Opinion – Batman: Arkham Knight Is A Brilliant Use Of An Unpopulated Open World

by Brian Shea on Jun 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Batman: Arkham Knight delivers on many fronts, including the best narrative found in the series to date and improvements to the already stellar combat mechanics of Arkham games past. Following the feeling of emptiness of Arkham City’s open world, however, Rocksteady’s use of Gotham City in Arkham Knight is the component that’s most improved upon in this entry.

Warning: This article contains minor spoilers to the opening sequences of Batman: Arkham Knight, as well as for some of the side missions.

Rocksteady had a tall order to fill when it expanded the series’ open world to include a larger section of Gotham. Having 6.3 million civilians within the city limits means that the chance for Batman to inadvertently harm one of them – particularly with the Batmobile now in play – was high. Rocksteady worked around this with a narrative reason that not only evacuates the city, but also raises the stakes for the Dark Knight as he fights through some of his darkest hours.

One of the biggest obstacles of open-world games is it’s so easy for players to get sidetracked by inconsequential tasks and distractions. With Arkham Knight, however, the narrative continually pushes you forward, introducing you to the next mission the moment you finish the preceding one. Rocksteady excels at making Gotham City still feel alive despite the vast majority of civilians fleeing, but it also provides such a density of tasks that you always feel compelled to keep playing to completion. 

This is further helped by the fact that nearly every single task feels important. Whether you’re talking about rescuing Catwoman from the Riddler or halting Penguin’s weapon distribution ring, there is urgency to the side missions that drives you to see each storyline through to the end. The impressive part of these side missions is that they are not only diverse, but also as enjoyable as the main story missions – save for the tedium of the Riddler Trophies.

Another way Arkham Knight fuels the feeling of “just one more mission” is in how the mission-selection screen updates your completion percentage for each storyline. This feature plays off of the addictive qualities that drive all completionists toward their 100-percent goals. The missions are easily selectable using this screen, and the fact that they provide insight into the overarching story of Batman: Arkham Knight makes the side quests all the more rewarding and feel more necessary than those of other open-world experiences. For the fans of Batman and DC Comics lore, the world is also filled with references you could easily miss if you weren’t gliding around the city for hours during your playthrough.

The kicker is that so many of these experiences are found while on your way to another objective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been gliding across the city and found a murder scene to investigate, or driving through the streets in the Batmobile and stumbled upon a mine to diffuse. The placement of the side missions seem intentional through how they are so easily stumbled upon, which is a mark of a well-designed open world.

All of these would be for nothing if exploring the world isn’t fun. With Batman’s improved traversal options, Gotham City is one of the most enjoyable open worlds to explore. Even the Batmobile – which has been rightfully criticized in some areas – is a blast to take on joyrides through the streets and alleyways. When a developer makes it so that the journey to your waypoint is nearly as engaging as the destination itself, it has truly enabled its open world to flourish in ways so many other developers are unable to.

With Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocksteady has crafted the world that everyone wanted to explore when the studio first announced Arkham Asylum’s successor would be a full open-world experience. This latest version of Gotham City is more than just a strong realization of the iconic comic-book series; it’s one of the new high marks for open-world experiences.