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Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
Published by Lucas Arts
Platform: Xbox, PC

For years, console and PC RPGs have lived in segregated worlds, borne of a common source but separated by audience and history. The time has come, finally, to end this abominable discrimination, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic will be the game to bridge this gap... not only is it intensely hardcore like a good PC RPG, it's also intensely easy to pick up like a good console RPG. Integration is here! BioWare shall overcome!

Not Even the Force...
Set four millennia before Episode I, KOTOR features a galaxy in far greater turmoil than in your typical Star Wars plot. The Sith cult, led by a pale nutter named Darth Malak, has decimated Republic forces with a seemingly inexhaustible army of alien battleships---in fact, without young Jedi Bastila and her Force powers, the good guys would have been offed long ago. As a Republic soldier caught in the Sith maelstrom, you must rescue Bastila and follow her across space, playing keep-away with Malak and eventually discovering your own latent Force abilities.

KOTOR's structure is very simple: walk around, find quests, carry 'em out, rinse, and repeat for 50 hours. The battle system, however, requires special mention: It may look real-time in the screens, but it's actually turn-based and intensely fast---just like in Baldur's Gate, you can pause the action at any time to target enemies and assign commands to party members. There's a learning curve in store here for most, but it's quickly surmounted, and executing grandiose three-way combos on bosses soon becomes second nature.

...Holds Enough Power...
BioWare's most magnificent achievement, however, isn't the battle system or the graphics (which are hopelessly pretty, by the way). It's the sheer size of the thing. Side quests number in the dozens; they sprout up like dandelions everywhere you go. You can become a Light or Dark Jedi based on your behavior, and the story branches believably depending on your alignment. And there's so much terrain to explore...almost too much. In fact, hoofing around the vast expanses of some planets will make you wish you could borrow Mr. Skywalker's personal speeder for a few hours.

...To Lift This Xbox
But no matter. The main point is: After many tries, someone's managed to combine console and PC RPGs (two completely different genres, really) and create something that fans from both camps will love to bits. BioWare's efforts have been well worth the wait---KOTOR is required playing for Xbox owners, and it's worth finishing twice to spot the differences between the Light and Dark stories. Yes, it's that good.

Ratings (scale of 1-10):

Graphics: 9
Sound effects and music: 10
Originality: 9
Challenge: 10
Overall: 10