I have either one or two more KOTOR 2 related posts in the queue. Sorry if this is a deathly boring subject to you, by now. Sadly since I have been having fun playing this game instead of doing bigger and better things, this is what I want to talk about now. So I can either continue blogging my KOTOR experience or grasp at straws talking about subjects that I haven’t spent much time researching, or getting to know. And no, you don’t get to pick which one of these things I will be writing about. :P
I’m actually nearly done with the game. I suspect that I have less than an hour of actual game play left – at judging from the way story is unfolding. Then again this game tends to do a lot of tension breaker like stuff, when it makes you play as one of the secondary characters for a while just as your main team is about to confront the big bad guy. This probably means I will finish the game before the week is over – all I have to do is to find 2-3 hours of spare time one of these days. Once I’m done I plan to talk about the story and the characters at length. I’m holding back on this because nearly every single character on board of Ebon Hawk seems to have some hidden agenda, or some sort of secret and I have not uncovered all of them yet. When I started this game I really didn’t expect much from these folks. Now they grew into a rather interesting bunch. They do seem to have minds of their own, and when you are not looking they are plotting, scheming and doing things that may hinder your progress. Once the game is finished I will know where each of them stands a little bit better as there are several things up in the air at the moment.
Today I wanted to discuss something else – the lightsaber combat as depicted in the game. I will be nitpicking here, but please keep in mind that I’m actually immensely enjoying this game for it’s story, and dialogs. While the mechanics is really easy and intuitive, I think that close combat is a far cry from what you would expect from a Star Wars game.
The combat is real time, but dice based. While the urgency and excitement is usually a factor in every important confrontation there is no twitch based hacking and slashing in this game. There are still loosely defined “rounds” in this game, as there is a set amount of time that must elapse between each action. You can queue them up – usually 5 at a time, specifying whether the character should make a standard attack, a power attack, or perhaps use a medkit or a force power instead. This is a perfectly valid and serviceable system and I don’t mind that at all – especially since you can pause the game to give orders to all your characters (and the game auto-pauses when you encounter an enemy). Or you can let them fend for themselves. I found out that the friendly AI is actually pretty decent. You can assign your team mates specific roles (eg, ranged, aggressive, use force powers, etc..) and they act as expected. Characters with jedi support role for example will keep healing you when your HP are low, and keep casting buffs throughout the fight. Low level Jedi end to burn through all their force points before the fight is over, but that issue goes away with time as they gain more FP each level.
In addition to roles game also gives you the so called “lightsaber forms” which are distinct combat styles that give you bonuses in certain situations. There is one form that makes you better at deflecting blaster bolts, one that is good for fighting many enemies, one that is best against other Jedi and few that either make you regenerate your FP faster or which make your force powers better. All in all it is a decent range of styles – there is one problem with them. They all seem to look the same, and the bonuses they offer so small that it makes them largely irrelevant. For example I was able to defeat a major Sith lord who was supposed to be totally bad ass dude, without ever switching out of the standard Shii-Cho style which is said to be an anti-mob technique that is not supposed to work well against other Jedi. So while they are a nice touch, and they do use proper names from the SW expanded universe lore, they really don’t do much in game terms.
This is what the combat looks like. My biggest problem with it – the thing that irked me the most was the lightsaber combat itself looked a little bit like this:
- you encounter a mob of low level bad guys, and the game auto pauses
- you select the closest enemy with your Jedi character and fill up the queue with attack orders
- you un-pause the game and watch your jedi Jedi run up to the opponent
- *whack* *whack* *whack*
- The enemy just got 3 direct hits with a lightsaber but his HP is only slightly below 50%. You will need to score 3 or 4 more hits to actually kill him.
In other words, the most deadly weapon in the SW universe seems to have been reduced to nothing more than a glowing night stick. Anyone who has watched Star Wars movies, and saw lightsabers in action will agree that this goes against everything that we know about these weapons. I won’t say it’s unrealistic, since the concept of lightsaber itself is a bit far fetched. Nevertheless they are depicted as being able to cut through steel like a knife cuts through butter. Getting hit by a lightsaber is usually either fatal, crippling or instantly incapacitating. KOTOR however treats it like a glowing club with a respectable but not deadly damage attribute. In effect you whack a low level, poorly armored opponent 5-6 times to actually kill him. A boss level opponent can easily take 20 or more direct hits like that without even flinching.
I know why this is done. It is a HP based combat system – which means you roll to hit, then you roll for damage, adjust for armor value and subtract that value from opponent’s HP. It’s the staple D20 mechanic, and we all know it very well from tabletop games. Someone somewhere sat down, and calculated exactly how many hit points an average dude should have, and what should be the damage potential of each weapon to make combat interesting. Introducing one-hit-kill weapon would make this system very unbalanced. The player would effortlessly cut through hordes of bad guys who would no longer pose any challenge making regular combat almost an inconvenient chore. Conversely boss level fights would become incredibly frustrating as a single unfavorable roll could instantly end the game (since we are trying to be true to the movies, lightsaber should be equally deadly for both sides). This would surely ruin the fun for most players – or at least those who are not fast enough with the quick save button.
