Every Sunday on Eurogamer we pick a feature out of the archive that you might have missed or might enjoy reading again. This week is different. This week we are bringing together all three instalments of John Walker's amazing series, Bastard of the Old Republic, so you can enjoy it in its entirety. This was originally published in 2009 and is one of my favourite things we've ever run. Enjoy. -Tom B
Part 1: A New Bastard
There's something you need to know about me. I'm a good guy. I'm a generally decent person. I have my many faults, and certainly my large share of means to be irritating, rude and bothersome. But ultimately, it's fair to say I'm a kind, reasonable individual. I'm not the sort of person who, for instance, would usually be found mocking victims of bullying, endorsing racism or murdering victims of sexual assault. [I can vouch for this. John Walker is a man of whom I once wrote, "His heart is so big it is possible he has no other organs." - Ed]
When I play a BioWare role-playing game, my characters tend to not only lean toward the nicer side, but almost immediately start twinkling with the magical pixie dust of purity. It's embarrassing, but I just make the decisions I believe I'd really make, and end up that way.
The task I set myself was to play the original Knights of the Old Republic, making the worst, cruellest, most spiteful, murderous and downright evil choices available at every choice. I've played the game before - in fact, it's one of my all-time favourites - but I was the most angelic creature in the galaxy. This wasn't going to be easy. This is the story of mysterious Republic Scoundrel, Simon Evil, and his adventures on the planet Taris.
Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR from now on) was originally released in 2003. By this time the Star Wars franchise had already far outstayed its welcome at LucasArts. The 12 months around KOTOR alone churned out Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds - Saga, Star Wars: Galaxies - An Empire Divided, Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Jedi Academy, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3 - Rebel Strike, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. You can see the problem. And don't forget this was the year between Episode 2's Attack of the Clones and Episode 3's Revenge of the Sith. By this point, Star Wars could piss right off.
KOTOR did something very clever. It set itself 4000 before Lucas's rapidly unravelling stories, releasing itself from the hideousness that the once-so-loved universe had become, able to pick out the best parts of the mythology (Jedis, Sith, droids, the Force, Wookiees and spaceships). BioWare was given a splendid amount of freedom to create its own stories, far enough away not to mess up the canon of the ongoing films, and not necessarily as simplistic as the kid-friendly tosh of the day.
Shortly after a terrible war between the Sith and the Republic, times are still not peaceful. The great big bad Darth Revan is gone, presumed dead, and his prodigy, Darth Malak, is determined to wipe out the remaining Jedi in the galaxy. Together with your motley collection of Star Wars familiars, you travel to various planets, attempting to piece together an ancient Star Map that will lead you to Malak's dastardly Star Forge and stop his evil antics. But before any of that happens, there's the planet Taris to escape.
I picked a Scoundrel because that seemed the most immediately naughty choice. I think an argument could be made for Soldier if I wanted to get all Billy Bragg about it, but Scoundrel it was. Simon Evil, I named him, because it's always funny when you make an RPG have characters call you something silly. I pick the evilest-looking head on offer, bald with a goatee - a clear sign of evilness. And I roll him to show strengths in subterfuge and manipulation, because all the best evil people use these methods. Pointy beards and sinister remarks are the targets aimed for by the stylish baddies. Punching quite hard and being good with weapons, oddly enough, seem far more the domain of the hero. Oh, and he's a man. Because I usually play girls. Men are always more evil.
The story begins on a Republic ship being attacked by Malak's Sith forces, as I desperately raced to get to an escape pod by having a equipment menu tutorial. Few opportunities for malevolence here, beyond refusing to let him explain things to me when I didn't remember how they worked. Which was more stubborn stupidity than anything harmful to others. However, there was soon a chance to be a dick, as the pressing importance of rescuing the Jedi Bastila was explained to me, letting me reply that I couldn't care less, and I wasn't risking my life for her.
Of course, KOTOR isn't going to let you get away with that. For all the remarkable freedom of behaviour it offers you, it's going to drag you kicking and screaming through the main plot no matter how much you petulantly protest. Being an enthusiastic participant disguises this nicely, but rebel against the core plot and it becomes a little awkward as it tells you that you're going to have to do it anyway, so shut up and follow me. However, you do get the pleasure of hearing the shocked reaction of those around you that you'd say such things. "Sounds like Malak and Revan have the right idea," I muttered to my horrified tutorial guide.
Crash-landing on Taris, I was quickly teamed up with Carth Onasi, a Republic pilot and all-round do-gooding mummy's boy. I remembered him well, the whiny-faced snorefest - being mean to him was going to prove no problem at all. He was very insistent that we get to work finding Bastila, while I persisted that finding a way off the Sith-controlled planet was much more important.
