Getting Into Gaming: KOTOR II
One of my most favourite things about gaming is the escapism it offers. I like the same thing about books and movies, but games offer max-level escapism because you aren’t just living vicariously through the character, you ARE the character. And it’s always great to be able to vent real world frustrations in a reality where it’s perfectly ok to run around decapitating dragons or shooting aliens or breaking everything you come into contact with, or to lose yourself in solving puzzles or mysteries just for the sake of it!
At the beginning of this year I was introduced to the wonders of DnD and instantly fell in love with the concept and mechanic. I spent ages tweaking at my character, changing and rechanging his Special Abilities, deliberating over what Feats to choose, adding inconsequential details to his back story and personality and designing his clothes to make him exactly what I imagined. Picture the lead from Priest, meets Castiel from Supernatural, meets Shaolin monk, and that’s pretty much him. Each week, after our session is over I come up with a new thing I want to try next week, or something I must remember to do or say if I ever encounter a certain NPC again, and lament over how I wish I had an Acrobatics skill of 36 and adamantine hands in real life too!
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So I was naturally looking forward to playing KOTOR II, because all I really knew about it was that it a) was Star Wars based and b) used the DnD game mechanic. Done and done! And I was really excited when I first booted the game up and was faced with a screen of technical terms that actually made a whole lot of sense to me! But better than that was the fact that the game wasn’t just a case of making a character and then buying/finding weapons and armour and making things dead. As much as I love being an unstoppable destructive force, it was especially fun to actually have to build a person, someone with a personality and whose strengths and weaknesses actually had implications for gameplay. I’ve never actually played a game where the way you interact with people has an effect on you and your relationship with them, and where you are able to choose sides. And I did have fun playing around with different responses, being a bitch to people who gave me sass, and being friendly to people I liked. I was like a little kid on a playground: I don’t like you, so you can’t be my friend anymore!
Actually playing the game was a distinctly different story, because I’ve also never actually played a game where I have to be responsible for more than one person at a time, and I did find it quite stressful trying to think for three people at once, plus worry about health levels, shields, mine fields, invisible assassins, sentry droids and so on. I found boss fights easier to manage because there were fewer targets, but every time someone in my party dropped below half health I would instantly panic and want to give up! Luckily, the pause function meant I was able to regain my composure and stop freaking out long enough to work out what to do… and I suppose it was also useful for strategy and stuff too. I do feel like the other members of my party were especially useless though and I would definitely have been grateful for slightly more useful AI so that I wouldn’t have had to constantly micromanage! I feel like it really isn’t difficult to not run headlong into a massive field of frag mines…
I also felt like the game was oddly balanced in places, particularly in the beginning, with far too many side quests being crammed into the same small area. Yes, I realise that I’m not obliged to complete every side quest and bonus mission, but the completionist in me can’t just ignore them and move on. It would be like reading a novel, but skipping any chapters that were shorter than 50 pages. A lot of important stuff can happen in a side quest… ok no… I just don’t like the idea of missing out on XP and potentially useful items. So, yes sometimes I got very tired of running backwards and forwards between people miles apart and a fast travel option would have been amazing on Telos station, but I loved being able to alternate between diplomacy, bluff, intimidation and flat out killing things to complete quests. Apparently the choice of options is quite limited, but I did tend towards just being nice to almost everyone, so the light side answer was generally just right for me.
I did realise after a short while that I hadn’t built the best character and I had shot myself in the foot by having a low Intelligence modifier because only getting one skill point per level was a serious hack! So I think I’d quite like to start over and do a bit of a respect to make my character more balanced. And now that I know what other party members are available I can spread myself less thinly between all the skills so that I can actually be really good at a few things, rather than being average to crap at everything. Playing in a party was a big adjustment for me, and it is definitely something I need to get used to. Mostly, I need to shake the mind-set of having to be able to do everything by myself.
I did occasionally notice how KOTOR II has dated and there were a few times when it was absolutely infuriating, but for the most part I was genuinely impressed, and I now understand why so many people swear by the KOTOR games. And as much as I may complain about the side quests, in retrospect I actually found the human aspect of the game to be especially good, and I feel like the writers put a lot of thought into making even the NPCs sympathetic characters. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be especially good at party based games because I just am naturally inclined to be paranoid and overly emotionally invested, but with a slightly less derp AI I think I could definitely grow to enjoy the genre a lot more with a lot of practise! But I think I’ve given myself a nice foothold and ultimately I’d like to build towards being able to play some of the newer party based RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but that might take some time.