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Building a world without Batman: A first look at Gotham Knights

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Building a world without Batman: A first look at Gotham Knights

WB Games Montréal talks gameplay and story details of its new superheroic open-world action RPG

WB Games Montréal’s new project finally made its debut at the recent DC FanDome event. An open world action RPG, Gotham Knights is an all-new tale inspired and shaped by the wider Batman franchise. It’s not a continuation of the studio’s work in the Arkham series; instead, it delves into unexplored aspects of the superhero fantasy. 

In the wake of Batman’s apparent death, the extended Bat family — Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin and Red Hood — takes to the streets (and rooftops) of DC’s iconic city to continue the Dark Knight’s role as its protector, tackle the rising tide of crime, and take on threats both new and familiar.

Building a world without Batman: A first look at Gotham Knights

In the wake of the game’s reveal (a thrilling team-up of announcement trailer and near eight minute gameplay walkthrough), I sat down with creative director Patrick Redding to delve deeper into the studio’s new unique vision for Gotham. 

1. Four heroes, four combat styles, four separate XP progression systems

Tragedy hits hardest to those closest to it, which is partly why the studio chose this quartet — Barbara Gordon, former Robins Dick Grayson and Jason Todd, and one of the latest wearers of the mantle, Tim Drake — to focus on. “The original core of the Bat family” carry the shared weight of lives lived under the tutelage of Bruce Wayne and heroics shaped by the shadow of his alter-ego.

The other reason? Despite that connection, their methods and fighting styles are noticeably distinct from each other, making for a potent mix of gameplay styles whether adventuring solo or in two player co-op. 

Red Hood is a brutal brawler with a focus on gunplay. Nightwing’s acrobatics lead to a more exaggerated style of fighting, while the current Robin favours stealth and is a dab hand at using status effects to disrupt enemies. And Batgirl? “She combines a laser-focused, targeted and efficient melee fighter approach with a lot of resilience and the ability to weaponize her environment using hacking,” says Redding. 

Pick a hero and head out on your nighttime patrol, returning to the Belfrey, the Knights’ base of operations, at any time to tag in a different crimefighter. You’re never forced to play a specific character; you can play through the entire game with one hero if you so wish. But each vigilante will have a unique ability tree and craftable gear, with XP gains earned through open world activities. 

The idea, Redding explains, is that the core gameplay loop intertwines with one of the narrative approaches. “It’s not one story set over one night, but really about the mid to long term growth of the hero. The game affords players a huge amount of growth and a huge amount of goal setting in an open world environment that they need to protect, that they need to go back to again and again.

“It’s that idea of how this new guard of younger heroes – that are not Bruce Wayne, are not Batman — approach the problem of equipping and training themselves up, preparing and adapting for that next major threat, that next major menace that they’re going to need to combat?” 

On the subject of equipment, I ask about a certain visual treatment given to each hero visible in the reveal trailer. The neon-like colouring to their weapons: aesthetic only or is there more to it? 

“It’s funny you brought that up,” Redding muses, “Because it’s a very important platform for us to deliver game information.” He points to the gameplay walkthrough as an example. “Some of those visual effects tell you what damage type you have equipped on your weapons.

“So it’s a way for the player to receive signs of feedback… that lets them know what protection they have, what they’re going to use against their enemies, both in terms of ranged and melee attacks.” 

Gotham Knights

Contrary to Bruce’s pre-recorded message, the Belfrey’s tech isn’t as outdated as you might fear. “It’s literally a piece of dialogue in the game,” laughs Redding when I ask him how the heroes will cope. “Alfred says to Barbara: ‘only you and Bruce would ever say any of this is outdated’. They make fun of the fact these guys are used to being at the bleeding edge of everything.” 

2. An evolving open world with a living, breathing ecosystem

One of the biggest characters in the Bat universe — quite literally — is Gotham itself. Working with DC, WB Montreal’s open-world, five borough-strong vision curates its inspirations — its interpretation — from versions seen across comics, movies, TV shows. “There are places and locations that are iconic, that have history,” Redding affirms. 