Taris, an enormously populated planet, presented its primary troubles as the Sith occupation, who were preventing ships from leaving or arriving, making life hard for tradespeople, and those who wished to buy from them. As well, of course, as making things much tougher for the rogues and villains who wanted to continue their illegal activities. But Taris' real problems went far deeper. Literally. Divided into a three-tiered class system, the Upper levels were primarily for Humans, with aliens working in menial jobs, caretaking in apartments and so on, a few with almost-decent roles working in shops. The Lower levels, beneath the surface city, were a network of crime-infested tunnels, cheap, dangerous accommodation and seedy bars. Then below this, an almost rural underground world of the underclass, the extreme poor living with rampant disease, regularly attacked by monstrous creatures. Just the sorts of people for Simon Evil to prey upon.
Of course, RPGs are always going to have you do things most would consider wrong. Finding a dead body on the ground, who thinks twice before rifling through their pockets to see if they had anything useful? Or an open cupboard in a public area, that no one complains when you open it? That's free stuff, right? But here the opportunities for wrongdoing made these acts feel perfectly mundane.
The first terrible thing I did hurt these poorest people the most. On the surface was a doctor's office. He was a kindly man, assisted by a rather unpleasant and slimy individual, and offered me free treatment. Talking to him like complete dirt, I made it clear that he'd better treat me for free and then began poking around his office. Any locked door was an open invitation to Simon Evil and I immediately busted it open, to the doctor's horror. He was secretly treating the very poorest citizens, for free, against the wishes of the crimelord Davik and the Sith occupiers. The conversation options presented me with wonderful choices, where I could help him in his endeavours, support this altruism and heap praise upon him. I told him that if he didn't give me all the money and health packs he had, I'd report him to the authorities. He handed it all over in a panic. But this wasn't the terrible thing I did.
It hurt to do it. Seriously, I physically winced. People who run illegal clinics in terrifying dictatorships around the world are some of Earth's greatest and bravest heroes. Blackmailing this wonderful man was a horrifying choice to make. But worse was my reaction upon learning that there was a serum that cured the disease that was killing the poor in their thousands. With a sample of this serum, currently controlled by the Sith, he would be able to synthesise enough to give it away and eradicate the disease completely. I had to find that serum and I had to make sure it never got to that doctor.
Fortunately his dreadful assistant offered support with this. He worked for crime boss Davik and told me if I got the serum to a Hutt in the Lower levels, I could get a huge number of Credits for it and he'd take a decent finder's fee. Perfect. I could ensure the continued gruesome deaths of the city's most impoverished people, while also putting the cure in the hands of a man who would charge ridiculous prices to make sure only the rich would benefit.
So after breaking into a few apartments and stealing the paltry property of their terrified occupants who feebly begged for their lives, I stumbled upon a Twi'lek who was auditioning for a prodigious dancing job. She was without a partner and in desperate need. Simon Evil to the rescue! Sure, I'd help her audition. First round I danced just ever so slightly too close to her, upstaging her, which didn't please her greatly. Second round of the three I decided I would help improve her routine by running in idiotic circles around her. I think the audition was pretty much blown by that point, so round three's deliberate pratfall was possibly overkill. She went back to her miserable life stuck on Taris. I went on to find out about bounty hunting.
Moments like that were light relief in the horror-fest I was conducting. That it had an option for running in mad circles was just fantastic. What was not fantastic, in any way, was the bounty on the head of Dia. The Hutt responsible for coordinating the hits gave me a few different people I could take out. Carth said he could see a moral justification for taking out violent criminals who were hurting others, but made it very clear that Dia was not someone I was allowed to go after. Dia it was then.
Dia had attacked her boss with a spear, leaving him with a scar, and the boss wanted her dead. The Hutt hinted that perhaps Dia wasn't quite so guilty as the story made out, and the extent of this became abundantly clear when I found her boss in a strip club. He confessed that, while drunk, he had attempted to force himself upon her and she had struck out to prevent him. It was an attempted rape. The conversation options were there - I could take him out right now. I could destroy this horrendous man, who was having a woman he'd tried to sexually assault murdered because she had beaten him.
The feeling when selecting the option saying I agreed with him, that she was getting what she deserved, was just revulsion. Sure, this is a game. Sure, no one was really getting hurt. But bloody hell, there are some things it's just never OK to do. I put off finding Dia for as long as possible.
In the underbelly of the city, where the locals were being killed off by the Rakghouls - a grotesque, pale creature that infects victims turning them into Rakghouls too - I stood by and watched as a man, trapped on the other side of a gate I could have opened, was killed and transformed in front of his loved ones. God, I was such a bastard. Down there I found the serum sample I needed and would not use to save these poor, wretched people, as well as the 14-year-old Twi'lek, Mission.
