Ever since I was a kid, Batman has always been my favorite DC superhero of all time. From Batman: The Animated Series to Rocksteady Studios’ critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham trilogy of action-adventure games, I simply couldn’t get enough of The Caped Crusader in all his complicated yet dignified glory.
This was one of many reasons why I was eager to play Gotham Knights, a new action RPG set within Gotham City without our beloved hero. After spending an extensive amount of time with WB Games Montréal’s latest title, I walked away satisfied with the end result despite some missed opportunities in certain areas. Here are more of my thoughts on Gotham Knights and why it might be worth checking out.
The story takes place after the untimely deaths of Batman/Bruce Wayne and GCPD Commissioner Jim Gordon. When you start up the game for the very first time, you’ll see exactly what happens to Batman and how those events lead to his Bat Family of protégés emerging from the shadows to protect Gotham with the goal of avenging their fallen leader. Players can take on the role of Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Robin (Tim Drake), and/or Red Hood (Jason Todd) while having the full support of Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius Fox, and a few other familiar, yet unexpected allies.
From a narrative standpoint, the writing is quite compelling and filled with more than enough content influenced by the source material to keep you coming back for more. The family’s primary job is to investigate Bruce’s death all while navigating through an increasingly hostile environment where citizens and even some villains are unaware that Batman is dead. The city itself acts as a character as well, ripe with plenty of crimes and mysteries for you to solve.
At the same time, all four of these protagonists have their own personal moments of doubt and often reflect on what Bruce has done for them to give an extra boost of motivation. This rich storytelling approach coupled with an array of popular supervillains like The Court of Owls, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, and others makes for one hell of a ride from start to finish.
A Different Take On The Arkham Formula
As I mentioned earlier, Gotham Knights is an action role-playing game set within an always online open-world Gotham City. WB Games Montréal has previously mentioned this title as being part of Arkham’s connected universe, but the RPG elements really do move this formula in a new direction. Before I dive deeper into those aspects, I want to give a general overview of what you can expect from the introduction, controls, and mission structure.
When jumping into the first story mission, you’ll be prompted to choose one of the four protagonists and start investigating Batman’s final case file on Gotham University Faculty member/Doctor Kirk Langstrom. Shortly after arriving at the university, you discover that Langstrom is dead, gangs are wreaking havoc, and the crime scene has to be further studied for clues. This very straightforward opening mission is designed to get players familiar with the control mechanics right away. Some of the basic controls for Xbox are listed below:
- Tap X for light attacks
- Hold X for heavy attacks
- Press X when above enemies to perform ambush takedowns
- Tap Y to perform ranged attacks
- Hold Y for heavy ranged attacks
- Press Y when above enemies to perform silent takedowns
- Press B to evade enemy attacks
- Press the right trigger to grab enemies who can then be struck, thrown, or interrogated
- Use a Grapnel gun to swing between buildings
- Press Up to call Batcycle
- Press Down to use AR scanning
- Press Left to access a wheel menu for Photo mode, Emote, and make the joinable network private or public for co-op multiplayer
- Press Right to restore health
After completing the first mission, you return to your base of operations known to many fans of the comics as The Belfry. This is where you go to analyze clues on the investigation board, view challenges that must be completed to unlock knighthood abilities and cold case file supervillain showdowns, check out various story-driven cut scenes with other team members, and participate in brief training modules to better hone your skills.
Each mission offers a key objective along with puzzles and enemies for you to conquer. The structure remains largely the same except in the instances when to have to engage in supervillain boss battles which happen multiple times throughout the campaign after completing the required objectives.
All of the above activities happen during the day and when you leave the Belfry, the day transitions to night. At this point, this is where you must now spend your time patrolling Gotham City across every district. All crime scenes investigated, premeditated crimes stopped, story missions completed, and civilians rescued are listed every night after you opt to return to the Belfry.
You can access the Batcomputer both in and outside The Belfry in order to track your progress on everything. In addition to this, you can expect to explore several historical landmarks, gather collectibles, and find personalized hidden batarangs left by Batman for each individual member. This back-and-forth dynamic gives you the incentive to repeat the cycle endlessly out of interest to see how the storyline progresses.
Kicking Ass In Style
Speaking of progression, Gotham Knights is a game where you’ll constantly have to level up your character in order to be prepared for later story missions. Earning XP also rewards you with ability points that can be used to buy new character-specific ability powers for your hero. Every single enemy encounter won and crime stopped grants you XP and materials that can be used to craft upgraded suits, melee weapons, and ranged weapons. If you die while patrolling then you’re able to respawn but you end up losing a small portion of the materials that you acquired.
These newer craftable items are simply badass and become available every single time that you level up. There are also secret caches that you’ll find throughout the city that are filled to the brim with materials for the taking. Using the same AR scanner that you use to piece together crime scene mini-games is particularly helpful here because you’re able to see plenty of highlighted objects that you might miss in your travels. When it comes to leveling up, know that you’ll definitely have to do a ton of grinding, and every enemy you face gets the same increased level rank to even the playing field.
Something else worth mentioning is that there are mod and styling options to add a bit of deeper customization and beneficial perks to the crafted items. I’ll be the first to admit that while I do like this mod system feature, I feel it definitely takes some getting used to.
The fault here is that early on there really isn’t a dedicated tutorial to fully explain this process. If you play a ton of RPGs, then you might figure it out on your own as I did. However, newbies who aren’t familiar with how this system works well definitely struggle to understand it and may skip this option altogether.
Bats In The Belfry
I’ve said mostly positive things about Gotham Knights thus far and yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the flaws that I feel hold it back from being the best game that it possibly could be. For starters, we have to address the fact that this game doesn’t have any performance mode options on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. While many have openly complained about the game only running 30 fps, simply knowing that there currently aren’t options on consoles to further enhance the experience is very disappointing.
These particular options definitely could have made a difference when executing combat maneuvers and abilities. I didn’t encounter any issues when playing cooperatively with others online so I understand the decision but still wonder why this couldn’t be resolved. While the graphics look superb, the combat mechanics are easy to dive into, and there were no noticeable frame rate drops, being able to see every action-packed animation running at a higher rate and resolution certainly could have made every fight more enjoyable and addictive.
Another issue I have that coincides directly with the announcement of no performance mode on consoles is the fact that the newly confirmed 4-player heroic assault mode isn’t coming until after launch. Given that this is a game largely centered around 4 key protagonists, it would have been a nice bonus if this game launched with this mode already added.
Given that Gotham Knights was delayed in the past, I’m sure that the internal business decision was to release this game as soon as possible to keep investors satisfied. While I do understand that, I do believe taking the time to properly optimize for consoles and include this mode at launch as opposed to later definitely would have made paying consumers and fans even more excited about the end product.
In a nutshell, Gotham Knights is an intriguing action RPG that emerges from the shadows of the Arkham series and ultimately succeeds in creating a new path for itself. If you are already emotionally invested in the characters, world, and storylines, then you owe it to yourself to try out this game as soon as possible. While it might not be perfect in every way imaginable, Gotham Knights certainly will scratch your itch for more DC action games.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Gotham Knights for the Xbox Series X provided by WB Games Montréal Inc.