I recently played through the entirety of the new Batman game and am in the process of 100%’ing it. The game is really interesting with superb gameplay, but I acknowledge it has some minor issues going on that prevent it from being superior to City; I’d say it’s arguably on par with Asylum overall (maybe a little bit better, as someone with a gameplay slant). Of course in Asylum you can get perfect variety in almost every fight in the game which is fun and it’s virtually impossible to get perfect variety (around 30 different moves) in Arkham Knight with a finite number of enemies; but I still find it fun to try.
The first major “dungeon” of the game, Ace Chemicals, is utterly fantastic and makes surprisingly good use of the Batmobile, combat, and predator rooms and even has some pretty intense drama at the end of it. The problem is the somewhat non-linear aspect and feel of that dungeon is only duplicated at one other point in the main game; the rest of the game is just a series of short diversions in various different areas. You might consider the usage of the batmobile nonsensical but it does work on a gameplay/puzzle front and that’s ultimately what matters; the main underlying Joker theme is pretty damn nonsensical and that’s probably the best part of the story.
Speaking of the Batmobile at first it feels rather awkward and forced, but over time it sort of grows on you and the game throws some very difficult fights at you assuming limited upgrades (we’ll get to that in a bit) which are really interesting and entertaining. The issue is that early game fights are very bland and straightforward; the game doesn’t ramp up on the tank front until the final few tank battles the game has to offer. Fortunately those specific fights are excellent and you can really see the potential of the Battank. The major tank boss fight in the game is great, though the major regular ass batmobile “fight” is pretty terrible (again without upgrades, probably not that bad otherwise); that isn’t because of the batmobile though just the boss fight itself is badly designed. I immediately started playing through the game again a second time and the batmobile’s awkwardness had almost totally faded away and it was quite fun to use, so I think it’s just a substantial learning curve plus some rather tedious usage of it in the game that turned people off.
The upgrade system in this game is extremely robust, however in the process of simply beating the main story and doing one major sidequest I was only able to unlock less than 10% of the abilities available. I forgot to upload a screenshot of it (playing at my brother’s house), but there’s a whole huge ability tree for everything imaginable and most of them have some relatively expensive parts to them. To give you an idea there’s a tree that has close to 20 different nodes that are all exclusively related to gadgets. Essentially you have to do a whole lot of the expansive different sidequests just to even get a mildly upgraded Batman in the end. Ultimately this actually makes the game reasonably difficult in a non 100% run which is a common enough criticism of the previous Rocksteady Arkham games.
The 100% process is actually not overly painful this time around, and this is the main thing this game has over Arkham City; there’s not quite as much Riddler Diarrhea to go around and the rest of the sidequests are generally more interesting than their Arkham City counterparts (and of course the main game is substantially less interesting aside from a few elements). Brad was fascinated by the Super Grapnel in the Quick Look but there’s actually 2 more upgrades to the Grapnel Boost beyond that so you have the Super Mega Ultra Grapnel Boost (5 X button presses then hold) by the end which makes flying around the city incredibly fast, this allows you to make traversal in a fairly large environment substantially less painful. Though the area covered is ostensibly 5 times larger than Arkham City it certainly never feels like it just due to the sheer speed of your character (also there’s not a big fuck-off wall in the middle).
A major change from previous Arkham games that also aids in relieving some of the 100% stress is there’s very few traditional “challenge rooms” in the game, instead you have several different kinds of challenges integrated into the world with a really cool leaderboard system. A personal favorite of mine is the one where you have an infinite supply of enemies and the objective is simple: don’t get hit. The sheer limitless skill opportunity this provides is kind of mind boggling to comprehend but I gave it a good try with no upgrades near the beginning of the game (having no idea what half the enemies were naturally). However even the dreaded Batmobile Challenge Rooms got pretty fun near the end of the game and the one that I thought was underwhelming was fun to do after having learned how to play with the vehicle. As someone with a specific fondness for the old challenge rooms I still welcome the change and especially the more compelling leaderboards for each of these, it really does make me want to go back and perfect each of them.
Overall I feel like Arkham Knight is an outstanding game, the problem is the year that it came out. If Arkham Knight came out last year it would be a strong game of the year contender, but since it came out this year alongside Bloodborne, the Witcher 3, Mortal Kombat X, Helldivers, and of course Rocket League; with Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout 4, and Just Cause 3 still on the way it was really hard to stand out. The game’s handful of disappointing moments and generally hamfisted plot (complete with overly obvious “The Dark Knight” references) combined to lessen its impact. However I still whole heartily recommend the game.
Aside: After playing Arkham Knight I even said to myself “hey this game is totally better than Shadow of Mordor and that was easily the best game last year.” But the thing is I went and played some Mordor just to test out this theory and uh… yeah Mordor’s better. I don’t think it has better combat or even better exploration but there’s something about the specific feel and tension of the game that Batman just doesn’t have. When I booted up Mordor I checked out my handy dandy ubiquitous 100% save file and to my surprise all of my abilities were *poof* gone and I could run around the world with a completely basic character. Whereas in Batman this is mildly frustrating because you really just want to be a little OP as Batman, in Mordor you become too overpowered too quickly so being decidedly underpowered (while still being a fully capable murder machine) is actually very compelling.
This led to me trying out the “Test of Defiance,” a relatively easy challenge with a fully upgraded character that takes about 35-40 minutes. However, with a baseline character it took me over 2.5 hours and I had lots of really close calls and a lot of usage of uncommon tactics that were nigh useless in the regular game. With zero upgrades in Mordor you have no access to Branding, Combat Finishers, Mounts, Fast Travel, Explosions, Teleporting, and various other things; but to my surprise the game is still fully functional and almost every captain variant in the game is killable in that state (though you’re very fragile so extended combat is infeasible in most situations). The test furthers the complication by making it so you can’t drain enemies for health or arrows, which maximized the necessity of learning and knowing the environment to find herbs and fixed arrow locations. All of this combined to make for a wonderful experience and I can’t help but thank Monolith for unnecessarily patching the Game of the Year edition in and fucking up old save files; good job, it made the game more fun somehow.