Mission is possibly the most notorious character from KOTOR, famously loved or loathed, simply because BioWare did such a splendid job of writing a 14-year-old girl. Apologies to any of our 14-year-old girl readers, but you're probably a bit annoying, aren't you? So's Mission. She's pitch perfect, both over-enthusiastic and endearing while a whining, complaining mess, and horribly over-dependent. I loved Mission the first time I played, she was my favourite companion and I selected her for nearly every mission. She was funny and annoying in equal measure, and handy with a Vibroblade. I'd had no problems being horrid to wet sock Carth, but being mean to Mission! No!
KOTOR, much like all BioWare's RPGs, gives you opportunities to talk to the party members you gather as you play. Learning their histories, you develop a far greater understanding of the larger story, as well as forming meaningful relationships. Caring about them, and demonstrating you care, has a lovely effect on how they talk. Mission especially, who has never known any approval or support. So when I told her that I couldn't believe how boring her stupid stories were, I wanted to punch myself in the mouth. Poor Mission. And to make sure she was miserable, I never took her anywhere with her Wookiee best friend I'd fought so hard against having to rescue.
With the Rakghoul serum sold to the appropriate Hutt (on whom I used my super-evil persuasion abilities to get extra money) and the racist on the Upper levels shouting for Human supremacy endorsed and encouraged, I knew I had to do one more thing before my attempts to break into the Sith headquarters to steal the flight codes. I had to score the bounty on Dia.
Here's how I did it. I used the fact that her voice is so stupendously annoying. KOTOR's voice cast is just superb. The main gang, especially the Dark droid HK-47 (who doesn't join the gang until later), are all perfect. (Well, Jennifer Hale's Bastila is perhaps just a touch too snooty, but only a touch, and she's forgiven for being the voice of Samus in the Metroid Prime games.) And the 'additional voices' crowd are nearly all superb, especially the man who does one of the male Twi'lek voices, who's "abingy bongy boo" makes me laugh like an idiot every time. But there's this one female voice that cuts into my soul like a rusty tin can. It's just so wrong, each character she voices sounding like someone's mum, bored out of their mind, trying to read tiny text off a faraway page. I get thrown out of the game. She was the voice of Dia. Oh, OK, I don't mind chopping up the cartoon figure with my cartoon sword then.
What ridiculous rationalising. I killed an attempted rape victim for money I didn't need, since I'd stolen so much from the desperately needy already. Because I didn't like her voice. What had I become? I looted her corpse.
Breaking into the Sith base with the sole intention of killing everyone I found became easy. Codes gathered, double-crossing Davik was going to be just something I did. Killing the other innocent guests, and threatening to tell his abused slaves that they had displeased me - whatever.
The Ebon Hawk stolen, Taris escaped, was I now numb to my actions? Well, no. I was still squirming in my seat with every slightly snarky remark, desperately wanting to click on the lovely options available, the ones that would make my patient companions smile. I wanted to praise Mission, comfort Carth, allow Bastila to think she was super-important. I was covering my face through most of what's described above. Sitting back in my chair and gasping at what I was about to click. It was actually miserable. But my ridiculous task meant I had to keep putting them down, encouraging them to fight amongst themselves, and being the biggest arsehole in the galaxy. And I'd only been to one planet.
Part 2: The Bastard Strikes Back
I need to tell you how I came to be standing on a strange oceanic planet, being asked by a complete stranger to murder people all around the galaxy. And why I had a smile on my face.
"Get over it," I told Mission, the 14-year-old Twi'lek who had joined my party. She was confiding in me about the horror of her home planet being utterly destroyed. The Sith had completely obliterated the population of Taris, countless millions had been slaughtered, and everything she had ever known or loved, beyond one Wookiee, was gone. Move on, whiny child.
Continuing my mission to play through BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic making only the most awful, spiteful and abhorrent choices available at every turn, letting a kid know her concerns over mass genocide were of no import whatsoever was now second nature. My character, Simon Evil, had an alignment deep in the red. A character screen, detailing your current levels and abilities, shows an image of your Jedi against a background that reflects their position within the Force. You begin with a white glow of neutrality, shifting toward either blue or red depending upon your actions and behaviour. Simon was already standing against a deep red after just one planet. He had already done some terrible, terrible things. Dismissing Mission's grief - whatever.
So far it had been remarkably difficult. My conscience, refusing to accept the, "But it's just a game, what you do doesn't matter," logic, had been screaming in horror at some of the imaginary actions and words I'd been using against these imaginary people. But so far I'd only been on one planet, and it was now time to unleash Simon on the rest.
After the destruction of Taris, Bastilla, the Jedi in the party, insisted that I travel to Dantooine, where a Council of Jedis wished to speak to me. Simon, it appears, is extremely strong in the Force, and during the continuing conflict with the Sith they're keen to train up whoever they can get.
Dantooine isn't just a Jedi training camp. It's home to many people to screw over in some pretty elaborate ways. But training comes first and Simon was quick to pass the (rather silly) qualifying tasks. He becomes a Jedi "Guardian". With a display of stupidity comparable to handing out whiskey and guns in a prison, Simon Evil was given a lightsaber.
