It’s been over seven years since Batman: Arkham Knight and DC Comics fans have been pining for a big triple-A action/adventure game. After that lengthy wait, Gotham Knights is here to bring players back to a gorgeous but now Batman-less Gotham City. Fans can stop holding their breath — Gotham Knights was well worth the wait, even if it does fall into one of the biggest traps of the open-world genre.
The much-advertised revelation is that Batman is dead and players can switch control between four members of the Bat-family — Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Tim Drake’s Robin. The story kicks off with probably the most thrilling cutscene in the history of cutscenes (although it’s a shame none of it is playable), followed by the Bats taking up home in the Belfry tower hideout and investigating Batman’s last case.
The character interactions are some of the best parts of Gotham Knights. While the player receives some chatter out in the field, in the Belfry each character has unique cutscenes that deepen their relationships with the other Knights, and they’re usually either funny or poignant. All four of the main Bat-family members are written and played so well that I felt compelled to switch between them more than I expected. Characterization is one area in which Gotham Knights trounces the Batman Arkham games, as all four Knights feel like real people with personal strengths and weaknesses.
The main story itself, involving the creepy Court of Owls, is generally compelling and escalates nicely — as smoothly as it can, given the game’s night-based structure — and players probably won’t encounter them at all for several hours. There are also side stories involving classic villains Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, and Clayface, which are barely related to the main narrative but are a lot of fun — although there really needed to be more of them.
The missions are meant to be replayed, so it’s a good thing there are a lot of them with plenty of variety. Exploring Gotham, players can find simple crimes like muggings alongside tougher and more interesting ‘pre-meditated’ crimes that give better rewards. Every time the player enters the Belfry it resets the game to a new night with new crimes in different locations. I completed a fair few of these and, while a few repeated, they often had tougher enemies or different objectives so felt unique.
Most parts of Gotham Knights can be divided into melee combat and stealth — although it’s often possible to flip between them. Bat-bikes are just used for traversal, really, so don’t expect Arkham Knight-like vehicle battles (phew).
While stealth has the option of silent or sudden takedowns and Robin and Batgirl have unique upgrade options (like hacking equipment), sneaking around isn’t quite as satisfying as it should be. There needs to be more, like the vents or weak walls that Batman can pop out of in the Arkham games. Combat is the real meat of the gameplay.
On the surface, Gotham Knights’ combat feels like a slimmed-down version of Arkhamverse fighting, but it’s actually really deep. Attacking and dodging build a ‘momentum’ meter that players can spend to use special abilities unique to each character, like a heavy beatdown or a healing drone. Players can also use interactive objects in the environment to their advantage. More important is choosing targets wisely. Combat only increased in depth and strategy as I progressed and, along with adding more challenging enemies, stayed fun throughout.
This is the biggest open-world rendition of Gotham City yet, and if players meet the recommended specs it’s also the most gorgeous. WB Montreal makes fantastic use of lighting, detail, and atmosphere, and as a result, I was happy to just sit on a rooftop and pose dramatically in front of it. The steam, fog, and smoke effects around every building give the city a Batman ’89 vibe and I love it.
Unfortunately, there is one truly big problem with Gotham Knights and it’s a trap many open-world games hit: there isn’t enough to do on the map. While getting around is fun (once a character’s unique traversal method is unlocked anyway), there aren’t enough reasons to explore this huge city. There are map points for crimes and missions, and more pop up as the Knights venture around, but in between? There aren’t enough dynamic encounters or incentives to do anything but head straight to a marker.
This doesn’t stop Gotham Knights from being fun all the way through, but I stopped exploring after a while because everything of true interest is just pinned on the map. The characters make exploration better, though, as all four heroes feel different enough to be unique yet similar enough that players can pick them up easily. Batgirl’s the most Batman-like, right down to her glide traversal, but each Knight has their own pros and cons.
It’s a bit weird that, in single-player, the others will never leave the Belfry, but that’s what co-op’s for. Players can either join friends, make their own match, or vault to a random quick match-up, and it’s where Gotham Knights truly shines. Clearing out rooms of criminals with a buddy is really satisfying and it makes boss battles more exciting. Nevertheless, playing single-player-only is totally valid and I never felt like it wasn’t meant to be played that way.
Gotham Knights reviewed on PC. Code provided by publisher.
Gotham Knights is a thrilling DC action-RPG that works equally well in single-player and co-op, and all four heroes are worth playing. Missions are exciting, combat works perfectly, and the story is well-written and compelling — especially the Belfry character moments. Nevertheless, it falls into the all-too-common open-world game trap of having a big, vibrant map but not enough to do in it.