It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since Bioware delivered their landmark epic, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). Developed as the first Bioware RPG on the original Xbox, it was an original sprawling journey that was completely faithful to the Star Wars universe we all love. The idea of playing this game on an iPad seems impossible, but with the efforts of Aspyr Media, KOTOR is on iOS fully intact.
In many ways, KOTOR helped set the foundation for what a Western RPG was to console gamers. In a time when Japan dominated the scene with its linear storylines telling the tales of defined characters, KOTOR weaved in a different direction. Upon choosing the character class of your choice, you mold your customized character in a way that most speaks to you. From there, you can develop skills and attributes that will define how you play the game. If you’ve played modern role playing titans like Skyrim of Fallout, this setup will seem very familiar.
Upon creating your character, the Star Wars universe opens up to an epic story threaded together by Bioware. With full voiceover work and conversation branches to steer engagements, you have a good level of freedom to respond to situations as you see fit. KOTOR responds to how you behave in this universe through registering your actions as virtuous or selfish, reflecting whether you are on the Light or Dark side of the Force. Your reputation is molded from your conduct in the main quests, side quests, and conversations with non-playable characters. Your character’s cosmetic appearance reflects where you are in the Force, which was, and still is, a cool touch.
While the story in KOTOR is exciting to experience, the gameplay was extremely addictive a decade ago, and it largely stands the test of time. As you encounter enemies, you trigger round-based combat where you can use melee, ranged, and Force attacks. Upon queuing up your commands, you have to physically move your characters into position to land attacks. As you meet new characters in the main quest, you can switch between them to vary your strategies and attacks to tackle more complex combat situations. KOTOR has a great feedback system letting you know how you’ve gained XP and leveled up, and the loot drops are great for finding unique items or reselling them to earn monetary credits.
The biggest question we had about KOTOR is how well could it make the transition from a controller to a touchscreen. The answer is extremely well, though not perfect. The menu systems are ported over flawlessly. Moving between inventory systems to quest logs to skill systems is extremely smooth. Maneuvering in the world of KOTOR is where things get a little muddier. Moving around feels okay, but my instinct to move around with one thumb while looking around with the other is a hindrance because the games does not support multi-touch. Despite playing the game for hours, it feels like a massive oversight that adds frustration in some of the more complex battle situations. With that small adjustment, KOTOR on iOS would move much closer to removing the control interface from a player’s consciousness.
KOTOR painted a beautiful view of the Star Wars universe 10 years ago, and it still looks great today on a Retina iPad. Art assets look sharp, though they admittedly lack some the richer texture detail many current games have. The different locales feature the hustle and bustle of humans, droids, and aliens frolicking around, and the environments are a beneficiary of excellent design. On top of that, the responsiveness and frame rate are on point. Despite its age, KOTOR does not look or sound dated at all.
Squeezing in the full experience of this legendary 30+ hour RPG gives me confidence that anything is possible with the horsepower underneath the hood of today’s mobile devices. KOTOR is a landmark accomplishment for the iPad and the iOS platform; I do not hesitate to award it our highest honor as a quintessential Must-Have experience.