Actually, there's one detail that needs to be highlighted about the Jedi training. One of the tasks given to me was to investigate the source of a Dark corruption that was causing the nearby wildlife to viciously attack the locals. Most of the way through the Jedi training dialogue, you're very limited to giving goody-two-shoes responses. This particular trial was Simon's opportunity to express himself properly. Exploring the surrounding countryside I eventually found an enclave occupied by a frenzied, rogue Jedi, Juhani. The source of the corruption, she needed to be dealt with somehow. I can't remember how this worked the first time I played through the game, back when I was a shining force for the Light, but I think she might have tragically killed herself. No such chance this time. At the slightest sign of her showing remorse, I took my chance to declare I was going to kill her for no given reason.
There's a weird flaw in KOTOR that's highlighted when you play this way. The two members of your party you've chosen to bring with you will splurt and bluster their disgust at your behaviour, but when it comes to the battle itself, they join in with gusto. The simpering idiot Rebel soldier, Carth Onasi, will throw his moral weight around until the game enters combat mode, but then his regular battle barks appear. "You asked for this!" he shouts at the weak, miserable Jedi who's only desperate for help. I put this down to my corrupting influence. There are two far more awful things I did on Dantooine, however, far beyond murdering Juhani and then successfully lying to the Council about it. First was the woman with the droid.
Before I started this project, this was the moment I was thinking about. I remembered some of the options I'd never have dared to pick before and as I was installing the game I was thinking about this moment. This woman, Elise, has lost her husband. After his death she has been distraught, grieving and unable to move on. Unable in a really creepy way. Her husband built droids and had created one in particular to look after the family. One who had now gone missing, only exacerbating her grief. She explained that he vanished from the home without any signs of a break-in and she's convinced he's been kidnapped. First she loses her husband, and now her only companion.
Later, when exploring the surrounding area, I spotted a droid encircled by Kath Hounds, looking in trouble. Not out of kindness, but simply because the game enters combat mode when you get too close to the hounds, I defeated all the attackers. Beasts destroyed, the droid explains his situation. He had run away quite deliberately, as a result of his mistress taking that title a little too literally. Rather than grieving for her husband, she had transferred her feelings onto the droid and was attempting to have a relationship that was clearly inappropriate with a robot. Deciding that this was the best thing he could do for her, the droid had tried to get himself killed to force Elise to move on. Noble, brave. I remember making the difficult decision to help the droid fulfil his wishes, killing him, then going back to Elise to tell her he was dead. It was a terrible moment - she was distraught, destroyed, and I was sure I had done the wrong thing. Until later in the game when I met her again, and she seemed to have finally moved on in her life. I had made a real difference.
This was not for Simon Evil. Simon Evil did something very, very bad. I could have ordered the droid to return home and left the woman to continue unravelling in his bemused company. That would have been pretty dreadful. But I found a much... better option. I decided I would kill the droid, but right before doing so, tell him that I'd be sure to go back to Elise and let her know he was still out there and she should keep looking for him. The droid's last words were cries of astonished misery. Mission and Carth, after voicing their shock, dutifully helped me take him down. "You asked for this!" I went back to Elise to let her know there was still hope, he was out there and she should go find him. Job done.
I think this might have been the point where I snapped. Once I got into the dispute between two local families, the Sandrals and the Matales, I noticed that the squirming and reeling in reaction to my decisions was beginning to fade. In fact, when I was forced to apologise to someone in order to get the mission going, I was becoming most perturbed.
Here's the deal with those families. The son of Nurik Sandral, Casus, had gone missing. Nurik's convinced he's been kidnapped by rival Ahlan Matale. Soon after, Ahlan's own son, Shen, went missing. The Jedi Council had been asked to intervene with the escalating dispute. Simon was dispatched to... help.
Neither family is particularly helpful, but inside Nurik's home I spoke to his daughter, Rahaisha. She begged for my help, telling me she had a secret she must share. Picking the cruellest option, I dismissed her and told her I had no time for her stupid, petty concerns. Bastilla was horrified at my attitude, the girl was upset, it was business as usual. But unlike so many encounters, it didn't let me continue with the task in spite of my rudeness. If I wanted to mess these families, I was going to have to bite my lip and apologise to this woman. Apologies mean Light Side points, something I was committed against and had so far avoided. Dilemma. Thankfully the game is so splendidly written that even in apologising, I was able to be such a dick that by the end of the discussion the game declared I'd scored both Light and Dark points. A reasonable compromise.
Played Light, you can find that Shen is being held captive by Nurik and the daughter wants you to rescue him and help the two of them get away from the increasingly unhinged Nurik. I went along with things this far, convinced I would have to go back and reload once these actions turned me all nice or something. As the two fled from the house they were suddenly confronted by both families, along with their platoons of soldier droids. Here with your carefully chosen words you can reconcile the two families, help Nurik to accept his son's disappearance has nothing to do with Ahlan, and probably have bluebirds land on your shoulder while bunnies gambol at your feet. Or, it turns out, you can tell Nurik that Ahlan killed his son. Oopsie.