It’s also one that supports multiple elements that boil together to create a vivid, ever-thriving ecosystem. A living citizenry who travel to work or the local grocery store, who add to traffic congestion or run home from the train station. Multiple criminal factions. The GCPD. And, of course, Batman’s rogues gallery, who as much as the Knights, are having to reinvent themselves in the wake of their nemesis’ death. Redding is excited for players to see what results. “It’s going to serve up a ton of variety, a ton of complexity that you can keep evolving, modifying and adding to as the player advances through the story.” 

The Knights will explore this world by grapple or Batcycle, battling baddies and gradually finding evidence, major clues that point to the larger storyline, the next chapter of the larger mystery. And they’ll uncover a new threat that has its roots in the very foundations of Gotham’s history: the Court of Owls. 

Gotham Knights

Villains, even street-level goons, will level up alongside your characters. The intention is to make you think about every fight. Lower-level criminals may inspire you to try something flashy. In contrast,you’ll want to change up your gear loadout or stick to stealth when  tackling more powerful foes. “We wanted to make sure that every encounter, no matter where it is, provides those kinds of choices,” explains Redding. 

3. Reinvented villains, old, new and ancient 

“They are all about the 350-year history of Gotham,” explains Redding of the Court. A fairly recent addition to the Bat mythos, first introduced in the comics back in 2011, The Court of Owls is a secret society that has shaped Gotham since its earliest days, whose “wealth and corruption and entrenched power twisted the city into its current form.”  

The creative director goes on to explain how the Court’s long history with the city and their inclusion as the main adversarial force made the studio look at Gotham “as a historical place” and influenced its design. “History is embedded in the architecture and bedrock, in the very foundations of every square of the city.”

And as much as the Court is intrinsically tied to Gotham itself, the other villains you’ll tax your crime fighting skills won’t operate in a bubble; they’ll be part of and imperil the city you’re trying to protect. “We want to make you feel all that work you’re investing into protecting Gotham City,” outlines Redding. “Regardless of whether you’re dealing with a small street gang on a corner somewhere or dealing with a major supervillain like Mister Freeze.” 

Villain Crimes will play out over multiple nights, “a series of encounters where the player has to do a certain amount of legwork and detective work to hunt down the villain at the next major confrontation.” 

In all, WB Games Montréal presents a compelling pitch for its take on the Bat mythos. I’m intrigued to know more, but will need to wait a while longer before I can grapple my way across a new Gotham skyline and start investigating its many secrets.   

Gotham Knights will release in 2021 on PS4 and PS5. 

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43 Comments

  • Such a shame its a forced co-op game with awful looking rushed tactics combat……….. with an optional solo mode thrown into the mix, much like the near franchise killing, RE5 and RE6 games.

    Never going to be touching this and the same with Suicide Squad too and its forced 4 player co-op game design.

    • not forced, you can play the game from to start to finish solo, you can even play it offline

    • They literally took the two best elements of the Arkham games (the revolutionary combat and the epic storytelling) and abandoned them. Because sure, that’s a good idea…

    • 4 heroes, 4 combat styles, 4 separate XP progressions….AND TWO PLAYER CO OP.

      It’s obvious that WB wanted to yet again copy Rocksteady but didn’t have the chops to put in 4 player co op.

      For everyone denigrating Rocksteady for Suicide Squad being co op and GaaS….Gotham Knights is going to be the same thing BUT A FAR WORSE GAME.

      Gotham Knights is going to be the jacked up, lower quality version. The game looks terrible and WB is a much less talented developer. It’s unfortunate that both games are service based, but at least Rocksteady is enormously talented. Graphics, gameplay, world design, combat. Suicide Squad will trump Gotham Knights everywhere.

      The graphics and combat were mediocre in the trailer. Animations were bad. Between Gotham Knights and Avengers i’m losing faith in superhero games. Thank goodness for Spiderman.

    • I wouldn’t say forced, but I kinda agree with you.

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  • Sounds interesting.
    Hopefully the tone is closer to the earlier Arkham games, rather than Knight, where the M-rating felt a bit forced and artificial.

  • Looks like an amazing game. Looking forward to seeing it run on the PS5.

  • Great article.

    I am pretty sure the correct name it’s Belfry, not Belfrey, though.

  • For a game “not set in the Arkhamverse” they sure went out of their way to make people think it was with that trailer. Arkham Knight literally ends in such a manner so as to perfectly set up the premise of this game. Absolute head scratcher that they aren’t continuing the story.

