WB Games Montreal | DC Comics

‘Gotham Knights’ is a Thrilling Follow-up to ‘Arkham Knight’

'Gotham Knights' looks like a true spiritual successor to the beloved 'Arkham' series from developer Rocksteady. Can WB Games Montreal recapture the magic that made 'Arkham City' so special?
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Seven years ago, Rocksteady released the final game in its beloved Arkham franchise. Arkham Knight was a masterclass in game design that saw the Caped Crusader fighting a wide rogues’ gallery of supervillains across a massive Gotham City map. 

Notably, it was also the fourth game in a series that only started in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum. That’s an extremely rapid pace for any franchise, and burned-out fans were pleased to hear that developer Rocksteady was ready to step away from the series after Arkham Knight. Now, the game’s spiritual successor, Gotham Knights, promises to return players to Gotham to battle supervillains as some of Batman’s closest allies.

Rocksteady isn’t developing this one, though. WB Games Montreal, the studio behind the 2013 Batman: Arkham Origins spin-off, is making the new title. It’s also reportedly not in the same continuity as the Arkham series, despite its main narrative thread revolving around a Gotham without Batman. That’s exactly how Arkham Knight’s story ends, so it’s a bit strange that this game apparently shares no narrative connection with its predecessor. 

The Knights

That story-based quibble aside, the game picks up after supervillains defeat Batman and leave his allies leaderless. Gotham finds itself at the whim of supervillains like Mr. Freeze and the Court of Owls. Bruce Wayne’s closest confidants are left to defend the city in his stead. Gamers will be able to choose between four playable characters: Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, and Batgirl.

Nightwing, also known as Dick Grayson, was Bruce Wayne’s first sidekick. Bruce adopted Dick after both of the young acrobat’s parents tragically lost their lives in a circus act accident. Red Hood is the alter ego of Jason Todd, the second Robin. In the comics, the Joker brutally attacks Jason Todd and leaves him for dead, turning the young superhero against his former mentor. Rocksteady adapted this story in the Arkham universe, introducing the Arkham Knight persona as another name for Red Hood.

The third and current Robin, Tim Drake, is Batman’s most recent sidekick in Gotham Knights. Armed with a bo staff and a suite of gadgets, he’s ready to strike out and become his own hero. Finally, Barbara Gordon follows in Bruce Wayne’s footsteps as Batgirl. Pre-release footage of the game shows that Barbara’s skill set is extremely similar to Batman’s moves in the Arkham games. This makes sense, given that she’s the true successor to the “bat” namesake and learned her moves from Bruce.

Working as a Team

The Arkham series is renowned for its excellent storytelling and compelling villains. However, the story did have to take some unusual turns to keep Bruce’s numerous allies from joining him in the fray. The games were focused on their single-player narratives, so they had to limit Nightwing and Robin’s screentime to keep them from stealing the show. 

This started to change in Arkham Knight. Some segments allowed players to freely switch between Batman, Catwoman, Nightwing, and Robin, though the supporting characters were limited to specific areas. Still, this fun team-based gameplay got many fans thinking about a potential co-op version of the addictive Arkham gameplay loop. How fun would it be to work together with a buddy to take on Gotham’s supervillains and solve puzzles?

That’s the main design goal that underpins Gotham Knight’s co-op focus. The new title will allow players to engage in drop-in, drop-out two-player co-op, engage in team moves, and tackle challenges together. There’s something extremely satisfying about seeing Red Hood tee up Nightwing for a combo takedown!

More Playable Characters, More Fun

One of the best parts of Arkham City and Arkham Knight was the free-play mode that allowed players to take on various challenges as Batman’s allies. Catwoman offered a very different gameplay experience than Nightwing, for example. These alternate player characters showcased just how fun Arkham’s core mechanics were, with each character providing a unique set of gadgets and skills for tackling stealth sections and chaotic brawls.

Gotham Knights will take this a step further by allowing players to tackle its narrative scenarios as any of the four Knights. The four characters won’t be relegated to an optional arcade-style free-play mode, but will instead be core components of the game’s storyline.

