If you haven’t already been sold by the news title then you have no heart. Joking aside, Lucasarts have announced plans to release additional Star Wars avatar items on the Xbox Live Marketplace, to somewhat coincide* with the release of The Force Unleashed 2. This includes the ability to purchase your very own Ewok as an Avatar pet.

When I heard they were making a turn-based Star Wars RPG set in the Old Republic days I said ‘pass’. After I finished Splinter Cell 2 and had nothing else to play, having cancelled my Star Wars: Galaxies subscription due to lameness, I installed Knights of the Old Republic and played it for a few minutes. I didn’t really like it all that much. I was used to Jedi Knight, jumping around wildly with my lightsaber and kicking ass in real time. My girlfriend Sabrina suggested I give it another shot when I told her how I felt about it, she said maybe it will take some getting used to, because I don’t play many RPGs. And she was right, I played it for another couple of hours and immediately got hooked on the storyline and even the gameplay. Much to Sabrina’s displeasure I spent a few hours a day before and after work playing until I finished it (light side.)

And then I found out they were already making a second one.

I was a little bit wary when I found out that Bioware wouldn’t be involved with Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Those fears were eliminated when I discovered that Obsidian Entertainment would be handling the job with many former Black Isle employees (you’ll remember Black Isle from such RPGs as Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale.) That alone should tell you that they’re taking this sequel seriously.

The Sith Lords will take place four thousand years before Episode I, meesa so happy, and five years after the first game. If you played the first one I’m sure you remember the Jedi’s position wasn’t too hot at the end, even though you prevailed. From what I understand in the second installment the Jedi’s position is even worse and the Sith are wreaking havoc. Enter Darth Scion, a man you can barely call a man, every bone in his body was shattered and is now held together by the force of his will. His life is constant pain, only the Dark Side is keeping him alive. Looks like we’re going to have our work cut out for us.

Aiding us in our quest this time around will be more than thirty new force powers. I’m not sure how they’re pulling that off but some of the new powers will include force confusion, which you can use to turn weak-minded enemies against each other, and force sight, which will let you see through doors, and maybe clothes? Other than Darth Scion there will be a challenging cast of enemies and helping you on your way will be a new cast of characters, those of you who loved the old cast will be happy to learn that there will be some cameos. I haven’t been able to find any specific information on the cast but hopefully the homicidal robot made the cut.

Right away I can see KOTOR 2 having one problem, Obsidian is using the old Bioware engine to do the graphics and in the screenshots I’ve seen that next to no improvements have been made. I know it’s early yet but the in game graphics look almost identical to the first installment, cut scenes still look good though. It’s REALLY early to complain about character wardrobe but, once again, what I’ve seen so far doesn’t look all that different from what we saw in the last game. Obsidian has plenty of time to clean that up before release though, and even if they don’t if the plot and the side plots are new and fresh, and they keep the racing, then I’m sure The Sith Lords will be taking away its share of awards come December 2004.

I loved the Jedi Knight series, especially the last one, and I was a big fan of the first Knights of the Old Republic game. But what if I wanted to be a clone trooper? In the original trilogy they’re the bad guys we all (by we here I mean mid 20 year olds to mid 30s) grew up watching, hating, and loving. In the new prequel trilogy they’re the good guys, the only army standing between the republic and the dreaded separatists. You’ve heard of Navy SEALs, the Rangers, the SAS, and Rainbow Six. How would you like to play a member of an elite forces branch of the clone army? Behind enemy lines, fighting Geonosians and Trandoshans? Lucasart’s new FPS is banking that you’d like to do just that.

Star Wars Republic Commando could be the next biggest thing for Lucasarts. Set to be released around February of 2005, coincidentally just before Episode III, Republic Commando has a lot to offer. The game’s mechanics are squad based, first person shooter. You’ll lead a four man contingent of Commandos who will struggle to complete various missions through three campaigns featuring ten plus enemies, including Trandoshans and Geonosians, and fourteen levels. You’ll have an extensive array of weapons at your disposal but the most innovative feature of this game will be the One Touch Squad Control system. I don’t know about you guys but the original Rainbow Six got frustrating for me, designing routes, having to command the troops, checkpoints, eventually I just went in solo on every mission. Lucasarts designed the One Touch system to simplify this problem, with the touch of a button you can engage the enemy. Looks like I won’t have to go in solo anymore.

The screenshots for Republic Commando are all beautiful, it looks like they’ll be a fair share of Doom style darkness as you sneak through enemy territory to fulfill mission objectives but it doesn’t look like that will detract from the gameplay at all. The forest settings on Kashyyyk (Wookiee homeworld for the Star Wars uninitiated) are excellently done and will leave you roaring like a Wookiee as you fight beside them. Screenshots are up at Lucasart’s own site for the game as well as some interesting videos including a walkthrough of Kashyyyk narrated by one of the game’s producers. If this game looks appealing, and if it doesn’t then you’ve never picked up a wrapping paper tube and declared yourself someone’s father, then the videos are definitely worth some time to check out. Seeing the crisp graphics and level design does far more justice than my ability to describe them here.

Are their problems with the game? Not that I’ve been able to discover with the modest amount of information I’ve been able to dig up so far. Will there be disappointments? The only one I can see is for all the people who will constantly ask when you get your lightsaber, there will be no lightsabers. Accept it now and enjoy the game for what it is. I’ve been looking forward to Republic Commando since I heard of its announcement quite some time ago and I’ve been chafing over the 2005 release date ever since. Maybe I don’t agree with Lucasart’s marketing ploys but I can’t argue with the quality of games that they make.