the Harbinger and allowed the Exile to flee from him on Korriban — something Malak never would have done. It’s never really explained why either, but neither are other significant events. Information is scarce and sometimes the answer to your questions are nowhere to be found.
Most of all, your understanding of every major plot point that’s occurring is constantly shifting as your understanding of the past expands. In KoTOR when you skip dialogue or pay it no mind you don’t really lose out on anything. TSL’s advanced storytelling techniques make you work to create the awareness necessary to enhance your experience and understanding of the game.
This is where much of the divide in opinion comes from. Plenty of players find the complex story difficult to get into, even after installing the Restored Content Mod. The way TSL is told coupled with its rush to completion contributes much of the confusion and frustration at a game that already had high expectations given the reputation of it’s predecessor. Once you become accommodated to the history and dynamics though, Obsidian’s ambition for TSL outshines it’s faults and flaws.