The scene that follows is glorious. Ahlan is enraged, and with a nudge can be prompted into revenge, shooting Ahlan's son dead. Spinning around to Nurik I cried, "Are you going to stand for that?!" He is not, and he fires at Rahaisha. And then all out war breaks out, the two families slaughtering each other, leaving me with just a couple of droids to polish off.
And I loved it. I laughed. It was just so rewarding. My actions, even involving the slightest compromise, had allowed this dreadful situation to escalate out of all control until everyone involved was dead. When the Jedi Council each asked me about what could have possibly happened, how a simple dispute I was investigating could have ended in such bloody horror, I revelled in lying to them about it, each falling for my ludicrous claims of innocence. "I guess it must have been Mandolorians!"
Oh my God. I'd turned to the Dark Side.
Something had flipped. I wasn't bothered by telling Mission I didn't care about her stupid brother. I was now initiating conversations with Bastilla, just to tell her how stupid I thought she was. I began actively seeking out horrible things to do, rather than my previous shrinking away from the mouse as I'd clicked on the cruellest option. Which meant there was only one sensible thing to do. Evil loves company. I had to go to Tattooine to find HK-47.
Tattooine is surprisingly absent of overtly awful things to do. When you first arrive, you're met by a young widowed mother, Sharina Fizark, desperate for money to feed her children. She has the skull plate of a rare beast, worth around 500 credits. I remember this moment from the first time I played the game very clearly - I remember looking at my paltry bank balance and thinking: Boy, I could do with 500 credits. Being nice doesn't pay well and I'd been extremely lovely. I was flat broke and was being asked to give this woman 500 credits from my barren coffers. I could see the conversation options tantalisingly displayed. I could steal this thing from her, sell it for myself. But good grief, who on Earth would steal the last possession from a starving mother? Simon Evil would.
The moment is underlined in its awfulness by the woman's reaction. She doesn't even try to fight you. So appalled by your actions, she simply hands it to you in disgust, her life discovering a deeper bottom than she'd ever imagined possible. I sold the plate, adding the 500 credits to my overflowing vaults of ill-gained loot, and I was fine with that.
The rest of the planet's adventures limited me to just generally being a douchebag. I went into the Hunter's Lodge, or the local bar, and behaved so unpleasantly to everyone I met that they got up and left. It's an extraordinary display, to dickishly empty buildings simply with a horrible attitude.
I remember laughing when I'd been to the droid shop. With just one droid available, an HK-47 unit (this classification unknown to all in the room), I knew I was in the presence of a truly great mentor. If you've never played Knights of the Old Republic, and really, if these diaries achieve anything I hope it's that you will, HK-47 is the number one best reason to get it.
When I was my formerly angelic self and floating through the galaxy weaving flowers in the hair of every waif and stray I went out of my way to help, put through college and mentor into old age, HK-47 was a glimmer of what I was missing. An assassin droid, with the vast majority of his memory banks locked down and inaccessible to him, with the most wonderful attitude problem. Immediately referring to humans as "meatbags", and delivering his beautifully spiteful lines in a mellifluous, archly ironic voice, he's the evil equivalent to comic relief. In a game full of fluffy clouds and rainbows, his murderous attitude and wanton contempt for all other beings was a guilty delight. Simon's, however, was not a game of fluff and rainbows. It was somewhere where HK-47 would fit right in and I couldn't wait to have someone in my party who would be endorsing my behaviour.
Keeping Bastilla with us, purely to torture her (and all the while, every time she levelled up only giving her new Dark Force powers), we stole and killed everything on the planet. Good times. Along the way, just after screwing over a Twi'lek hunter for his share of the spoils of a dragon kill that was almost entirely his doing, we were confronted by a bounty hunter who we'd run into back on Taris. He was most displeased that Simon had escaped the planet and was here to finish the job. It was a quick and easy fight. Soon after I was given a message to meet with a man called Hulas on the planet Manaan. I was to approach him alone.
I had never heard of the Genoharadan before. There's a reason for this. This secret guild of bounty hunters is almost unknown in the galaxy, their name barely spoken. I imagine the first time I played the game I either ignored Hulas altogether, or immediately told him I wasn't interested as soon as it became clear they were assassins. Assassins?! I'm in!
So it was I stood alone on a strange oceanic planet, without any of my party, agreeing with a stranger to assassinate people I'd never heard of, for what he told me would be the good of the Republic, but for what I knew would mean personal profit. And I couldn't wait.
