My binge through the spoils of the May the Fourth sale last month continue into KotOR II, and dear god I’d forgotten how dull the Paragus Mining Station was. In a game focused on dialogue and roleplaying with a serviceable but not great combat system, here’s a two- or three-hour first episode with a grand total of four NPCs to speak with, none of whom have any side quests, one of whom is an astromech that communicates purely in beeps and boops, one of whom is an HK droid clearly trying to kill you, and the other two have basically nothing to say except as relates to the immediate problem of getting out of this asteroid mining massacre alive.
Despite the fact that you meet your two party members almost immediately, you don’t actually get them in your party until the near the end, which means this game’s party-based combat is running with just one character for hours. KotOR II doesn’t have anywhere near the combat depth to be carried by its combat period, let alone with only one party member. At least you’re a Jedi from the word “go” this time, so you get Force powers. The game badly needed less combat in its opening to trim down the length of this, what is perhaps the weakest section of the game, and to put Kreia and Atton in the party much earlier. I understand wanting to make the game accessible to new players and thus not overwhelm them with three party members, two of them Jedi, early on, but letting Atton join the party as soon as you release him from the holding cell would’ve been fine. He’s a very straightforward character to run, being primarily a skill monkey and not actually much of a ranged combatant (in terms of writing, though, he’s a clean improvement over the first game’s Carth Onasi, so props for that).
Having the Sith breathing so close down your neck in the opening is also unnecessary. The Sith assassins have to be armed with vibroblades because otherwise lightsaber-less players unable to loot lightsaber-wielding assassins would’ve burnt Obsidian’s office space to the ground, and Darth Sion appears but accomplishes nothing. The entire section on the Harbinger could be cut, Paragus could instead lead up to a confrontation with HK-50 (the exact timing and balance of which would have to be tweaked, of course), and the Sith could appear from hyperspace as the Ebon Hawk is leaving the station, giving you the explodium asteroid chase but getting the lackluster Paragus episode down to under two hours. If you can’t make a section of a story engaging – and the very nature of Paragus means that dialogue, exploration, and side quests are at a minimum – then at least cut it down to the bones so that the player/reader/viewer gets past it as fast as possible.
Telos doesn’t even get off to a particularly good start, since the player is immediately captured and has to get through a couple of different conversations before their house arrest is lifted and they can finally start exploring the town and talking to people and picking up side quests and stuff. Telos proper picks up a lot, the ability to side with either Czerka or the Ithorians is not exactly groundbreaking, but it’s a solid execution of the branching story paths BioWare established in the first game, there’s side quests and dialogue choices that actually affect the story, you have a complete party so the combat is at least living up to the fullness of its limited potential, but damn, those first few hours (an entire play session!) are a pain to get past.