Batman Arkham Knight: A Retrospective
As of last Friday, Batman: Arkham Knight, the grand finale of Rocksteady’s Arkhamverse saga, is now officially two years old, having originally launched on June 23, 2015. Despite crippling technical issues which made the game’s PC version all but unplayable for several months following its release, Arkham Knight received some deservedly high praise from critics, and I myself, being a pretty big Arkhamverse fan, found a lot to love about the game as well.
Sadly, Rocksteady had made it known well before Arkham Knight’s launch that it would be the studio’s final Arkhamverse game. Looking back on how the final package, post-launch DLC and all, turned out, it’s clear that, in some regards, the studio had already checked out well before the game was finished.
Note: this feature contains spoilers for both Arkham Knight and Arkham City, consider yourself warned.
Arkham Knight’s story was suitably dark, involving a large cadre of super-villains who used the Joker’s death at the end of Arkham City as a catalyst to launch an all-out war on Batman and his allies, all while Batman dealt with the psychological repercussions of losing his greatest foe and suddenly questioning whether Gotham really needed him anymore.
Joker hallucinations, a city-wide terrorist attack orchestrated by Scarecrow, and the final reveal that the titular Arkham Knight was in fact former Robin Jason Todd were just some of the elements that all but broke Batman both emotionally and (in some cases) physically throughout the course of Arkham Knight’s story.
Players who managed to complete 100 percent of the game’s challenges were also treated to a special bonus ending in which Bruce Wayne, having ousted himself to the public as being Batman, activated the ‘Knightfall’ protocol and seemingly killed both himself and his loyal butler Alfred by blowing up Wayne Manor while they were both inside.
The fact that a bunch of reporters were outside and saw the explosion made it seem as if Bruce was merely staging his own death, as did another special ending scene in which a new Batman, one who wasn’t afraid to use Scarecrow’s fear toxin, had taken to Gotham’s streets and rooftops. However, a direct confirmation that Bruce had survived was never made, and the identity of the new Batman was never revealed.
One could argue that this is what Rocksteady intended, a final end to the story that involves the death of the main hero and the rise of a new hero to take his place, but then why kill off Bruce in such an ambiguous way (one which was clearly meant to signal to the player that Bruce was just faking his death)?
Why leave so many unanswered questions hanging in the air and never take the time to at least address them in some capacity? Again, I understand Arkham Knight was supposed to be the end, but when Rocksteady kept metaphorically elbowing me in the ribs and saying “it’s the end…or is it?” but then never actually followed through on the “or is it?” part, I didn’t really feel satisfied, I felt a little cheated.
I remember thinking that Rocksteady would likely address the ending’s unanswered questions in Arkham Knight’s post-launch DLC, since the individual story chapters that starred Nightwing, Catwoman, and Robin were all set after the events of the main game. Again, I came away disappointed since none of the aforementioned story missions really had much, you know, story.
In fact, aside from a brief quip from Nightwing to Lucious Fox about who would inherit Wayne Manor and some brooding from Robin to Oracle about whether or not Bruce had been proud of him, the DLC story missions barely made mention of the main game’s events at all.
My one last glimmer of hope was the Season of Infamy DLC which added new villains and associated story missions into the base game, but I was once again disappointed when it turned out that the new villain missions were just grafted onto the main game and didn’t offer any additional insight into Bruce Wayne’s final fate.
Again, Rocksteady had made it clear that it wasn’t willing to answer the questions it had both intentionally and unintentionally posited during Arkham Knight’s final moments, leaving me to wonder why it had even bothered to posit the questions at all.
By Popular Demand
Of course, it wasn’t just Arkham Knight’s unsatisfying ending that I had a problem with. Fans may recall that, when the game first launched, it didn’t have any sort of character select feature for its arcade-esque challenge mode despite the fact that every core Arkham game before it did have such a feature (even the PS3 version of Arkham Asylum let players pick between Batman and Joker for all of its challenge maps). Instead, players were forced to play specific characters for specific maps, robbing the challenge mode of much of the replay value that previous Arkham titles had contained.
The lack of a character select feature was especially frustrating for those who had sprung for the special Harley Quinn and Red Hood story DLC packs, since it meant that, outside of those packs and their short, linear mission setups, Harley Quinn and Red Hood were completely unplayable. That frustration only grew worse when Arkham Knight’s Batgirl-starring prequel DLC A Matter of Family DLC was released, once again keeping a new playable character strictly within the bounds of their associated DLC and out of the challenge mode.
It wasn’t until a large and resounding outcry from fans that Rocksteady finally caved and made it so that all playable characters could be selected for all challenge mode missions (barring the new duo missions) several months after the game’s original launch. On the one hand, it was nice for Rocksteady to add in the feature, but on the other hand it’s hard not to feel bitterness towards Rocksteady since it was clearly willing to take the easy way out, i.e. not bothering to put in a feature that had been in all the previous Arkham games.
Rocksteady once again tried to take the lazy approach a little while later when it held a contest for fans to decide whether Harley Quinn would get a new classic jester outfit or if Red Hood would get an Arkham Knight outfit. Again, fans cried foul at having to choose when it would rather just have both, and, fortunately, Rocksteady once again relented and simply added both costumes in. I don’t mean to come down so hard on Rocksteady since it is clearly a talented studio that has done some amazing things with the world of Batman, but did it really expect fans to be ok with the lack of a proper challenge mode character select and having to lose out on one piece of content because it was forced to choose another?
Even as I typed out all of the above, I realized that, technically, Arkham Knight might not be the true end of the line for the Arkhamverse. For all I know, another studio at Warner Bros. has taken the reins from Rocksteady and is crafting its own Arkhamverse game that will follow on the heels of the events from Arkham Knight. However, considering it has been more than two years now since Arkham Knight’s launch, I’m not holding my breath.
Again, I want to reiterate that, as a whole, I really enjoyed Arkham Knight and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the earlier Arkhamverse games. However, I’d also make sure to warn them that, in addition to being Rocksteady’s Arkhamverse finale, Arkham Knight is also a testament to how much Rocksteady was apparently ready to be done with the series for good. An unsatisfying story ending and a few missing features that had to be added in at the behest of fans may not seem like that much in the grand scheme of things, but given how great Rocksteady’s track record was throughout the rest of the Arkhamverse timeline, it’s just a shame that it wound up tripping over its own feet a bit when it was so close to the finish line.