Shamus Young of Twenty Sided Tale already wrote a great post about an alternative dueling mechanic which would result in much more realistic looking combat that does not rely on the old HP concept. I think it is a great idea, albeit quite complicated one – and applying it to a game such as KOTOR would require a complete overhaul of the gaming mechanic.
I thought about it for a while, and I believe that few small tweaks could achieve a similar desired cinematic effect without totally throwing out the HP system. First let’s make the lightsabers and vibroblades lethal. A lightsaber should instantly kill a human sized enemy ignoring any or all armor. Vibroblades should have similar effect on unarmored enemies, but have a tougher time against heavy armored opponents. Big beasts and droids may still require 3-4 lightsaber hits since they will likely have more HP than your average Jedi (they should at least). Yes, I know – I totally unbalanced the game just now and did exactly what I said would spoil all the fun. Bear with me though, I’m not done yet. Next we throw away the HP bar in close combat. Instead we replace it with a focus meter as per Shamus’ dueling rules. The focus meter is a stand-in for HP. Each time you parry a blow, it goes down. If it drains down to zero, you fail to defend yourself and die. The focus should be recovered slowly at pace similar to your FP regeneration and force buffs such as Battle Meditation or Force Valor should give you an instant focus boost or speed up it’s regeneration. We could even add a dedicated focus recovery powers. There are tons of various combat drugs and stims in this game, so we would make some of them boost up your focus as well, making them extremely useful and sought after.
We don’t really have to implement other ideas in Shamus’ article like stamina, saber locks and etc. The focus concept is both simple, and brilliant. We are essentially using the exact same gaming mechanic but lightsaber combat now looks true to the films. No need to muck up the working system with any more rules. It’s a simple change but it makes a world of difference. Though, if we wanted to do more mucking around, we could look at the Lightsaber forms.
I mentioned them above for a reason. I never found much use for them, but we could make them vastly more important. Instead of offering minor buffs in certain situations they could be made into something that is absolutely crucial to victory. We would redefine all the styles, and make them into a sort of rock-paper-scissors matching game. To increase your chances of winning you would have to use the right style.
For example the Soresu form hailed as the ultimate defensive style for example would minimize the amount of focus you could lose. So your opponent would have to break a sweat and go all out on flurries and power attacks to actually make a dent. As a downside, it would severely limit your offensive capability making your blows having similarly small impact on your enemy’s focus bar.
The beginner Shii-Cho style would be great for fighting many opponents at the same time (sweeping blows damaging everyone in range) but useless in duels against someone using the Makashi form designed to drain maximum amount of focus per blow against lightsaber armed opponents, but totally useless fighting mobs, or deflecting blaster bolts.
The Ataru form (most recognizable as the crazy ass style which Yoda uses in the prequels) would employ acrobatic attacks from all angles would make you hard to hit (thus preventing the enemy from draining your focus with a barrage of blows) but would drain your FP as you jump around all over the place.
The Niman form also known as diplomats form would let you substitute your focus with FP to allow Jedi Consulars and scholars to fare well against combat oriented opponents. The Vaapad form would make your attacks devastating, but leave you open to attacks doubling the focus damage you suffer.
And so on – I guess you can catch the drift here. Instead of minor bonus to certain rolls, you make it a crucial element of your strategy. To be successful you would have to train your characters in the right styles, and then apply right combinations for a given opponent.
This is really what I was thinking when fighting all these opponents in the game. How much better it would be if the designers could have read that Twenty Sided post before releasing the KOTOR games. But I think they would need a time machine to do that, as these games seem to be what brought about that article. :P
Anyways, while I’m nitpicking, I must show you this:
How do you prevent bunch of armed Jedi from getting onto your property? It’s easy, you make a knee high barrier out of big stone slabs with huge gaps in it. It’s full proof against force jumps and lightsabers that can easily melt through rock. It seems that towards the end of the game, designers were getting lazier. Dantoine is so full of insurmountable waist high fences that it’s not even funny. This game mechanic was not so evident in places such as Narr Shadda (with it’s bottomless pits and high walls), Isis (natural city scape) or Korriban (ruins everywhere). Dantoine however is supposed to have these large open areas and spanning vistas – so the level designers opted for the easy way out.
Next KOTOR post will be about the story which is excellent, and the characters who despite my initial comments turned out to be very interesting. I think I said enough negative things about this game for now. :)
[tags]kotor 2, knights of the old republic, sith lords, games[/tags]