Where's My Sequel? – Knights Of The Old Republic
Star Wars has a long history in gaming, and Knights of the Old Republic is one of the best and most popular splinters of the franchise. The series makes players feel like a genuine part of the expansive Star Wars experience, and is one of the few games to do this legendary property justice. But if KOTOR is so great and revered, why haven’t we gotten a true sequel in more than 10 years?
What It Is
Knights of the Old Republic is a role-playing game set thousands of years before the original Star Wars trilogy. Though it doesn’t feature any familiar faces from the films, it has almost all of the classic Star Wars hallmarks, like Jedi Knights, Sith Lords, droids, and spaceships. Leveraging its experience with Dungeons & Dragons titles like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, developer BioWare created the original entry. Obsidian Entertainment (the studio behind recent hits like Pillars of Eternity and South Park: The Stick of Truth) made the sequel.
As RPGs, the KOTOR games give players an unprecedented opportunity to explore and interact with the Star Wars universe; you aren’t stuck in a cockpit, or platforming through strange 2D adaptations of the movies. You speak with strange aliens, travel to distinct worlds, make decisions between good and evil, and (of course) wield a lightsaber and Force powers. The games capture the look and feel that Star Wars fans are already familiar with, but throw in enough unexpected surprises to keep things fresh and exciting.
KOTOR first released on Xbox in 2003, and its sequel followed in 2004. KOTOR II had some significant technical and pacing issues (likely due, in part, to its short development cycle), but both games were well received by fans and critics. After years of dormancy, BioWare and LucasArts revived the property in 2011 with an MMO called Star Wars: The Old Republic.
When It Stopped
Strictly speaking, it hasn’t stopped. The Old Republic MMO is still running, and keeps this vision of the universe intact. However, that’s more of a technicality; the KOTOR that players love is a story-driven, single-player experience with interesting party members, tactical combat, and unforgettable twists. The Old Republic is certainly a decent MMO that incorporates more story elements than other entries in the genre typically do, but it isn’t the true successor fans have wanted.
What Comes Next
Gaming has changed a lot in 10 years, and no new sequel should follow such an old blueprint. Though pause-and-play combat can be fun, BioWare should move away from the strict rules-based approach. The KOTOR games were governed by the D&D ruleset, but it would be possible to retain the tactical RPG flavor without having to juggle multiple action queues. After all, the most memorable Star Wars battles are fast and kinetic affairs. Having to pause too much would kill the flair and momentum of combat.
That doesn’t mean that battles should be entirely action-based. BioWare’s success with Dragon Age: Inquisition demonstrates that the studio knows how to blend style and strategy in order to create encounters that are fluid and challenging. A direct clone probably wouldn’t be a great idea, but it isn’t hard to imagine Jedi and smugglers taking the place of mages and rogues in the general format of Inquisition’s combat.
In terms of story, starting from scratch is the best option. Acknowledge the events of previous games, of course, but don’t be bound by them. For one thing, several lingering story questions have been answered by The Old Republic and other sources, so some of the mystery is gone. For another thing, many gamers today either A) haven’t played, or B) don’t remember KOTOR I and II. A new cast facing new problems would be ideal – but don’t forget a few cameos (HK-47!) for the longtime fans.
One element that needs to be overhauled drastically is the morality system. The Star Wars universe is not about shades of gray; the major players are either good or evil. Allowing players to go back and forth between those extremes feels strange. In previous games, it would be possible to perform an act of selfless sacrifice one minute, then perform an act of depraved malice the next. If you do that, your character feels inconsistent…but if you don’t, you’re not making much of a choice at all.
The emphasis on choice is important, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be about choosing good or evil. In fact, maybe you could choose to be a Jedi or Sith right away, and then all of the other options would be tailored to that alignment. That way, every choice wouldn’t be, “Are you good or evil,” but rather “How good/evil are you?” This opens the door for nuance an ambiguity while still staying true to Star Wars’ thematic form.
Other things from previous games can stay more or less intact. You should have a cool spaceship (except it should be more customizable). You should have party members with unique personalities and interesting story arcs. You should be able to tear through your opponents with a wide array of Force powers. All of those features would undoubtedly be surrounded by things you never knew you wanted from a Star Wars RPG. Ultimately, the only thing we’re sure of is that KOTOR III should happen, and the rest of the details can get sorted out later.