Being the sequel to the finest RPG on any platform in 2003, Star Wars fans the world over breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was announced that Knights of the Old Republic 2 was being developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a company formed from the ashes of Black Isle, who were responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed RPGs of recent years; namely Planescape: Torment and the Fallout series. There was also fevered anticipation that Obsidian wouldn't simply rehash the original, but build upon and refine the game, and provide a tale of less clear-cut morality.
Here, all these expectations have been realised. Whilst the base game engine is the same as in KotOR, the tone of the game is very different, and several tweaks have been made to both the interface and the game mechanics. All these tweaks add subtlety and extra depth to the game, though newcomers might be bemused by the additions to the Workbench system, and the wider range of item upgrades that can be produced. The ability to build your own weapons and items like implants or health packs is a welcome improvement, with your skills and attributes directly influencing the things you can build.
'the game refreshingly shifts focus away from the protagonist at several points'
Likewise, the addition of Lightsaber Forms (fighting styles that you can change to make you adapt your stance according to the enemies you face, which also alter the attack animations), prestige classes, new character feats and Force Powers all significantly enhance the way you can customise your lead character. Also, in an effort to prevent you from simply using the same three characters throughout the entire game (one of the original game's few flaws), the game refreshingly shifts focus away from the protagonist at several points, forcing you to use the majority of the other characters in your party.
There is also a feeling of continuity in your party, as several characters from the original game make reappearances: some in little more than a cameo, others as full-fledged members of your party. Obsidian have acknowledged the popularity of HK-47 by not only having him return, but by incorporating a veritable army of successor HK-50 droids into the plot, all manifesting his trademark illustrative prefixing of statements and homicidal attitude. A couple of planetary locations from the first game also make a reappearance, though they have been slightly modified, in accordance with the events taking place in the five years between the two games.
It's here where you start to get your first inkling that things aren't quite as well developed as they ought to be. If the wholesale reuse of textures and locations from the first game is indicative of a slight lack of imagination or lack of development time, then the absolutely identical overriding quest structure should come as no surprise. This time, it's not star maps you need to find, but Jedi Masters in hiding. Not exactly revolutionising the principle of RPG construction here, are we, Obsidian?
As if that wasn't bad enough, KotOR 2 starts slowly, and takes a lot of time to build up a head of steam. Casual players may indeed lose interest long before the intrigue begins to thicken and you're hooked into the well-written plot. The prologue and tutorial may be skipped if you're a veteran of the prequel, and just as well, given that it doesn't really add much to the overall game experience. The opening planet of Peragus is likewise mostly an exercise is slamming your forehead into a brick wall, thanks to some uninspired level design and a lack of enemy variety. The escape sequence, in which you flee the Peragus mining station from Darth Sion, one of the two curiously underused villains, is a direct copy of the closing scene on the Leviathan in KotOR, and doesn't inspire either the urgency or fear it should, either.