As someone who is a self-confessed "KOTOR Nut", I have to say that I do see where some of these claims are coming from. Acting as a climactic finale to the "Analytical Weeks" of late, I have decided to look over Revan's story as it developed since KOTOR all the way through to Shadow of Revan, with particular focus on SWTOR and associated material. For all the good number of developments that happened to Revan's legacy, how many of these are, well, good?
Featuring Spoilers from: KOTOR, KOTOR II, Galactic Timeline, Revan, SWTOR, and Shadow of Revan.
Background: KOTOR and KOTOR II
What do we know exactly about Revan from KOTOR? Well, we know that they and their friend Alek/Malak were both Jedi generals during the Mandalorian Wars who, at some point during their quest for a mystical weapon called the Star Forge, in reality a Space Station which created starships, turned to the Dark Side, bringing the vast majority of their followers with them. Malak then betrays Revan during a crucial battle against the Jedi led by Bastila Shan, and as a result Revan loses their memory, is re-educated in the way of the Jedi, re-discovers the Star Maps, their identity, and their memories, and manages to stop Malak and destroy the Star Forge.
Nearly everything else is up to the player of the game. Is Revan a condescending jerk, a show-off, or a goody-two-shoes? All of that - including Force alignment and gender - was completely malleable and allowed you to truly define who they were in your own mind. Their skill in the Force is implied by your being able to mind-trick a Hutt, a species which of course has a high resistivity to mind tricks, in-game. There are snippets, notably on Kashyyyk, where we saw what the past Revan had to go through in order to access the Star Maps and the Star Forge, so we can infer that they were highly intelligent, if not a strategic genius. Whilst a minor inference, this does lead me nicely to perhaps the biggest unknown factor.
Why did Revan and Malak turn to the Dark Side? The answer was never directly given to us, although based on Malak's claims that the Order will kick both him and Revan out in a flashback when they enter the Dantooinian Star Map chamber, it is common acceptance that it is as a direct result of their quest. Was it greed and wanting to keep the power of the Star Forge that got the better of them, anger at being kicked out of the Order, or did they just realise that they had passed the point of no return? We never received any answer, and this ambiguity made both Revan and Malak interesting and especially enticing characters.
Revan's gender was, admittedly, confirmed to be male in 2005 in the Chronicles of the Old Republic which were released on the website for KOTOR II. Similarly, the Knights of the Old Republic comics from 2006 - 2010 also established a great amount of his backstory, particularly during the Mandalorian Wars, but these stopped just shy of the beginnings of the quest for the Star Forge and so kept the reasoning for the Fall as ambiguous as it deserved to be. We learn from these that Revan was driven by justice, swearing to obliterate the Mandalorians for their slaughter of the Cathar, so that implies that he wanted to use the Star Forge to this end.
KOTOR II did nothing to lessen our desire for answers; if anything, it actually gave us more questions! This is mainly due to one thing. Revan does not appear, outside of a Dark Side apparition which appears to the Exile, who was just as malleable as Revan was. We see old friends from the first game, notably Canderous Ordo (now Mandalore the Preserver), T3-M4, and HK-47, and you do of course get to talk with them about Revan; HK-47 actually states that the reason why Revan is not around is because he has bigger plans and that someday the Droid hopes that he will re-join his master. Considering that you find HK-47 in need of repairs in this game, we can only imagine what sort of things Revan must be doing in order that his best friend is just left behind without stopping to help repair him!
As well as creating powerful protagonists and visually dynamic worlds, both KOTOR and KOTOR II each left a string of lasting questions, some of which - notably the "turning to the Dark Side" - didn't need answers as inferences from the games made for interesting debates, but everyone wanted to know where the build-up was leading, particularly with KOTOR II's mentioning of Revan's bigger plans.
I keep on reading that most of what would have been KOTOR III made it into SWTOR, and I've seen claims based on this that the Jedi Knight's story typifies this particularly. I can actually sort of see that. So let's take that story and move it back 300 years; what happens?
Revan returns and informs his allies that he's heard whispers of there being a powerful Sith figure known only as "the Emperor", who is either trying to establish a new Empire or has already done so. Knowing what a new Empire could mean for the galaxy, Revan is determined to seek it out and stop it before it takes root.
Nobody at this time is even aware of the existence of such a figure, and neither is the player, so this information is new and scary to both. Indeed, some people - including companions and Jedi on Dantooine - continually express doubt about such a being existing, and so the big question of this game is "Is there/isn't there an Emperor?". Eventually, of course, he is found and proves too powerful, managing to subdue everyone. If you know the Knight storyline, you can pretty much guess the rest. Revan alone manages to get free, becomes the only one the Emperor can't stop, yadda yadda yadda, the Emperor is stopped and the Galaxy is saved.