Part 3: Return of the Bastard
The story so far (far away): Simon Evil, a member of the Republic rescued from a battle with the Sith, finds himself in the middle of a predicament. Aided by the Jedi Bastila, Republic pilot Carth Onassi, and an assortment of irregulars who accompany him on his journeys, he is tasked with discovering the location of a Star Forge, a terrible machine capable of wiping out civilisations. Because he wants one.
My task has been to play through Knights of the Old Republic, making all the most evil, selfish and genocidal choices available at every opportunity, ignoring the swelling tidal wave of guilt that built up inside me and not stopping once I found myself picking the gruesome, murderous options with genuine glee. It's now over, the story is complete and I can assure you it didn't end well for people. Here's what happened.
Simon Evil's last actions were to join the Genoharadan, a fiercely clandestine assassin's guild, tasked with murdering complete strangers on various planets purely for profit. At the same time, three pieces of the Star Map required for finding the Star Forge remained undiscovered and there was the small matter of destroying a planet's ecology to take care of on Manaan.
Manaan, home of the slurpy-talking Selkath fish people, also hosts a number of splendid side quests that all intertwine with the main search for the Map. There's a murder mystery to solve, the disappearance of Selkath youths to investigate and queries over why the Republic is hiring every mercenary it can get its hands on. Each offers plenty of chances for Dark Side point-gathering. Especially fun was encouraging the young Selkath to pursue their education at the evil Sith training facility, despite having killed every other living creature in the enemy base.
But Manaan's most glorious opportunity for an utter extreme of wrongdoing is in its main quest. You learn that the Star Map is blocked by a gigantic fish beast previously thought to be only mythological. It lies on the other side of an underwater Republic scientific research facility, in which all the Selkath have gone mad and tried to kill everyone. A couple of surviving scientists tell you two ways it might be possible to kill the enormous shark-thing. One involves polluting the water it's in with an untested toxin, the other overloading the machinery with a special gas that will destroy the enter base.
Now, approaching this from an evil-as-possible perspective, destroying the base might at first sound the more aggressive act. However, consequences must be considered. Manaan is the galaxy's only source for Kolto, a vital substance used for healing people by both the Republic and the Sith alike. It's why the Sith and Republic are on Manaan at all. And the major source for the Kolto is where mega-sharky lives. Toxin + galaxy's source of health = properly damned evil. And it works. It works so well that when you go back to the main city you're arrested and expelled from the planet forever. The consequences are far-reaching, people discussing the horror of this loss on other planets. That was me. I did that. (Oh, and I should add I killed the two surviving scientists for absolutely no reason whatsoever.)
Which is why it was important to complete the Genoharadan quests first. Finding the three targets on various planets isn't too challenging and by this point Simon was getting pretty strong with his Dark Force powers. Each taken out, I returned to Hulas on Manaan and told him of my victories. And it turned out the sneaky bugger had tricked me into killing the other three leaders of the Genoharadan so he'd be in charge. That meant a trip to Tatooine to fight him to the death, which I guess makes me the boss of that organisation. Sadly it's so shadowy and secret, I'd never know who to boss around, so that became a bit of an anticlimax, if a useful source for gathering Darkness.
My next destination was the ludicrously spelt Kashyyyk, home of the Wookiees. It was interesting to see quite how much more polarised the good/evil choices were here, thanks to the presence of the Czerka Corporation - the smuggling criminals who had been making Taris such a hellhole even before the Sith turned up. Things were bad on Kashyyyk, the Wookiees being rounded up and sold into slavery by the corrupt Czerka officers with the help of their stooge leaders. Analogous to the slaving operations performed in Africa, the Czerka maintain order on the planet by supporting friendly chieftains in leadership positions of the local tribes, providing them with arms to keep power and having them teach the Wookiees to speak Galactic Basic, so slavers wouldn't need to speak Wookiee. These echoes of our own revolting past remove the subtlety of taking sides. Or, you know, make it easier to pick the evil choices.
It's interesting how picking the evil choice that destroys a woman's life, or kills an innocent, or sees families slaughter each other, has a very different emotional effect than aiding the enslavement of an innocent tribal race. All are obviously deeply evil, but I think I'm able to compartmentalise the more individual actions more easily, mentally filing them under "terrible thing I did in a game". Even though polluting the Kolto would have devastating effects across the entire galaxy, I think it's still pretend enough to laugh off. Oppression struck deeper. I was still delighting in making the evil choices, but here on Kashyyyk I was feeling those familiar pangs from the first third of the game again.
It turns out Zaalbar, the Wookiee in your party, is the son of the deposed leader, said by the new chieftain to have gone insane. There is an opportunity to not only recover his life and dignity, but drive Czerka from the planet entirely, ending the slaving operation. I didn't do that. I helped the puppet government by ensuring Zaalbar's father would never see power again, further entrenched Czerka, but worst of all, convinced Zaalbar that it was all for the best. I brainwashed a good man into believing in terrible things.
