Recently, I did a playthrough of the second KOTOR game, The Sith Lords, for my best friend over a Skype call. I’ve talked about what I do like about this game before, but after a conversation with Tyrannadorkus in the comments of my last post, I’ve decided to touch on what I can’t stand about it… which is actually a considerable amount.
As you read this blog post, keep in mind that all of this is purely from a writing standpoint. From a game play standpoint, I actually think that The Sith Lords is better than its predecessor, or that it would be if it weren’t for all the glitches. The lightsaber battles look more epic, the level design is better, the graphics actually look nicer, and the world feels more expansive. Obsidian did a lot to improve the engine, and my only real complaint (outside of the glitches) from a gameplay standpoint is that the port back to Ebon Hawk option no longer exists. The fact that I don’t have to wait for the rest of my party before going to new areas, however, somewhat makes up for this.
I also have complaints about the original KOTOR, namely the handling of Carth Onasi’s PTSD being unrealistic (making his character hard for me to stomach as someone with PTSD, even though I like his concept), the pacing of the last arc of the game from Leviathan to Star Forge making the game feel unfinished, and the utterly anti-climactic ending. KOTOR isn’t perfect, but I’m reminded of how good it truly is (and how excellent at writing Bioware is), especially in comparing it to Obsidian’s sequel.
If you like this game, as I know many people do, I would just remind you that this is my opinion. You don’t have to agree. There is actually a lot I like about this game, but this post focuses specifically on the things that bothered me.
This does assume some knowledge of the game, so if you haven’t played or don’t know KOTOR, this may not make sense to you.
The biggest failing of this game is that it tried too much to usurp the scale of the first game, I think. They introduced too many plot points, many of which end up being completely pointless, especially if you’re playing a vanilla game without the Restored Content Mod. I can think of at least half a dozen completely useless plotlines off the top of my head — Mira and Hanhaar, HK and the HK-50s, the ENTIRE Goto and the Exchange bit where the Bounty Hunters don’t stop chasing you even AFTER G0-T0 joins your party, all of Nar Shaddaa, the futility and forcefulness of the romances, Canderous’ incomplete and unclear involvement with Kreia.
Those are the things that stand out most to me as plot lines that were either completely dropped, handled inconsistently, or written so poorly that they actually annoyed me.
I have no idea why going to Nar Shaddaa was even necessary, for example, when the Jedi Masters later tell you that they only went to worlds impacted by the War, worlds that you had some connection to. Nar Shaddaa doesn’t fit that description at all. It seemed like it was shoehorned in as some attempt to deal with the Exchange, which in the end only introduced a bunch of extraneous characters to the cast and didn’t even solve the Bounty Hunter problem — on top of giving you a Force ability you never use again. And in the end, how the Exchange might have been connected to Nhillus wasn’t even answered.
The romances, too, feel forced and… frankly, I found them to be creepy. I’ve played far enough on my canon playthrough to start to get the “Atton and The Disciple fighting over you” dialogues, and the way they talk about a female character is actually kind of gross and vaguely sexist, reeking of “I know what’s best for this woman because I am a man” syndrome. It’s completely different than Carth, who for all my complaints about him still struggles just as much with Lady Revan being Revan as he does Lord Revan, and actually thinks about his late wife in relation to the romance.The Carth romance, which I’ve watched on youtube, seems well-written with forethought to the characters involved and how they might interact. I can’t say as much for Atton and Micel, who actually seem out of character when dealing with Meetra, their personalities forsaken and forgotten for the sake of honoring their mysterious bond with their leader.
On the other hand, Visas and the Handmaiden are written as being outright creepy and constantly cat fighting over the male main character. They’re written as shallow and petty, the reasons for their attractions explained by nothing more than the main character’s mysterious magnetism. They don’t really have personalities outside of their attraction to them, which is a shame because Visas is actually one of the most plot important characters in the game. It doesn’t even feel like she’s there when you play as a female character, and when you play as a male character it feels like she’s whittled down to her creepy devotion to you. And the poor Handmaiden doesn’t even really get to have a personality outside of her attraction to the male main character. At the very least the Disciple has a personality and goals beyond his devotion to Meetra.
