Thursday, May 1, 2014

Star Wars KOTOR II Playthrough Pt 3 - Starting Dantooine, Nar Shaddaa, Subquests

After messing around in Dantooine, I decided to try another planet out, Nar Shaddaa, and ran into the Visas Marr recruitment plot. I forgot how weird she is. Obsidian games often have that weird Blood Omen/Soul Reaver thing where you look into another character or subplot and find yourself looking into a Bizarro-Home mirror of your own perspective. Pick up enough characters and do enough subplots and you end up in a Hall of Mirrors.

Visas and Darth Nihilius have a Force Bond based upon a trauma inflicted upon the younger of the two. You and Kreia have a Force Bond based upon trauma inflicted upon the younger of the two. Her experience with the other side of the Force caused her to reconsider black-and-white morality. You had an experience with the other side of the Force that caused you to reconsider black-and-white morality. Mass murder of a clan, blindness, warfare, allegiances, the whole bit. And with Visas' redemption (again, presuming canon light side), more is added to the sense of oddness to how so plot-important the Exile is, and more questions are raised as to what exactly the Jedi Order did, and why.


I don't need to tell you about the famous bug that allows you to skip almost all combat in Fallout by activating combat then turning it off before the end of your turn. I've found KOTOR has similar jankiness in its combat when I got to the Visas Mar fight - I used the menu and Cancel Combat to glitch her into not attacking me, long enough to use every stimpack, shield, and buff I had in my arsenal to win. It was doubly funny since she acted astonished by my skill with a weapon just afterwards, not as though I had cheated like crazy.

It's not as though pre-combat boosters haven't been a funny part of DND games for a while but it's pretty goofy to see it done in Star Wars.


Atton's storyline doesn't take too long to get through, mostly cause he's the first character you get to interact with, so you can pretty quickly shoot up the Influence chain. It's not bad - in fact I quite like that Kreia tags him as a murderer so you know he's not what he seems right up front - but it gets pretty silly at the end.

The good parts are good. I dig that in a game that presents Jedi warriors and dudes with vibroblades and smugglers with guns and some butch lady with a staff as equals, they actually give you reasons that it should be the case within relative 'power levels,' to use a term I hate. I'll talk about this later. Atton's resilience and his ability to kill Jedi by creating impassable walls of emotions, which are Echani combat methods - something Kreia, interestingly enough, had no problem bypassing - helps give you logical connectivity to how he can be so skilled.

And, in his case, it also sent him down this extremely fucked up path where he was burying himself deeper and deeper in murdering/capturing Jedi to be broken and turned into Sith soldiers. And because of that experience, he's a powerful ally (if not entirely trustworthy). You get all the fun Han Solo-isms with a backstory of how he's a trained Jedi assassin, thus facilitating how he's got backstab scores in-game, and out of game explaining how he's so helpful to your cause. The game and the story work harmoniously together to show you who Atton is, and it's great.

The downside of this is that the end of his story arc is pretty...goofy. Like, I understand the intent - a woman Jedi tried to save his life by showing him the Force, and he responded with violence and murder because he understood nothing else, and that choice he made hurt him so badly it sent him down a path of self-loathing and depression that gave him his false bravado you see as his Han Solo wit. But man, every time I try to get through it, the weird structure and delivery on "I thought I would love to kill her, but in the end, I killed her because I loved her."

It does make sense when you think about it, since only afterwards could he realize he loved someone and his reaction was based in fear, but man it took me a while to unfold that from the line itself. It just sounds really silly.


You know how the perspective on Superman and DC heroes vs Marvel heroes always has this really weird concept of how characters are 'too powerful' for a story, and how bullshit it is? One thing that Star Wars manages to do - within context of the films, of course - is present the Jedi as special, but not Gods. They can be killed just like anyone else, it's just way harder, if not borderline impossible.

The problem with tackling this sort of subject in a video game is that you have to go in picking which it is for balance's sake - are Jedi juggernauts of combat, or are they just like anyone else? The pen-and-paper RPG set aside the varying classes with their own specializations that work within context, whereas most other games like Force Unleashed and Battlefront present them as combat machines. So you have Jedi Guardians who are skilled melee fighters, Sentinels who are non-combat focused trained, and Consulars who are spellcasters through and through.

But then you have Soldiers who are tougher and, unlike the Jedi, use armor and guns, Scoundrels who get sneak attack bonuses and can stealth with camo gear, and Scouts which were so pointless they added Tech Specialist so they'd keep the combat/skills/support trifecta alive. To compare to DND, Soldiers and Scoundrels fall on a Warrior/Rogue sliding scale, whereas Jedi Guardians and Consulars are more Monk/Wizard. Armorless, specialized combatants with superpowers vs normal guys who are really good at their chosen profession.