Along the way I convinced a man to dedicate his entire life to meaningless vengeance, left the innocent Wookiee Grrrwahrr to die of starvation in a cage in the middle of a swamp, helped cause a species to become extinct, and after having hermit Jedi Jolee Bindo join my group and tell me his story, replied, "I hate you, old man."
I'd left Korriban for last, as it was the home of the Sith Academy and I wanted to be as evil as possible when I reached it. If I was going to win the competition for a place in the academy, I was going to win it with style. Of course, before I reached the planet there was a slightly revelatory diversion. If you've not played KOTOR and are still hoping to after reading the last six and a half thousand words about it, this is where to stop reading until you're done. This is the big twist, and you'll spoil the whole thing for yourself if you read any further.
The former Sith leader responsible for countless deaths and the destruction of planets. The man in whose shadow everything we've done has been performed. The most ruthlessly evil man in the galaxy. That's me. Of course, there have been a thousand hints throughout, and Bastila knew all along. Malak, Revan's former apprentice, had rather brilliantly overthrown his master. But Revan's back, baby, and Malak's in trouble.
You are held on Malak's Leviathan ship, and things begin with a good bit of torture. Worrying that you might be a noble sort, the plan is that they will torture Bastila every time you don't tell them the information they want. So here you can either delight in lying to hurt her as much as you can, or just telling them everything as bluntly as possible to cause the maximum chance of the Republic getting harmed. When you eventually escape, there's an awful lot of fighting to do, and finally Malak's revelation that you're Revan. You leave without Bastila, who is being properly tortured in an effort to turn her to the Dark Side. Goody!
The revelation is made slightly ludicrous when you've been playing the game as I have. It's not like I've been hiding Revan's personality and my companions have seen me do some astonishingly dreadful things. When Mission pipes up that she believes I'm changed, I have to wonder what happened to her on Taris to have had her moral compass so terribly skewed. Zaalbar, of course, has no choice but to stick with me - he's sworn a life debt. Jolee Bindo knew the moment he saw me and in his neutrality couldn't really care less - he's along for the ride. Canderous Ordo thinks I'm the greatest military leader of all time and is honoured to be with me. T3-M4 just bleeps and bloops as usual and to be honest I rarely remembered he was ever in my group. I killed Junhani so she never got to join us. HK-47 was of course delighted - it turns out Revan was his former master and his memory is finally restored at the news. But Carth Onassi, he fought against me in the war, and I rather wiped out his planet, so he's not too pleased.
Arriving on Korriban, I delighted in telling everyone I met how I was Darth Revan. Throwing the truth around to people who would never believe it was lots of fun. A few knowing traders knew who I was, but they kept it quiet. I was going to humbly work my way through the trials of the Sith to win my rightful place in the Academy, and thus get access to the temple containing the final piece of the Star Map.
Before getting in there was the brief entertainment of spotting the morons stood outside the Academy, who thought they were going through some sort of initiation test. Being asked to stand in the hot open air with no food or water for days, they were dying for the amusement of the Sith guards. It's possible to rescue them, obviously. Instead I encouraged them to keep going, making sure they all died.
Being evil here is rather a pleasure. Everyone else is out to stab you in the back, apart from one or two pathetic wannabe students who never stood a chance. Gullible enough to offer me help, their fates were sealed from the start. In fact, I was so successful in doing terrible things to win prestige for Academy leader, Uthar, that it wouldn't even let me tell him all of it. The others never stood a chance.
Getting into the temple Naga Sadow, home to the last vital part of the Star Map, leaves you with Uthar and his assistant, Yuthura. As is the Sith way, of course Yuthura wants to overthrow Uthar, and has asked you to help. You can screw her over by telling Uthar in advance, but you know, it's more fun to agree, help her kill him in the temple, then kill her. You have to fight your way out of the rest of the Academy, but that's fun too.
It was time to go to the Star Forge itself. As you approach, the Ebon Hawk is taken down by some magical shields Malak's put up around it and you crash land on an unknown world, populated by a previously unencountered species. There's also a few familiar piratic races about to fight with, also brought down by the barriers. It's a bit of a ship graveyard.
As it turns out, this is the home planet of a race called the Ratakan. They were once rather important. At one time they ruled 500 star systems, with the mighty Star Forge as their greatest weapon. Called the Infinite Empire, it's the history behind the Star Maps you've been following this whole time. Now they are reduced to almost nothing, their population almost wiped out by a plague and their empire lost. The rather pathetic remains are two warring tribes, the Warriors and the Elders, and you can pick a side in their squabble. I met the Warriors first and was given the choice of peacefully meeting their master or mindlessly murdering them. Of course I picked the latter, but in hindsight it might have been a mistake. It meant I was left to rely on the Elders to gain me access to a temple containing the technology to turn off the Star Forge's protective shields, and I suspect that the Elders were the slightly more good guys. Still, sometimes evil doesn't begat as much evil as you might hope, but there was plenty more to come.
