A great game can be timeless. While video games as a medium suffer the most from anachronisms caused by rapidly developing technology, a well-designed game can overcome technological hurdles and modern design expectations. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a groundbreaking achievement for developer BioWare in 2003, and nearly 20 years later it continues to succeed as a gripping and engaging role-playing game, even if it could have used a few modern tweaks to complement its classic design.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the Nintendo Switch is clearly a game that was released on the original Xbox. The fidelity of the graphics, especially the character models, animations and textures, is dated. The user-interface is laughably nostalgic with its giant, clunky, and awkward menus. While the game certainly looks old, it doesn’t look bad, thanks to impeccable art design and clever use of spatial imagery to convey scope and scale. It may look old, but it looks and feels like a Star Wars story, and there is nothing graphically that gets in the way of the gameplay and storytelling. The voice-acting, sound effects, and music still hold up and help lift up the overall presentation. The game runs well on the Nintendo Switch, and the friendly save system makes the game well-suited for handheld play. However, the game did crash on me a handful of times, so saving often is recommended to avoid losing progress because of game stability issues.
Set 4000 years before the saga of the Galactic Empire in the core Star Wars canon, Knights of the Old Republic weaves a terrific tale that is as engaging and compelling today as it was in 2003. In addition to a great core narrative, the game features fantastic interactions between various party members and meaningful side quests that lead to meaningful choices for the player. In classic BioWare fashion, players will need to make choices that will veer a player towards the “light” and “dark” side of the force, and the outcomes of decisions aren’t always clear. While the emphasis on character interaction and side quests can lead to some meandering at times, they work with the core narrative to create a setting that feels alive and authentic. Side activities and mini-games, including the addictive card game Pazaak, are frequent and often provide their own great moments of word-building and storytelling. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic offers a clinic on authentic world-building and delivering compelling narratives in that world, and the dedication to the Star Wars setting and its characters represents BioWare at its best.
The core gameplay still holds up surprisingly well. The behind-the-scenes mechanics implement Dungeons and Dragons-style attributes and resolutions using a d20, which can lead to some frustrating encounters and results. Early combat encounters in the game are particularly hilarious, as the number of low-level characters fire wildly until a lucky combatant finally rolls high enough to actually hit someone. As characters progress and gain more powers (especially Jedi powers and weaponry) and gain new companions with different abilities, combat becomes more strategic and engaging. Using BioWare’s classic “pausing” method, players can pause combat to give specific commands to the player character and the two accompanying companions. The system is a little clunky to use because of the controls, but the overall combat and resolution mechanics still work well.
The core gameplay and narrative of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic still hold up well and create an immensely enjoyable experience. However, a few minor updates might have been appreciated with this remastered version from developer Aspyr. A fast-travel option between at least some points in the various locations would have been helpful and cut down on the endless backtracking required to complete side quests. While there is a rudimentary fast-travel system to quickly return to a central location to heal and tend to the party, it is extremely limited and only takes you between one point and the home base at a time. The areas themselves aren’t terribly large, but they are just big enough to become frustrating running across them to talk to an NPC just to be told to run all the way back to where you started. Traversing these areas is only made more frustrating by the absolutely useless mini-map. The mini-map is small and only shows a limited area around the player; I almost never used it and had to keep returning to the clunky menu screen to access the main map of the level. And while the main character and battle controls are still functional, they could have used an update to operate at least a little more smoothly.
Despite some dated design elements that could have used a few modern adjustments, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is as playable and engaging today as it was when it was released in 2003. The core gameplay mechanics still work well with the excellent world-building and storytelling, and being able to play a classic in handheld mode makes it an attractive purchase on the Nintendo Switch. Much like the Millenium Falcon, it may look worn-out and past its prime, but this old bucket of bolts can still jump to hyperspace and deliver a great ride.
- A modern classic plays that well in handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch
- Compelling world-building, characters, storytelling
- Rewarding quests and character progression
- Commanding a wookie, a droid, and a Jedi in battle is still delightful
- Controls and mini-map could have used some modern adjustments
- Dated graphics
- No fast-travel creates a lot of frustrating backtracking
- Some stability issues
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is now available on Nintendo Switch. A review code was provided by publisher and developer Aspyr.