A remake of BioWare’s original Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has long been rumored to be in development at Aspyr Media. Although Aspyr has yet to tackle a project the size of a full remake, the studio was behind the series’ more recent ports, as well as ports of many other Star Wars games.
Many fans will be hoping that a remade Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic could set a new standard for lightsaber battles in Star Wars games. There are some interesting routes Aspyr could go down, as well as some changes that may need to come to Knights of the Old Republic if the remake has a hope of matching the lightsaber fights of other recent Star Wars games.
The Original KOTOR System
While BioWare would later move to real-time combat with the original Mass Effect trilogy, Knights of the Old Republic’s combat system was far more reminiscent of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons than BioWares later efforts. Instead of using realistic lines of sight, for example, KOTOR enemies would only be drawn to the enemy once they were within a certain range.
Similarly, the game used the core attributes common in TTRPGs: Strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. In Dungeons and Dragons these modify the player’s chance of success by providing either a plus or a minus to certain d20 rolls. An intimidation check, for example, uses charisma, and so if the player has a -1 in charisma they’re slightly less likely to succeed once that penalty is applied to their base roll.
Knights of the Old Republic uses a very similar system, just slightly more behind the scenes. When the player attacks a target, as in Dungeons and Dragons, the game itself makes a roll to see if the player hits while accounting for the player's stats. The same applies to skills used in conversation – a hidden dice roll is made, and then modified based on the player’s base stats. As in TTRPGs, the d20 adds an element of randomness to success, while the player character’s modifiers increase the likelihood of certain tactics being more successful.
If Aspyr is tackling the KOTOR remake as reports indicate, the game’s combat system is likely to be one of the most noticeably dated parts, and one the studio will likely consider overhauling entirely. There are some ways lightsaber fights might be changed in the remake.
How KOTOR’s Lightsabers Could Change
There have been plenty of Star Wars games since Knights of the Old Republic dropped back in 2003, providing plenty of different examples of lightsaber mechanics. There are also other games which have developed interesting sword-fight mechanics despite not being in the sci-fi genre.
Games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, for example, has a real-time lightsaber combat system including blocking blows and blaster bolts, and using an array of Force powers in combat. Other games like Ghost of Tsushima developed impressive sword-fighting systems that relied on blocking enemy blows and holding out for the right time to strike, especially in the game’s Lethal difficulty setting.
A Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake has plenty to draw on. It could follow some of the more recent Star Wars games, or it could go back to Star Wars' samurai movie roots by looking at games like Ghost of Tsushima. An overhauled combat system is one of the most likely features to draw new players to the remake. While old fans are likely to be satisfied with a remake focusing on graphics, new players are less so.
However, there may be some big challenges when it comes to overhauling KOTOR’s lightsaber mechanics, despite how many games have developed their own Star Wars-based combat systems since the game’s release nearly twenty years ago.
The Challenges Changing KOTOR’s Core Mechanics
One of the problems with changing a core KOTOR mechanic like its TTRPG-inspired combat system is that the effects of that combat and attribute system extend far beyond individual combat encounters themselves. Because the game does not use realistic lines of site, for example, reworking KOTOR’s combat would also likely require Aspyr Media to make significant changes to the way certain areas are laid out.
When exploring the sewers beneath Taris to rescue Zalbaar in one of the game’s early moments, for example, the player can open certain doors and clearly see their enemies in the next room, planning their strategy of attack. That’s likely not going to work in a game with real-time combat and more realistic lines of sight, and as a result Aspyr may not be able to rebuild KOTOR’s combat from the ground up without also significantly redesigning other core parts of the game like map layout.
Ultimately this could make a fundamental overhaul of KOTOR’s combat system less likely. It depends on whether Aspyr is truly remaking the Star Wars game – in which case the studio might as well change combat if it’s going to recreate the game from scratch in a new engine – or if it’s remastering the game with a focus on graphics rather than combat.
No matter how ambitious Aspyr is, the studio could find that remaking KOTOR with the kind of lightsaber mechanics found in games like Fallen Order is simply not worth it. Fans of the original may be disappointed but may also find that if the game had updated its combat, it would be unrecognizable in a lot of other ways as well. A remake of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has the chance to set a new standard for lightsaber combat, but there may be good reasons for the studio to stick to what it knows, and create a version of KOTOR which stays true to its TTRPG influences.
A Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake is reportedly in development.