Getting through the temple, you eventually reach the roof and the computer that can turn off the vital shield. At this point I was accompanied by Jedi Jolee and we were suddenly confronted by Bastila. There was something different about her. Something... better. She was seething with evil. Swayed to the Dark Side, Bastila was here to end me for her new master Malak.
I remember this moment very clearly from my first playthrough. I rather liked Bastila, despite her nagging, and my continuous virtuous ways made her like me right back. I was playing a girl that time, but there was a frisson between them either way. I knew I could turn her back to my side with the right words. I knew she could be saved. Heh heh, not this time.
It was far better. I encouraged her, delighted she was on my side now, and convinced her not to serve with that pussy Malak, but to stand at my side as we took over the galaxy together. And together we turned on Jolee, killing him dead. I hate you, old man.
Getting back to the Ebon Hawk with Bastila, my party was not quite so keen on our new attitude. Carth, spotting Jolee missing, asked what had happened. I boasted of our killing him and Carth freaked out. The question of everyone's loyalty was raised again, with Carth determined he would not fight with us. Of course the droids were on our side - they had no choice, and HK was way ahead of us anyway. Ordo was even more delighted to stick around, proud as ever to be with a great military strategist. But Mission was not so keen. Destroyed by my conversion, she swore allegiance with Carth and called Zaalbar to join her.
Zaalbar explained that he could not, bound by his life debt to me. She was devastated, her 14 years not preparing herself for such terrible betrayal. When it became clear I wasn't going to let Mission go without a fight, Carth ran for it, calling Mission to run with him. I intervened. She told me I'd have to kill her, but I had a better idea. I'd get Zaalbar to do it.
Of course Zaalbar said this was too far, that he would stand by me until the end but he would not kill Mission. Of course, I'm a Jedi, and I have that Force Persuade power on my side - when I want people to do something, they tend to find themselves wanting to do it too. While Zaalbar certainly didn't want to, he couldn't not. Apologising to a terrified, desperate, begging 14-year-old child, he raised his weapon and killed her on that beautiful beach.
Well, she disagreed with me. What's your problem?
Oh, okay, I admit it, it's f***ing hideous. It's tortuously terrible and makes encouraging slavers on Kashyyyk seem trivial. Mission is by far my favourite character in the series. She is so brilliantly written, neither patronising teenagers nor ignoring their foibles and irritations. I cannot think of many more brilliantly portrayed teenage characters in anything and I adored her sparky ways. I had put Zalbaar through hell, treating him worse than anyone else in my party, turning him against not only his own father but his entire race. And now I'd forced him to kill his only friend in cold blood.
So sure, I went on to defeat Malak, took control of the Sith and waged bloody, hideous war on the Republic. Sure, I took control of the Star Forge and used its terrible powers for astonishing evil, wiping out countless millions of people. Yeah, sure, I went on to do all that stuff. But I had Zaalbar kill Mission and I don't think there was a more evil moment, not only in that game but in any game I can think of.
Knights of the Old Republic is an incredible game. Incredible for so many reasons. Its writing is of such a remarkably high standard, the performances are wonderful, the story is epic and brutal with a magnificent twist and it still looks really impressive six years on from its 2003 release. KOTOR is so much more than making some binary choices over whether to be good or evil. This experiment might have reduced the game down to such, forcing me to make only the revolting choices. But despite this, despite cutting myself off from the choice that thrives throughout, it was still blooming with nuance and fascinating thinking. I've come away with nine thousand words of stories to tell, and there's great chunks I've completely skipped over.
Here's the most interesting observation that came out of it all for me: I didn't have relationships. One of my favourite things about Knights of the Old Republic was the relationships I formed with the characters. Talking to them, probing them for their pasts, their troubles, their passions, I bonded with those people. This time, nothing. The closest I felt to anyone was Bastila at the very end of the game. I made sure I still had the conversations with the characters to learn about them, but I made sure to be as awful to them as possible. Telling Mission I didn't care that she missed her brother, or that I thought she was being an idiot to be upset about the destruction of Taris, were terrible things to do. I made no friends.
Have I changed? Well, I'm not quite sure. Playing through Mafia last week, I remember finding myself feeling tempted to shoot my own guys to find out what would happen. Not just to see how the game would react, but because I wondered if it might open up new opportunities to be a worse character. It was an instinct I'm not sure was there before. However, I feel quite certain that given another KOTOR I would make the kindest choices without hesitation. Because, you know, if you're nice to people they tend to react positively and it generally creates happiness. I like happiness! I don't like it when I'm the reason Wookiees kill their teenage best friends.
It was fascinating to find myself enjoying the evil. But by the end of the game I was numb. I wasn't revelling in the choices, nor reeling from most of them. The numbness is possibly the most awful reaction. I don't want that. The giggling at the naughtiness was a temporary entertainment. But I've never grown tired of picking the nicer choices.