Both KOTOR and KOTOR II presented a lot of questions in-universe and out and the questioning of the very existence of an Emperor who is even more powerful than the Triumvirate of KOTOR II would have been an interesting addition to this mix. It could have worked, especially as it would have continued the trend of moving forward and actually having Revan and the Exile feature together as some of the playable characters, which I'm sure many would have relished.
Pre-SWTOR: Galactic Timeline and Revan
What with SWTOR being an MMO focusing on the wider galaxy and the Empire and Republic, of course if they had to have Revan feature predominantly then they would have needed to make him relevant to current affairs. This was done to a great extent: so much so, in fact, that his back-story pre-dating KOTOR was delved into and 'touched up' to this effect. Dangerous waters in which to tread.
I mentioned in my Jedi Knight story critique that there were these audio narratives which detailed several "noteworthy" historical events leading up to the game's beginning. Some were invented for the sake of adding context, but others were re-tellings of old tales. The path of Revan was covered in a couple, and I - thinking that they wouldn't reveal anything we didn't already know - skipped over them and focused on other aspects. It transpires that, actually, these did reveal something new.
Controversially, Revan and Malak had reportedly both found the fledgling Empire during their quest for the Star Forge. Realising the extreme threat which it presented, they both tried to cut the serpent's head off by attacking the Emperor. He, in turn, dominates their wills and makes them servants of the Dark Side, thus setting the scene for KOTOR.
KOTOR's Sith were, for the most part, their own beings. We got the sense that they were in control but there was never any true indication of there being a surviving and independent "Empire" in the wider galaxy, as such. Revan's being named as "Dark Lord of the Sith" before Malak's betrayal of course indicates that he and Malak formed their own Empire based on that of figures such as Marka Ragnos and Naga Sadow, with the Star Forge as a base. The Triumvirate of KOTOR II again emphasised to what extent the Sith were in control; that all three fell out and never really saw eye-to-eye conveyed that there seemingly wasn't much coherency to Sith Rule.
Therefore, the notion that there actually was an incumbent Emperor who both Revan and Malak encountered who actually predates the Triumvirate is a totally new idea that I don't think anyone was anticipating. Not to mention the idea that the Emperor was directly responsible for Revan and Malak's fall, and even their quest for the Star Forge, went completely against every single theory which could be derived from the original game. Both of these are completely out-of-the-blue and really do seem to lessen the "personal responsibility" behind all theories of their plunge to the Dark Side which made both Revan and Malak truly enticing.
Around the same time that these were coming out, a book simply titled Revan was published. This was meant to segue the gap between KOTOR and KOTOR II, explain Revan's absence, and then provide a conclusion that takes place after both games. It focuses on Revan's attempts to re-discover the Sith Emperor, having mostly-reclaimed his memory of apparently encountering him. He is promptly captured by the Sith, including a warrior known as Scourge. He, in turn, is impressed by Revan and thinks that he is the Jedi destined to destroy the Emperor. After four years, Revan reaches out to the Exile, now identified as Meetra Surik, and asks her for help freeing him. She comes to his aid with T3-M4 and, managing to recruit Scourge, they confront the Emperor. In the subsequent fight, the Exile is stabbed in the back by Scourge, T3-M4 is disintegrated by the Emperor's lightning, and Revan is incapacitated and locked in stasis for 300 years.
Yes, the strong protagonist of the second game and a competent and rather adorable companion from the second and first games both get axed off in a sentence each. Apart from a moment when T3 saves Revan from the barrage of lightning which is then sent his way, proving fatal, there isn't much time to delve into anything emotional regarding their respective deaths; they're just killed and Revan is subdued and the story ends after a conversation and reflections between an elderly Bastila and her and Revan's son, Naver. Regardless, the notion of the Exile and T3 in particular - imagine the outcry if it had been HK-47 who had died! - just being killed in writing is actually quite appalling, especially as there isn't any great "fight" culminating in either termination. A back-stab being the manner of killing the Exile has been regarded by many fans as a pure and simple insult.
We also learn from this book that the Mandalorians were actually manipulated by the Sith Emperor into committing their atrocities which later, of course, saw Revan take up his mask and swear justice. This means that the Emperor, an unknown figure up until this point, is in fact behind everything that led to KOTOR and so moves from unknown to the most major player without any prior hints to his possible existence. Quite a sizeable repertoire for a first-time introduction!
