The Batman Arkham series of games redefined what a superhero game could be when they began to release in the late 2000’s. Since then, we’ve seen a huge influx of superhero titles attempting to recreate what made those games so great, with varying levels of success. The team at WB Montreal even contributed to the success of the Arkhamverse with their entry in Arkham Origins and have now returned to the Batman franchise to deliver a brand new entry completely separate from the Arkhamverse that shifts the focus away from the caped crusader. In fact they’ve done probably the bravest thing they could attempt. Removing Batman from Gotham City completely. There’s a lot of parallels to the Arkham games for sure, but also plenty of new systems placed on top of a solid story. Although the push towards modern RPG-like loot mechanics did leave a lot to be desired.
The story premise of Gotham Knights is no secret, we’ve known since the game’s reveal that this game is set in a universe separate to the previous Arkham games, and after an epic opening we learn that Batman is dead. This hands the reigns of Gotham’s protection over to his protégés to take on the task of continuing the legacy of the Dark Knight. It was a pretty cool way of pushing the spotlight to a cast of characters that are typically given the supporting cast role and primarily assist Batman on his patrols and keeping Gotham safe. Without their mentor, it’s time for Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl and Robin to step up and not only look over Gotham and it’s people, but also uncover a large scale mystery that threatens the city that you’ll come to discover the more you play the game.
The game allows you to switch between the 4 core playable characters at any time from within their home base The Belfrey and I liked that the story cleverly adapts to the current playable character you’re playing as, opening up contextual conversations with Alfred, the other party members and even the classic rogue gallery cast you’ll interact with numerous times throughout your adventure. With the 4 characters each having the same core mechanics available and having the experience earned shared between all of them makes it quite easy, and even encouraged to swap between them often to best suit the objectives of each mission. While the overall main narrative remains the same regardless of who you choose to play as, I did like this contextual shift and also provides some fresh material to be seen the next time through if you happen to want to play the game through more than once.
The core gamplay loop has you performing nightly patrols to clean up Gotham by partaking in the many side objectives such as taking down enemy criminal factions committing crimes, interrogating people for information, finding collectables as well as of course ticking off the objectives to further the main questline before heading back to the base of operations, The Belfrey to typically report back to Alfred, analyse the newly collected evidence and repeat.
I did find the missions in the game, especially those quite early on to be very repetitive by design, but I did love when the plot started introducing new areas to explore, characters to interact with and/or fight and the numerous stealth based sections that brought back feelings of my favourite part of the Arkham games. But there is still a fair amount of leave The Belfrey, drive to waypoint, take out X number of enemies to gain next clue, drive back to The Belfrey, hand it in and repeat that began to feel stale after doing it many times on end that made me wish there was more mission variety at times or that similar types of missions were better paced out.
Thankfully the combat, which you’ll be partaking in a lot is quite fun and has a lot of parallels to Batman’s skill set we got in the Arkham games. The system itself will be quite familiar to anyone that has played the aforementioned games or Marvel’s Spider-Man featuring a light and heavy melee attack as well as a unique ranged attack and dodge action. Special abilities that can be utilised by gaining and spending ‘momentum’ in combat allow each of the characters to unleash more powerful skill based attacks that can be unlocked and powered up at certain times throughout the story or by unlocking the ability on the appropriate skill tree of the chosen character.
Just about every mission will involve beating the pulp out of numerous groups of enemies and I did like that to keep things somewhat fresh, different enemy types would be thrown into the mix that would require certain conditions be met to be able to deal damage and prevent you from just being able to succeed in combat scenarios by just mashing the square button, such as requiring the use of certain momentum attacks, or heavy attacks being used to break an enemies guard.
Some of the boss encounters though did fall flat because how how similar they played out to these typical wave based bouts that are experienced quite frequently during the core game. I loved the art direction and level design of many of these bosses but felt quite underwhelmed by how similar a number of them ended up playing out and felt many of them were significantly longer than they needed to be because of inflated health bars that made my characters feel a lot less heroic when it took hundreds of punches to bring them down. I’m not sure if this is because the encounters have been tailored for the co-op aspect of the game and are balanced to be played by 2 players of if it’s to further push the RPG grind of trying to increase your DPS to do better on subsequent replays when you have better gear, but for a first playthrough I felt the pacing of the combat encounters themselves was off.
Gotham Knights, like many AAA games these days has tried to implement an RPG-like loot system into the game which does try and introduce some interesting concepts that can be used to tweak the stats of the 4 party characters but personally I felt the game would have been better without the grind for slightly better gear that often comes when ranked loot is introduced into games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad, I did like some of the tweaks that gear items could grant to make your version of the 4 characters feel more suited to your playstyle and unique from those another player has in their game, such as elemental damage applied to weapons and the vast visual customisation options and suits available to unlock. I just found the RPG side of things more miss than hit.
Where WB Montreal excelled the most was in their representation of Gotham. It’s a nice looking open world that is fun to explore and their take on characters from the Batman universe was a nice twist even to someone like myself that’s very familiar with Batman, his sidekicks and his diverse rogues gallery. The worldbuilding of this universe is interesting and fleshed out in subtle ways. Some things are very obviously different such as Batman being dead, but you can also learn of other dead characters, new relationships and twists to the standard canon we’ve come to know via the mostly great writing, character dialogue and via the emails you’ll receive from the various characters from the wider Batman and DC universe which made this world feel more lived in and real. It was also interesting to see how the characters in this version of Gotham dealt with the news of Batman no longer being around and the flow on impact that had as it further cemented how big the legend of Batman was, without him being there at all.
If you’re a fan of open world superhero games or a fan of the Batman franchise there are certainly a number of individual aspects of Gotham Knights you’ll be able to enjoy. The combat feels nice, the world is there to explore and there are some great character moments and writing throughout the whole game. Unfortunately it falls short as an overall great package due to an RPG loot system that feels like it was forced in and largely unnecessary, and pacing issues with the mission design and boss encounters. When the game focuses on the world and story it’s great, I just wish the game overall was closer to what we got with Arkham Origins rather than the push towards bloated modern grinds that have been injected into far too many games these days.
A PS5 review code was provided for the purpose of this review.
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