KOTOR II continues that by going to great lengths to address why your party members are special, both in the world they have balanced among Jedi and in gameplay. This is what I was talking about at with regards to Atton above. So Handmaiden has powerful Echani fighting disciplines but also Force sensitivity, Kreia has one lopped off hand but also a Force Bond with the Exile, Atton has a past of being a Jedi assassin, Bao-Dur has his electrical field arm, and so on. The game reflects on the characters, and back again - especially when they start class-changing.


I've always wanted to like Handmaiden. Maybe it's the soft spot I have for unnaturally colored short hair, or tough-ass ladies who are no nonsense, or the fact that she's got an exceptionally great voice actress, Grey DeLisle, aka fucking Azula, from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Which, from her hilarious Wikipedia photo, is kind of funny since she looks more like Mai.

I haven't finished the game yet but I don't remember feeling too strongly about her romantic subplot, despite liking her character a lot. I don't remember what her big secret is at the end of her Influence path, so for now I'm passively curious about the pretty front-liner I've got in my party. And, can I just say how immensely relieving it is to finally have a proper soldier in the front lines? I remember my friend talking about how he got his Consular to endgame of KOTOR II, as Light Side, and would walk into every room and spam Force Storm until everything died, but god the early game is such a slog without a Guardian.

I honestly feel like you're supposed to be a woman, and Atton is supposed to be your romantic interest. Handmaiden's a little too 'tragic past only the hero can fix,' despite all the positive takes when you first meet her. I don't remember anything about Disciple. Bastila, despite the goofy ass romance, was always fantastic. She's funny, tough, smart, and has a lot more going for her, most of which is Jen Hale's terrific Hurley-like British voice. Male Revan felt at home with Bastila - Male Exile is such a weird place to be, where the romantic interest feels token instead of on purpose. This game really wanted you to play a lady.

Meanwhile, earlygame, Atton gets all the best dialogue with FemExile. It's just that perfect level of "I'm really not sure if you're flirting or actually hate each other." And given Chris Avelone's writing history, it feels so much more natural to gravitate towards him. He's got the higher highs and the lower lows - he's funnier, more charming, expresses more overt interest, and meanwhile he's got the darkest of dark pasts and could not be worse for you.

One weird thing about this game - as a guy, he's practically invisible. There's no real connection between the maleExile and Atton beyond teammates forced together. He doesn't carry that same Garrus/manShep bromance that made ME2 and 3 so endearing. I don't know if this is part of the rushed content that never got to polish, but it would not surprise me. KOTOR II could really have used some attention to the finer points.


Man, getting a lightsaber in KOTOR I was a totally weak experience. The quest tried to be heavy but it felt less like a trial you have to go through and more like a checklist of themes to go across. I don't think even the construction itself made much sense. And worse yet, when you go to Tattooine (I think it's the first planet), you get attacked by Sith assassins, and you go, "Hey, cool, lightsabers!" So now a group of Jedi on Tattooine are running around in Sith robes and wielding red lightsabers, and nobody goes, "Wait, what?" There's no real personal investment into it, nothing you - the player - have to do to, it's just Q+A and then pick a color.

I can't help but remember that dumb scene in Episode II where Yoda is training kids wielding lightsabers to deflect blaster bolts, even though it's been established that getting a lightsaber is not only a big deal, it's the equivalent of samurai gempukku. You have to make it yourself, and it means you're ready to start carrying one. There's a ton of symbolism involved in it as well as the Padawan braid severing that's completely lost the minute eight year olds are toying with plastic tubes and Industrial Light and Morons colors in a green beam coming out of it.

I might feel differently if I tried it again, but I don't remember liking it. There's no real integration to gameplay - it feels like a foregone conclusion that you're going to get one, not so much teased as delayed.

Obsidian took something given little thought put into it and made an entire subquest out of it. You don't just get a lightsaber. You don't even know where to start. You have to get Bao-Dur, who knows how to build one since he's your tech guy. Then you need three components, one of which you get from the Czerka/Ithorian quest on the first planet. The second is through the Visas Marr fight after you try to leave a planet the first time. Another is buried in any number of subquests on Nar Shaddaa. And, from what I understand, it's perfectly possible to ignore most of them and pick it up in another planet. You could, quite conceivably, spend most of the game building up to it, or rush through to get to it early.

The personal investment of how you get the quest - through helping/screwing over the Ithorians, sneaking into a Hutt's personal safe, fighting off a Sith Assassin sent to kill you, and/or meeting a Jedi Master in hiding. These are all the struggles a Jedi has to deal with on a regular basis. Thematically, it's what makes a Jedi become one. And since you are returning to what you once were, you have to build it back, piece by piece.


Quests are too boring to talk about, so we'll bring that up next time.