Admission: When I first bought SWTOR and started playing it way back in December 2011, I had no idea that Revan was actually going to appear. I hadn't actually read Revan at that point as I didn't know that the book existed (it wasn't very well publicised in the UK if I remember rightly). I was actually more interested in seeing how the Galaxy had evolved over the three-hundred-years since Revan's lifetime. If I were to choose exactly what I would have wanted by way of appearance, it would only have been HK-47 and T3-M4 who would only make full appearances (being droids, they would survive over 300 years), and if Revan were to appear then it would be in recorded-hologram form, only be from the neck up, wearing the mask, and with an incredibly distorted voice so that we couldn't tell if they were male or female.
My first interaction in SWTOR with anything remotely "Revan" was the Revanite camp on Dromund Kaas. The Revanites were exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to see; a group of cultists following the teachings of Revan. Knowing how prominent a figure Revan was as both a Sith and a Jedi, having this cult across both factions would have been very interesting. Alas, there are quite a few serious problems. Firstly, it's on Dromund Kaas, a planet Revan never visited in KOTOR. Secondly, the Revanites are initially only Imperial. Thirdly, the cult was begun only a matter of months before the game's beginning. We've had three hundred years and this cult only emerges right at the very end!?
To have these Revanites appear on a world which Revan visited in the original game - let's say, Tatooine - and to have the cult across both factions would have a lot of potential. Not only because it could lead to a planet quest seeking a famous Relic apparently delivered by Revan himself - say, the Imprisoned One's Casket - but because we could also then see how Revan is viewed across both factions. Having a meeting between these two groups could then lead to a faction-neutral cult whose existence and purpose is simply to debate what Revan 'meant' to the Galaxy. Annoyingly, the game does come very close to this; there actually is a planet quest which both factions can do which leads to the Imprisoned One's Casket - or Mind Trap - being uncovered, but it's handled with absolutely no connection to Revan whatsoever. Czerka are featured a great deal in the Republic quest chain and just a tiny bit in the Imperial version, but this is as far as KOTOR references get until the Imprisoned One himself appears. Not even Motta the potentially-weak-willed Hutt, to whom the Casket was delivered, is mentioned.
The Revanite quest on Dromund Kaas actually does end quite nicely; the person in charge is actually female whilst using a male avatar representing Revan. It's a nice little reference to the ability to choose Revan's gender, but it could be handled better. For example, we get a full-body image of the Revan avatar which clearly shows it off as a male when we also earlier saw a male apparition of Revan. Why not make one male and the other female, rather than just have an apparently male one turn out to be female?
The Imperials also get another little snippet devoted to discussing Revan, this time on Nar Shaddaa where an alien cult comprised of Ongree are worshipping the Infinite Engine, which is a fragment of the actual Star Forge created by Darth Revan (the fragment, not the Forge). I will give this some credit as it does involve a location actually seen in the KOTOR games, but again is actually not visited by Revan but by the Exile in KOTOR II. Regardless, this cult actually has a history of longevity, unlike the Revanites, but it is given nowhere near enough attention or detail to make it truly worthwhile.
The Republic only gets tiny little moments where Revan's name is mentioned in comparison. The Consular communes with the spirit of Bastila Shan as part of the Coruscant quest, but her importance is completely omitted and Revan's name is never even mentioned there! The Flashpoints Taral V and Maelstrom Prison change this dearth of "Revan" quite drastically. You are introduced to a female Jedi Entity who leads the Republic to a Gree Computer which can be used to locate a prison where a Jedi Prisoner is being held. The identity of both this woman and the prisoner are kept secret until the very end of the latter flashpoint.
As someone who was wholly not anticipating seeing Revan, seeing Revan alive and well at the very end of Maelstrom Prison actually sort of put me back to the KOTOR-ambiguity mindset of not knowing the truth and thus being intrigued and enticed into finding out more. If I had actually known about the book Revan's existence and read it before this, then yes I would not have been thus; the problem for SWTOR is that a great deal of KOTOR fans had actually read the book and so this appearance was anticipated and thus those people didn't feel quite as enticed as the game wanted them to be. As everyone can now actually read about what exactly happened to put Revan in this situation, nobody needs to theorise or debate to any great extent anymore. The 'correct' answers are all on paper.
