BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was - to some of us - the best game in 2004 and clearly one of the titles of the year regardless of your genre bias. It comes as no surprise that publishers LucasArts have confirmed a sequel is in the making, but it's welcome news and here are the first details.
The game is called Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords and is being developed by Obsidian Entertainment - a trusted developer that Bioware have a strong relationship with.
It's worth making it clear at the outset that the game mechanics, gameplay and structure remain pretty much the same as the original. So expect light and dark mechanics, free roaming gameplay, open structured story, three-character party, very similar battle interface, the Ebon Hawk, Pazaak, swoop racing and so on. However, there are quite a lot of tweaks, additions and general fiddling with the game engine.
Sith Lords is set five years on from KOTOR's conclusion: the Republic has spiralled downward into a vicious free-for-all, the Jedi have disbanded after a civil war and you play the last remaining Jedi. Ooh, we like.
So, unlike in the first game you actually start out as a Jedi. However, this is a bit of red herring. You still won't begin the game with a lightsaber and your Jedi Force powers will be limited as before. But hey, you've just returned from exile and the world's a mess - it takes time to get back into the flow. Not that much time though, and you'll be getting your hands on a lightsaber and ramping up those Jedi powers long before frustration sets in.
So what are the real differences? Well, your leanings towards the light or dark side now has an effect on your party. Start going dark and your team will be influenced by your nefarious ways and begin acting likewise. Which all makes sense to us as it did seem a bit strange that you could be holier than thou or sadistically warped in the first game and it made little difference to those around you beyond the odd 'tsk' here and there.
Also new is the choice of two different weapon configurations that is applied to each character and which works off quick-selection buttons - so flipping between the two during fights should be a breeze. We really like this, it's simple, easily applied and yet will make battles all the more instinctive, while giving you something else to tinker about with when sorting out your characters.
It appears that the upgrading element in the game has received some attention. Travelling the seven worlds of Sith Lords you'll pick up plenty of gear and while upgrading works similarly to KOTOR's system, now your balance of skills will play a greater role on whether an upgrade is available to you.
We're told to expect more side quests this time around, and that's probably the best news of all. The fact that more quests will involve picking just one of your allies to accompanying you at certain stages is pure icing. New Force powers are naturally included into the mix. So far we're aware of Dark Side Rage, Battle Meditation (in the first game but not available to your character), Force Sight and Force Clairvoyance.
It all sounds so yummy and, to be frank, it can't come quickly enough. However, Xbox and PC fans of the game will to wait until February 2005 to play it on their respective formats. Still, we have no doubt whatsoever, that it will be worth the wait.