#28 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Yes, yes, it took me 10 years to finish KOTOR. Let’s get the bad out of the way. It’s not a mechanically exciting game. The pathfinding AI is frustratingly dumb. It’s no pushover, and sometimes the difficulty feels unfair. The last area is a serious slog through a mountain of Dark Jedi and Sith troopers and that is barely fun.

What keeps it moving is the setting and the story. Even though it’s set well before the Star Wars movies, it’s very clearly a Star Wars game. It starts with an exploding planet and runs through all kinds of Jedi/Sith/force nonsense. It’s got tons of different races, languages, cantinas, and smugglers. Those things KOTOR does very well. And the story is interesting, if a little simple. I had a major plot point spoiled for me years after the game had been out, but it was still worth experiencing for myself.

But I really only wanted to finish it so I could play KOTOR 2, which I’ve read tells a much better story and is an improved game despite some quirks. KOTOR on Steam crashed pretty frequently, which really impeded my progress and pretty much forced me to quicksave every 5 minutes. Here’s hoping KOTOR 2 goes better for me.

N64 games currently disappointing me

I never owned an N64 when I was a kid. I had a SNES but I got a Playstation because the Playstation had better games. I always thought the N64 was kind of an overhyped relic. I mean, it was a cartridge system in the burgeoning days of the CD-ROM. And the big joke was that the games were few and far between, and if it wasn’t from Nintendo, it probably wasn’t worth playing. But I got an N64 a couple years ago, and now I’m trying to fill out my collection of games, so I hit eBay recently to do so. I (generally) know what the “best” games for the system are, but I’m unexplainably attracted to first-person shooters, even if they’re bad. So I got Goldeneye, Turok 2, Quake 2, Doom 64, and Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer. I’ve probably put about 20 minutes into each of these, so bear that in mind.

Goldeneye is the game that everyone else said was the best game ever way back when. I never got to spend much time with it, except when friends would want to play it multiplayer, and then I’d get destroyed because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. Well, now I have it in my hands and I don’t get it. The controls are mostly competent, but it seems like the AI has laser aim, and the game is too low res for me to tell what’s shooting me from a million miles away. I’m going to give it more effort but it’s currently not drawing me in.

Turok 2 has guns and lizard people. It also has like a 10 minute unskippable cutscene at the start of the game. I was not impressed by Turok 2. I can’t remember if Turok 2 is supposed to be the good one or if Turok 1 is the good one. But I do know Turok 2 came after Goldeneye, and they both suffer from a lack of decor. It’s also got some controls that felt weird, but I’ll discuss that later.

Quake 2 might be a bad port. The first two levels don’t even resemble the first parts of the PC game! Don’t get me wrong, it looks pretty good compared to the other games, but it’s weird to play Quake 2 and not see the familiar sights. It also suffers from N64 FPS controls.

Doom 64 is almost enjoyable! I knew going into it that the levels were all new from the PC versions, and the enemies are redrawn and they’re not an improvement (the cacodemon is awful!) but it’s Doom! But it’s fucked by the controls! What the fuck, Doom 64?! Why are the strafe buttons on the shoulders? And the movement feels best using the D-pad, but the shoot button is Z, which means either using the analog stick for movement, or stretching a finger to reach arguably the most important button in the game! And if the shoot button is the most important, then the strafe buttons are number 2 and 3, and there’s no sensible way to keep fingers on all three!

Surprisingly, Episode 1 Racer is the best of all of them. It’s almost like Wipeout, and I fucking love Wipeout. The controls feel good and make sense, and the sense of speed feels right. Sure, it’s set in Episode 1, which was awful, but it’s a racing game. The details are kind of secondary to how the game feels, and Episode 1 Racer feels great.

But let’s talk about N64 FPS controls. Look is bound to the analog stick, which feels right. So why is look inverted on all of these games?! Unless I’m playing a flight sim, I want to look up when I push the stick up. Even worse the being inverted, there are never any options to fix it! Horrible.

So obviously, N64 isn’t ideal for first-person shooters. But I’m going to keep playing them. And constantly looking at my feet when I want to look up at the thing shooting me.

I played Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I got some wild notion that I wanted to play an MMO so I started up Star Wars: The Old Republic. SWTOR is free-to-play and I’ve got quite a bit of experience in free-to-play MMOs. I’ve put quite a few hours into Champions Online and Star Trek Online. I also happen to play MMOs like they’re single-player games. I don’t group or guild.

I could compare features between the Cryptic MMOs and SWTOR, and what’s for free and what’s for pay, but I don’t find that very helpful. So what I will say is that SWTOR feels like it’s a demo of the subscriber game, whereas the Cryptic MMOs feel complete and if you want some bonus stuff, you could pay for it.

SWTOR specifically removes more than convenience features for free-to-play players. One of those convenience features is “sprint”, which simply lets you move faster between combat. Subscribers and former subscribers get it at level 1. Free-to-play members get it at level 10. It’s a little faster but not that much faster. But then I noticed that quests were withholding completion rewards from me for being a free player. That feels mean, right? “Hey, here’s what you could have gotten if you were a subscriber! But you’re not, piss off.”

I feel like that was a real turning point for me where I went from onboard despite penalties for being a free player, to not worth my time. I’m already playing it like a single-player game. Why not just go back and maybe finish KOTOR? And on top of slighting free players, the game feels tenuously Star Wars. I don’t know when it takes place in the Star Wars universe, but it feels more Star Wars-ish than Star Wars itself. It’s kind of a strange game.

But the bottom line is that other free MMOs have felt like I’m getting the commercial product, and that compelled me to put some money into them. SWTOR feels like a demo that’s pushing me towards buying it, and it doesn’t feel good.