    Speaking of head scratchers, why on earth would they pivot away from the revolutionary combat system or the strong narrative storytelling of the Arkham games?

    I’m not remotely interested in the games as a service model, and in my experience, games that are crafted to implement a co-op experience almost always come at the expense of the storytelling.

    I’m the biggest Batman fan I know, I’ve played all the Arkhamverse titles repeatedly. I didn’t remotely hear anything in this that excites me. If anything, I’m absolutely bummed.

    • It sure does look like it could have followed up Arkham Knight quite well – not sure why they didn’t go with that approach.

    • I have a feeling the combat is not pivoting away so much as it is branching out. Probably will feel the same with some alternate options to feel less stale than Arkham Knight.

    • Yeah, that does seem right. They seem to be doing something new, which I guess is brave and interesting. We just need to wait and see what happens.

    • I mean, for starters: Barbara isn’t in a wheel chair. It was very clear if you paid attention to the ending of the last game. The premise is definitely similar, but there was no way they could do what they want in this game if they tied themselves down to every detail from the end of Arkham Knight.

      Tim would be much older and married to Barbara.
      Barbara wouldn’t be Batgirl.
      Jim Gordon wouldn’t be dead.
      Mr. Freeze woudn’t be a villain.
      Jason Todd woudn’t be Red Hood like he is here.

      It’s unfortunate, but the ending in Arkham Knight didn’t set up this kind of game very well.

  • Not gonna lie Batman fans it sounds interesting!

  • No BatMan? He’s the only reason i would play. Never liked batgirl or woman. Didn’t mind Knightwing or The Robins. But BatMan he is Gotham

  • I was kinda hoping for Damian Wayne as robin as I found him pretty cool in the movie.

  • I was hyped until I found out this DOESN’T take place in the Arkham universe and has RPG style elements in the game, which would take me out of the experience. Automatic pass for me.

  • Get ready folks. Remember when everything was a gray military shooter, then remember when everything was open world, we are now in the middle of a co-op online grind fest epidemic.
    Rock steady though…..I mean, they can’t mess anything up can they?

  • Sounds rubbish to me. Pass.

  • So much tinfoil and crying in the comments.

  • Looks like an amazing game. Looking forward to seeing it run on the PS5

  • Local co-op or online? If local couch co-op it’s an instabuy. If online only — pass.

  • Online co-op is always good to have as an option, but if they can do local shared screen or even split-screen co-op, that would be awesome.

  • The fact that Sony hasn’t revealed the PRICE & exact Date is very troubling, The PS4 had already been revealed around this time before it’s release and by the time it came out I had it paid off at my local Wal-Mart. So I have to ask you, What is really taking so long to reveal the price & date? I want to give you money like really badly. Please stop being jerks and reveal the date & exact pricing for the digital & disc versions as soon as possible. I want to say $500 for the All Digital version wouldn’t be that bad & $600 for the regular version wouldn’t be unexpected.. Why am I expecting PS3 pricing? maybe because I would want Sony to not lose too much money selling them, & I think share holders would like that too..

  • Also, this avengers game LOL. Glad I didn’t buy it.. one huge hot mess.

  • Please stop making super hero games. We don’t want the same thing that happened to movies to happen to video games.

  • Surprised there are so many complaints about the online co-op. I don’t think there is enough of it lately. Especially NON-shooters with co-op. That’s the main thing that sold me because I’m tired of only playing shooters with my friends.

  • Gameplay loop?…”that they need to go back to again and again”?…like loot shooters?…naah thank you,those games suck up your life and require an insane amount of dedication and for someone like me who likes to do and see everything the game has to offer it’s a damn nightmare.DC must have spies inside Marvel…I mean how the hell did they manage a copycat of the Avengers (which is a copycat of Destiny) just in time?…uuhh basically in time.Not sure what y’all thinking but this is not how you do these type of games…Avengers at least is well the Avengers but these wannabe Batmans lol…I love Batman and its universe but if there’s a thing I hate is how he has an insane amount of sidekicks and all dumb…eeh Batgirl is ok.

    Anyway saw the gameplay and it looked exactly like the Avengers game and I was right to take that conclusion…was extremely shocked when I saw that Avengers is a copycat of Destiny and you guys are going the same route.A poor man’s Batman like Arkham Origins would’ve been better.

    One less game to buy as I see so not complaining at all haha.

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