This doesn’t even mention that Kreia treats the male main character like some sort of slavering beast who is a slave to his sex drive while she doesn’t even mention the female main character’s sexuality at all. More than that, you have no choice about whether or not these characters fall in love with you, and romance isn’t even really discussed until just before the Harbinger and Malachor V. Bastila and Carth are easy to refuse, but these people? If you want to be nice to them at all, you basically have to be complete jerks to them, which isn’t fun or easy. I don’t like feeling coerced into a romance, and I never did with Bastila. Bastila’s romance felt completely natural, and I was so glad that there was this female character who was so different from what I was used to. With Visas and the Handmaiden I alternatively felt like they were stalking me or like I was being a super macho manly jerk.
Not a fun experience.
Which brings me to characterization.
First of all, let me just say that not all of the characterization in this game is bad. T3, who was little more than a simple plot device in the first game, is actually given a full personality. Sure, it’s a little bit too much like R2 sometimes, but that felt nostalgic and appropriate. Furthermore, HK-47, as pointless as his presence was, still felt like HK-47 — his characterization was really consistent. Obsidian handled the Droids really, really well, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise them for it.
They also had some interesting character concepts. As bland as Visas ended up being, the concept of her character is really cool, and I love Atton Rand, especially when I play as a male and don’t have to put up with him making uncomfortable jokes about my state of dress. Both of them are really neat ideas who were executed poorly, but the concepts themselves show that maybe the reason this game was such a flub was due to a time crunch. Like my best friend said, it felt like they spent all their time on level design and remembered that they had a story to write last minute.
Beyond that though, there were characters who felt flat out pointless to the plot, like Mira, Hanhaar, and Goto, when one of the hallmarks of the original game was that every character served a purpose, even if it was as simple as opening a gate or as complex as serving as a dramatic foil. If you talked to them, you felt like you were really getting to know them, and their backstory became a point of interest, even if it wasn’t always relevant to understanding the totality of the plot. In this game, though, there are key plot points hidden in dialogue, and the game feels incomplete because spending the time to grind every character’s dialogue is impossible if you don’t have enough approval. I had to do things that my character would normally never do just to net enough approval with Kreia to get dialogue about her past and about Revan. If it’s that important, it shouldn’t be in throwaway dialouge that you might miss if you do the wrong thing.
Which is another complaint I have about this game. A lot of the characters have relevant and interesting backstories, backstories that connect to the overall plot. The Handmaiden and The Disciple both do, and so does Atton Rand, but these things aren’t ever really explored. They’re thrown into the story choppily and randomly and you have to do skill checks to persuade them. There were no skill checks in the first game, there was just time and patience, and differing reactions to your Revan based on your behavior. Nothing was withheld from you if you weren’t a good enough fighter. I’m sure some people could argue that Sith Lord’s system mimics real life more, which would be well and good if plot essential information wasn’t hidden behind those skill checks. If the vanilla game was fine without these dialogues, I wouldn’t mind so much, because then it would just be extraneous world and character building, but in some cases you literally cannot understand the game without the information at hand. That’s just poor design.
Speaking of characters, I have to touch on two final characters before I really dig into what is actually wrong with the plot of the game itself — The Player Character (canonically Meetra Surik) and, of course, Revan.
Let’s start with Revan, because I could probably write a post JUST about the way that they handle him and how I ultimately blame Obsidian for what happened to Revan. Let’s just say that, for a character who is supposedly so important to the entire plot of the game, he really didn’t actually have enough of an impact on the characters and story. They used him like a plot device, permeating everything about the universe, but never explain why Revan’s Jedi friends are suddenly dead or why no one really cares to look for him — unless you have enough influence with T3, which you would only have if you were an exceptionally good person who always complimented him whenever you could. They also tried really hard, through the way Kreia talks about Good Revan vs Bad Revan, to push Bad Revan as the “true” Revan. Why this is, I can’t actually say for sure, but it’s pretty invalidating to the players, especially since, at the time, Revan didn’t have a canon gender or alignment. The fact that they keep calling Revan “him” pretty much no matter what must have been really demeaning to characters who had Lady Revan.
They tried to make him too edgy, I think. When I really sit down and contemplate it, I think about how they tried to make his actions during the Mandolorian Wars about a long game battle against the Jedi that he was fighting. Kae/Traya/Kreia really reads like Obsidian’s bad plot insert character, sometimes, as much as I do adore her concept — the one person who has been secretly shaping all the Galaxy’s most powerful Jedi for literally decades, someone who just permeates the story. The concept of an invisible master is really cool, but I don’t really feel like they respected the original Revan, nor do I feel like Kreia’s perceptions of Revan are at all accurate, even for Dark Side Revan of that period. Thankfully, because they’re just the opinions of a character, I can write them off as her misconceptions.