The Entity's identity is revealed to you in two ways: firstly in a codex entry you receive after completing a bonus mission in Taral V which can be completed any time you do the Flashpoint, and secondly in a conversation following Maelstrom Prison which you only get to see once. Even then you only learn who she was if you specifically ask Revan about her. Again, if you read the book beforehand you could pick up on the hints in the conversation which the two shared after Revan is freed, but if you didn't know Revan tells you that history remembers her as "the Exile", so not only does Revan appear, but the Exile does as well, but at least her inclusion as a Force Ghost makes sense without any prior knowledge of existing literature.
It is from this point that I think a lot of people begin to take issue with Revan. Until this point, SWTOR had been casually referring to him by name and a few "induced" appearances. One problem for a lot of people is that we got to see his actual face beneath the mask. At least with Surik, she had physically aged (somehow) so is harder to identify on the list of available faces, but Revan's is actually one of the faces you can choose for him. Granted, at least they didn't completely make one from scratch. Some people like it, as it means that they can actually properly play as Revan now, but it does remove another aspect of uncertainty which made him malleable and enticing. I'm starting to sound like a cracked record, so moving on.
We know from KOTOR that he is driven, as seen by his quest for the Star Forge, but after his release from Maelstrom Prison he takes the dive from "Driven" to "Fanatically Devoted". All his plans now relate to stopping the Emperor at all costs. As a result, it's the Empire's job to hunt him down and kill him in the Foundry Flashpoint. You have to defeat HK-47 as part of this mission, but I will give some credit to the ending of the actual fight with Revan: not only does he quote Darth Malak's final words, but you don't actually see him killed, as he disappears in a flash of white light. It left him open after a very disappointing focus.
SWTOR: Shadow of Revan
Everyone who's been watching updates surrounding SWTOR for the last year knows what happens next.
Revan comes back and is now in control of the Revanites - who are now curiously both Republic and Imperial with no prior indication of Republic Revanites existing in the game until now - and his ultimate goal is, as in the vanilla SWTOR, stopping the Emperor. Sorry, that should be: reviving the Emperor, allowing him to possess a body, and then killing that body. Simple.
Revan seems very, very callous in this particular story. He has little to no regard for anything besides the completion of his goals and would gladly sacrifice an entire world to achieve them. The exact reason for his callousness is that he is once more his Dark Side self, but it is actually a little bit more detailed than that. It actually transpires that his Light self died and his Dark side self somehow manifested itself in his corpse "in all of a blink" and began living again. Okay, so this is something which we've never heard happening before.
Curiously, even though Revan is so obviously "evil" and "monstrous" now, he doesn't actually have a lot to back this up. Whilst his disregard for life is obviously evil, his ultimate goal is just to kill the Emperor. Then what? Just killing the Emperor isn't in itself a truly "Dark Side" outcome; if his plan were to "Resurrect the Emperor to serve him as I did before" or "Resurrect the Emperor and kill him so I can rule in his stead", then I can perhaps see the reasoning behind making him a pure Dark Side figure. As he was, though, he was far more 'grey' and perhaps just the teeniest bit of light. Can't really take such a figure seriously, and considering that it's Revan, that's not a good thing to say.
At the end of it all, following the Emperor's unprevented resurrection and departure, Revan's two halves - his Light Side form exists simultaneously as a Force Ghost - merge and Revan actually dies. Story's over, folks! Time to pack up and go home.
Yes, Revan is definitively dead and no more can come from his story, past, present, or future.
Have SWTOR and its associated material done the KOTOR Legacy "justice" or has it truly "ruined" it? I'd say that it is definitely open to interpretation; I myself would not go so far as to say that I believe Revan to have been "ruined". The Old Republic tried to do some good things, notably the Revanites and the return of The Imprisoned One, but I do believe that the game could have handled everything regarding Revan so much better.
Needless to say that a lot of the problems of Revan in SWTOR exist because they tried to make him be a proper person in an MMO devoted to telling the story of the Galaxy as a whole. Trying to fit in a 300-year-old Jedi/Sith and his plights with everything else would have meant making him relevant to the game and likely changing a bit of his back-story, and this hasn't really worked. The fact that the Exile and T3 are also just completely axed off in the book Revan really doesn't help; both this game and that book definitively close off so many potential ways to tread backwards and tell their stories from an earlier perspective by any other means.
Even with all of SWTOR's disappointments in properly giving him the true respect he deserves, Revan always shall be a timeless and legendary character. SWTOR's Revan, due to the out-of-the-blue and controversial nature of the developments, can't truly be fairly compared to the Revan of KOTOR; the sheer potentiality regarding the character in 2003 will always make him grander and more developed than he would become fewer than eight years later, and the varying responses to Revan in SWTOR by KOTOR fans reflect this a great deal.