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 (in part one), and not stopping once I found myself picking the gruesome, murderous options with genuine glee (in part two). 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're torture Bastila every time you don't tell them the information you 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. HK47 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, and 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 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 play through. 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 fourteen 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 fourteen-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. 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 myself to only pick the revolting choice. 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, and one of the things I'm most looking forward to in the forthcoming MMO, The Old Republic, were 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.