As for Meetra, well… It’s not really her fault that her creators tried to make her more special than Revan (in my personal opinion), and that the execution was so poor that they ended up creating… a pretty inconsistent mess that Star Wars Legends Lore completely writes out of the picture by attributing her accomplishments to Visas, the Handmaiden, and the Disciple.The main character of the story is a wonderful concept, much like Kreia. I really love the idea of a character tied up in… I don’t know, the consequences of Revan’s actions, faced with their own culpability in the conflict, and I really do like the Wound in the Force concept, as poorly executed as it was.
And because the main plot was so abysmally botched, so utterly and completely messed up, the poor main character just ends up feeling like a completely bland shell. Unlike Revan, who always had a base personality of sorts, there’s no definitive rhyme or reason to any of the Exile’s lines other than just… kind of a jerk? A bit salty? Insecure? They’re this really cool concept, a war veteran and one of Revan’s best friends, and instead of being cool and adding something vital to the plot as a whole, they just kind of end up being the victim of a bunch of idiots with lightsabers who are either trying to kill them, using them to try to destroy the Force itself, or attempting to use them as bait and then heel face turning and deciding to cut them off from the Force for “their own good”, even though there’s very real evidence that the Exile themselves is not the threat the Galaxy faces.
Which, I guess, brings me to the plot itself.
Where do I even start? I’ve already been attacking the problems of this game, but the plot itself is just… Wow. It’s a mess. At this point, I don’t even know what else to say.
But, again, I’ll start with something complimentary. The game, first of all, has great concepts, as I’ve already mentioned. I love the fact that it challenges the Jedi Order’s perfection while still maintaining that they’re basically good. I also love that its Sith are different because, frankly, they come from a different place, much like Revan came from a different place than the rest of the Sith in most conventional senses. I also really like the first two worlds — Peragus and Telos connect really well together and are genuinely a joy to play. I felt like the game had potential… up until I got off of Telos.
After Telos it’s rushed and disjointed. All of the things it established early on — that you lost your connection to the Force, that the Jedi Order knew what happened to you, that you had fought in the war and were deeply affected by it, that Bao-Dur was your old war friend — were either cast aside completely, not expounded upon enough, explained away on Dantooine without any foreshadowing whatsoever, or expanded on only by Kreia being philosophical about them in dialogues.
It’s not like Revan, where the fact that you were Revan was hinted at the entire game, and every world and character interaction explained more about the world. It could be argued that Revan is overpowered, but Revan being overpowered is explained by the story — it’s power for a reason. With the Exile’s story, everything was information dumped in the last moment or cryptically hinted at, and the main conflict with Nhillus, while I understand his purpose as a red herring villain, feels pointless because Nhillus doesn’t have a personality. He’s just some weird, creepy Force Vampire. Even Bandon has more personality and motivation and was mentioned in the plot before he actually showed up to kill Revan and capture Bastila.
But the thing I hate the most about the plot, the thing that bothers me and will bother me until I figure out how to rewrite the game, is the final scene with the three Jedi Masters on Dantooine. It comes out of nowhere. There’s all this vague hinting that something is wrong with your character but the player is never given enough to guess what it actually is, whereas the player is certainly given enough to guess the Revan plot twist. More than that, it casts Kavar and Kaz-Eli completely out of what had been established as their character. The fact that they reveal this unprecedented thing to the character and then attempt to cut you off from the Force for your own good when you are clearly not the threat the Galaxy is face is ridiculous, especially since the entire reason they went into hiding was to avoid being destroyed by the Sith. You are the only one who has been effective against the Sith at all, so cutting you off from the Force feels like it’s actually counter to their goals in some ways.
In the words of Palpatine: typical Jedi arrogance.
This doesn’t touch on some of the other major issues I have with the game, like the fact that Atris’ downfall wasn’t foreshadowed, or the fact that it’s actually inconsistent with the original game in many places. It completely rewrites Malachor, for example, based on what Canderous had explained of the battle in the first game. I think, though, that covers my main grievances.
And in spite of all this, I’ll still replay the game. There’s enough about it that I do like that I’ll want to relive it again. More than that, though, I’ll be driven to uncover every bit of dialogue that I can, especially if it pertains to Revan. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll finally figure out how I would have written it.