Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith
Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith is an official expansion for the 1997 FPS Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. The visuals and the gameplay are largely identical to Jedi Knight but there are a few differences, including the addition of sweet Quake 2-style coloured lighting. You start the game controlling Kyle Katarn, five years after – but still deeply affected by – the events of Jedi Knight. In the intervening years the remnants of the old Empire have continued to plague the New Republic and in the opening sequence Kyle is helping to protect a New Republic base which is under Stormtrooper attack. During the Imperial attack, Kyle learns about a planet called Dromund Kaas which is somehow significant to the Imperial Remnant. So Kyle takes himself off to investigate this Dromund Kass and in his place he appoints his ward, a young Jedi by the name of Mara Jade. Yeah that’s right, THE Mara Jade.
This is the first and only Star Wars PC game where Mara Jade is the lead role. The Star Wars Expanded Universe was well-established in 1998 and LucasArts borrowed liberally from the existing continuity of novels and comics to tell a story that would appeal to Star Wars fans. Mara first appears in the Timothy Zahn Novel Heir to the Empire where she’s brought over from the Dark Side by Luke Skywalker. This ends up being significant to the plot, and in my opinion is a really cool thing for Lucas to have done; to take Kyle Katarn from the Star Wars PC games and pair him up with Mara Jade, a character from the novels. Other elements of the EU are used to ground the game in the Star Wars universe. Even better, Dromund Kaas has become a really significant part of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which cements these games together ever more into one big contiguous volume.
I just want to take a second here to talk about the fact that Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith was an expansion to Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. In the 90s, our equivalent to DLC was the expansion pack. Unlike DLC, expansions came on a physical disk, in a big retail box and with a physical manual. To boot, they were significantly cheaper than the original game. Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith retailed for about half the cost of the base game and has at least as much content as Jedi Knight. Cramming in all this attention detail and putting in all this development effort for what essentially amounts to a DLC episode is a testament to the from-the-heart attitude which pervaded LucasArts at that time.
Similar to Jedi Knight, Mara travels to exotic faraway locations. She meets interesting aliens and shoots the heck out of them. At first Mara Jade is just undertaking missions for the New Republic. Honestly this part of the story is a bit crap. Going from planet to planet to shoot different aliens lacks the focus of Jedi Knight. It’s a jumble sale of different ideas all crammed into sequence. It takes getting about 75% of the game before the title even makes any sense. The final act really picks up the pace though. Mara travels to Dromund Kaas in search of Kyle who hasn’t been heard from since the opening sequence. The game’s final showdown (no spoilers here) is a brilliant showcase of the game’s mechanics vs storytelling. It’s a real “Aaaaaahhh” moment that I will probably remember as a favourite boss encounter.
Mara has her awesome purple lightsaber from the get-go, and starts the game with a few basic Force powers. There’s even some level design and puzzle solving which requires the use of Force powers. This made the game more enjoyable to play. Jedi Knight didn’t dig into the idea of Force powers as heavily as Mysteries of the Sith. That gives this game a big bonus. Mechanically, Mara Jade is much weaker than her master Kyle. Her Force powers take longer to charge up and you’ll need to choose your upgrades very carefully as Mara will only be able to take about half of the available powers over the course of the game.
Of course, Mara is younger than Kyle. She’s less experienced which makes for a different gaming experience. It made me pay far greater attention to the playstyle I was trying to accomplish. The end of level bosses in Mysteries of the Sith are markedly worse than in the previous Jedi Knight though. They’re nearly all cramped into tiny locations with barely enough room to manoeuvre. This makes them far more frustrating that they need to be. Experimenting with Force powers and flexing lightsaber skills are made a lot harder when your environment is working against you.
The guns from the Jedi Knight series are all still included in Mysteries of the Sith and you can play the whole game as a first person shooter if you preferred. Like Jedi Knight before it, Mysteries of the Sith is competent shooter, whether played in first or third person.
As is customary, the levels in Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith are absolutely huge. The wide open expanses encourage you to explore each level. Each map is littered with secret areas and alternate paths to your destination. It’s a curse when compared to more modern games. Modern games hold your hand right up to the point of showing you the direction to travel in. In previous reviews I made this level design method sound like a flaw. Now I’ve got a few games under my belt I think I actually prefer this way of doing things. It makes me engage my brain a bit more and it’s arguably more realistic. There’s no dotted white line in real life! I feel more connected to Mara Jade, as if we’re both exploring each location for the first time. Even on the later stages I felt like I was actually unearthing the Mysteries of the Sith, rather than just following a map marker. I’ve enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of all these Star Wars locations, even if it took me much longer than it could (or should) have. Besides, upgrading Mara’s Force powers between levels is dependant on how many secret locations you’ve found. The more you explore each level, the faster Mara’s powers can grow.
I was underwhelmed with Jedi Knight because I was so enamoured with Dark Forces. Playing Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith has allowed me to re-evaluate this situation. Both Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight and Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith suffer from the same flaws of games of this age. Hokey controls, irritating bosses, awkward graphics. But these games were necessary to get to where we are now. Actually, a lot of the good design choices made in these games are absent in more modern PC games. Where the technology has been superceded, the gameplay in these two Star Wars PC games is sorely lacking in modern titles. Both Jedi Knight and Mysteries of the Sith get a solid thumbs up from me. If you like old PC games then these are must-play Star Wars PC games.
You can watch this Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith review onYouTube. As with all games I review for our YouTube channel’s Second Wind series, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith is available to purchase on GOG and Steam.