Gotham Knights launches in just a couple of weeks, and Batman fans have been excited – and trepidatious – about the Bat clan’s big family adventure. To find out how the project is shaping up, I took a trip to Warner Bros. Montreal to play two hours of the game. I spent time-fighting crime as all four characters, explored Gotham’s open world, and took down criminals alongside a co-op partner. I also chatted with the dev team to uncover more nuggets about what the adventure brings to the table. Here are some general hands-on impressions and intriguing fun facts I learned about the Gotham Knights as the march towards its October 21 launch draws near.
Combat Feels Totally Different From The Arkham Games
I suited up as all four heroes at different points during my two-plus-hour play session. Combat feels markedly different than the Arkham games, which, if you haven’t been keeping up with Gotham Knights, may surprise you.
The game has a single melee attack button used to execute simple combos. Gotham Knights feel less snappy than the rapid-paced, combo-driven rhythm of the Arkham games, mainly due to the elaborate animations accompanying each assault. It was off-putting at first, but I gradually fell into the game’s more straightforward approach, though I would like a bit more weight behind the offense.
A ranged attack lobs projectile weapons, such as firing Red Hood’s pistols or throwing Batgirl’s Batarangs. Holding down the melee or ranged button unleashes a more powerful variation of each assault; Batgirl unleashes a shotgun-like spread of projectiles, for example.
Mixing these up in combos while dodging incoming assaults builds momentum, a meter segmented into two bars. Spending these meters activates a character's special ability, which each Knight can have several equipped. Earning special moves by successfully nailing basic attacks reminds me of the psychology of fighting games like Street Fighter, and I think the formula translates well to a third-person action game. Robin’s portal teleport is one of my favorites, allowing him to open a rift that transports distant enemies towards him. Nightwing can drop a healing device that restores himself and a co-op partner.
WB Montreal hopes the combat’s initial simplicity will help players quickly settle into the Knights before they layer on more abilities, unlocked by spending ability points on a skill tree. It’s worth noting that I played the base versions of these characters and only upgraded them a few times, so although combat begins relatively one-note, it hopefully becomes more robust and entertaining as you progress.
Surprise: Playing Co-op Is More Fun
Soloing Gotham Knights is perfectly viable, but teaming up with a developer for a co-op session became my favorite part of my time with the game. I assumed Robin while my partner took on Nightwing, and we worked in tandem to stealthily take down gang members before getting into full brawls when situations went sideways. I also like that you can grab and hold enemies to initiate double-team moves, which is reminiscent of executing tag team moves in a wrestling game, strangely enough.
Players can also play together regardless of their levels. WB Montreal promises the game’s balancing allows rookies to fight alongside veterans with fully leveled Knights and have a good time. Even better is that each player can play under their own difficulty setting. If someone likes the challenge of Hard mode while their buddy wants to cruise through the experience on Easy, it’s all good. But the best news is that…
Co-op Partners Can Explore Gotham Separately Outside Of Story Missions
Story missions understandably keep players tethered relatively closely together, but teams can separate and go their own way when it comes to free-roaming. That means you could be in Gotham’s southside fighting street crime while your buddy is across the map exploring the university in search of secrets. By not making players feel handcuffed together, WB Montreal hopes to capture the superhero fantasy of biting off more than you can chew only for your buddy to swoop in deus ex machina style to save your butt before disappearing back into whatever activity they were engaged in. Plus, it makes chatting with each other more fun if one of you discovers something exciting.
Having Only Two Players Is A Storytelling Decision
Many players were baffled that Gotham Knights only supports two-player co-op despite having four protagonists. When I asked the reason, the gameplay team said it chose this format because it best served the narrative.
“Storytelling is also one of our really important pillars of the game,” says game director Geoff Ellenor. “We really wanted to deliver on that. So as we went through our early prototyping, we kind of, at some point, drew the line that four players together is like a party moving in a general direction. And it's fun, but it's not storytelling if the experience becomes more and more about the social experience and less about the story you're experiencing in the game.”
Important Cutscenes Have Four Variations
Depending on who you’re controlling, pivotal story moments will be tailored to that character, meaning theirs four versions of every big moment. While the narrative gist of the scene remains the same, the interactions change along with even the cinematography. When I visited Harley Quinn in Blackgate as Batgirl. Joker’s former sidekick referred to me as “Bratgirl” and seemed ironically excited to have some girl time with me (much to Barbara’s chagrin). Robin, however, has never met Harley in this universe, so they’ll have a much different conversation. But with that in mind...
You'll Get The Full Story In One Playthrough
In light of that previous point, I wondered if Gotham Knights was the type of game that required multiple playthroughs for each hero to understand the full scope of the narrative. Thankfully, that isn’t the case.
“You can absolutely get the whole story from a single playthrough,” says narrative director Ann Lemay. “ But if you want to get the nuances we've done for each character, I strongly encourage you to do the playthroughs [at] different times. There’s a different flavor.”
Civilians Let You Know How Good Of A Hero You Are
Unlike the Arkham series, this version of Gotham city is populated by normal citizens as well as criminals. These normies aren’t here just to make the city more dynamic; they serve as constant reminders of your progress as a hero.
“In the beginning, they don't think you're as good as the last superhero who defended the city, and they will tell you,” says Ellenor. “ And as you progress through the story, you gradually win over the citizens. You gain more confidence from the people around you. They're happier with what you’re doing.
Strolling the streets, people regularly reacted to my presence. In most cases, they were largely supportive, cheering me on while occasionally making funny remarks that greatly reminded me of the street-level interactions in Marvel’s Spider-Man.
The Belfry Features Upwards of 40 Cinematics
Between nights fighting crime in the streets, you’ll return to the Belfry hideout to change gear, unlock new gadgets, and, most of all, hang out with the team. A lot of storytelling and relationship-building unfolds at the Belfry. So much so that the hub area alone features over 40 cutscenes, according to the game’s cinematic director, Wilson Mui.
“There's an underlying tension with them in the start of the game, but you'll see that kind of drift off as they kind of find their spaces and their comfort zones around each other…I think we've managed to do something pretty awesome because that's not something we're used to seeing in a superhero game.”
These scenes are evenly divided to weave individual narrative arcs for each Knight. Many will focus on how each teammate handles the trauma of Bruce’s death.
Robin's Costume Was Not Inspired By Damien Wayne's
Some fans confused Tim Drake for Damien Wayne when Gotham Knights was first revealed, largely due to Tim's Robin suit sporting the hood and poncho-esque design Bruce's son made famous. According to art director Jay Evans, the resemblance is merely coincidental.
"I've heard that comparison for him. At the beginning, it was more of this kind of streetwear, jackets were some of our influences. [It] kind of became a little, almost poncho-like. But these suits, like the default suits or the starting suits, you know, are a mix of real-world wearable outfits and a mix of a super suit. They're somewhere in between, you know? And that's where we wanted to start."
Harley Quinn Is A Total Villain
Harley Quinn's popularity has exploded in recent years thanks to the Suicide Squad/Birds of Prey films and the animated Harley Quinn series. These adaptations have portrayed Joker's former main squeeze as more of an anti-hero with occasional heroic tendencies, but Gotham Knights returns Harley to her villainous roots. Despite returning to what brought Harley to the dance, WB Montreal teases their version of the character will be a fresh take.
"...As [a] massive Harley fan, what we have done with her, I think has not been seen before," says executive producer Fleur Marty. "And, I just love where the narrative team and the character team have taken her and making her not an anti-hero. The full-blown supervillain. They're going full bad, and she doesn't need anybody else than herself to do that."
Gotham Knights launches October 21 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.