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How The Success Of KOTOR Led To Mass Effect

To this day, "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" (also known as "KOTOR") is still one of the most talked-about Star Wars video games. This isn't much of a surprise considering it stands as one of the most successful games the IP has ever produced in terms of sales. According to a report from 2003, only four days after its July 15, 2003, release, KOTOR sold 250,000 copies. Over the next four years, that number grew tremendously. As of 2007, the game had sold a whopping 3.2 million units. It's popularity has only increased since then.

But the success of "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" was so much more than merely sales numbers. Not only is "KOTOR" is one of the best "Star Wars" games of all time, but it also revolutionized RPGs and video game storytelling, influencing the development of many iconic titles that came after it. In fact, if not for "KOTOR," the beloved "Mass Effect" trilogy may never have existed.

KOTOR's creators were behind Mass Effect

To chart how "Mass Effect" drew heavily off of the successes of "Knights of the Old Republic," you have to start with the fact that both games were created by BioWare. The director of "KOTOR," Casey Hudson, went on to direct the entire "Mass Effect" trilogy. As such, Hudson brought one of his "KOTOR" writers, Drew Karpyshyn, to write "Mass Effect" and "Mass Effect 2" with him. 

James Ohlen, the lead designer on "KOTOR," spoke with Eurogamer in 2021, and really broke down the relationship between the two games. Simply put, BioWare had some great plans for "KOTOR 2," but decided to instead incorporate those plans into "Mass Effect." "It was a very smart decision on their part," Ohlen said of his BioWare bosses. "In order for a company to be successful and control its own destiny you need to own your own IP, and we didn't own 'Dungeons & Dragons' or 'Star Wars.'" According to Ohlen, once the decision to focus on original IP was made, the entire core "KOTOR" team was assigned to "Mass Effect," bringing their RPG-making expertise along with them.

In some ways, "Mass Effect" was BioWare's spiritual follow-up to "Knights of the Old Republic." And as anyone who's familiar with the gameplay of both franchises will no doubt realize, the influence of KOTOR is certainly felt in the "Mass Effect" story and gameplay.

The many similarities between the two franchises

Just like "Knight of the Old Republic," the "Mass Effect" series is a sci-fi RPG epic featuring story-based campaigns and complex morality systems. Furthermore, some of the story beats of "Mass Effect" and "KOTOR" are strikingly similar. In a lengthy 2012 essay, Jake Nanty of Gamers Nexus walked through a number of those similarities. 

Shortly following players create their character, there is an intense attack, which doubles as a tutorial level. Each series features a main party who join the player character throughout his or her journey. This team of crew mates are central to both franchise's stories. Each protagonist can grow and develop relationships with these crew members, as well as other characters, through branching dialogue trees. In both properties, this crew flew around in a space-ship that doubles as a main hub — the Ebon Hawk in "KOTOR" and the Normandy in "Mass Effect." This last bit is not a stretch, either: In fact, according to James Ohlen, the Normandy was explicitly modeled after the Ebon Hawk. 

There's a ton of DNA shared between the two, which only becomes more obvious when you realize the intentions of the developers behind it. Given the many similarities between these games, one simple fact is blindingly obvious: Without "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," the world never would have gotten "Mass Effect."