Each Knight will possess a distinct set of skills, too! So far, WB Montreal has shown off Nightwing’s acrobatic fighting style, Red Hood’s long-range capabilities, Robin’s teleporting powers, and Batgirl’s wide array of gadgets. 

Customization Goes Deep

In a recent gameplay trailer, WB Montreal showed off a new side of Gotham Knights that sets it apart from the Arkham franchise. In the new game, each playable Knight will have their own set of armor upgrades and unlockable equipment. Unlike the recent Avengers title, these loot drops aren’t just stat upgrades: they actually change each character’s visual appearance. In the brief trailer, we see a handful of new suit designs for both Nightwing and Red Hood, each with its own stats and perks.

The armor also comes with various “mod-chip” slots, allowing players to customize and upgrade their gear as they progress through the game’s storyline. WB Montreal has confirmed that the game isn’t a live service title like Destiny or Anthem, though some fans have expressed concerns over these elements potentially souring the single-player experience.

The developers have insisted in interviews that the unlockable upgrades won’t be tied to microtransactions. This means that players will be able to unlock each cosmetic and gameplay upgrade through playing the title, not by opening up their wallets. This is a welcome change of pace for the gaming industry and reminds many fans of the old-school sensibilities of the original Arkham series.

Not a Sequel?

Fans largely expected the new title to follow on from the last Rocksteady Batman game, given that WB Montreal has already created an excellent Arkham game in the criminally-underrated Origins. It’s also worth noting that Knights has a name that sounds like it’s a direct successor to the last Arkham title. 

On top of these points, the trailers for the new game make it sound like it’s a direct sequel. Batman confronts Red Hood in Knight and learns that Jason Todd survived the Joker’s torture. In the true ending for Arkham Knight, Bruce Wayne destroys the Batcave and seemingly dies after Scarecrow reveals his secret identity to the public. These plot points line up with Gotham Knights’ reveal trailer perfectly: Jason Todd is back to working with the Bat-Family, and Batman is gone. 

Complicating matters further, another game will function as a narrative follow-up to Arkham Knight. Rocksteady is currently working on a Suicide Squad game, Kill the Justice League, that will reportedly take place in the same continuity as the developer’s previous Batman titles. Suicide Squad is a co-op third-person shooter, which seemingly makes it a poor fit for the beat-em-up, stealth-focused action of the Arkham franchise. 

Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League

Rocksteady’s upcoming Suicide Squad game will also feature co-op play and four playable characters. The game’s headlining character, Harley Quinn, was a major antagonist in the Arkham series. The other playable characters–Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and King Shark–are lesser-known villains from DC Comics who routinely appear as members of the titular team.

The game will follow the team of supervillains as they try to stop the alien Brainiac from conquering the world with the mind-controlled members of the Justice League: Green Lantern, Superman, and The Flash. The game will take place in the Rocksteady version of Metropolis, and will continue with plot threads established during Arkham Knights’ narrative. While fans are excited about this upcoming title, it’s still a bit unusual.

Speaking personally, I’d much rather see the story from the Arkham games continue in a Bat-Family narrative, not in the madcap world of the Suicide Squad. While Rocksteady’s upcoming title looks like a lot of fun, it doesn’t have the spirit of its narrative predecessors. Gotham Knights, on the other hand, is a compelling spiritual successor to the beloved franchise.

Last-Gen Versions Canceled

The recent gameplay trailer also coincided with the news that WB Montreal has canceled the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Gotham Knights. The developer says this will help the team focus on making the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of the game the best they can be. Owners of current-gen systems were thrilled about this news, but gamers who’ve been unable to get their hands on the new systems were understandably disappointed.

Gotham Knights won’t be the last game to make this switch, either. The new systems have been out for over a year and a half, and current-gen players have already begun grumbling about “compromised” versions of new games appearing watered-down to work on both last-gen and current-gen systems.

Many DC fans are hopeful that the game will be a true next-gen experience and will feature graphics good enough to merit the last-gen versions’ cancellation. We’ll get to find out for ourselves when the game comes out on October 25, 2022!