WB Games Montreal is creating an original story in the DC Universe, one separated from the Arkham lore, comic books, and movies. Patrick Redding, the creative director of Gotham Knights, says that "it's been a dream" for the studio to be given the freedom to leave its mark on Gotham. "This is a universe many of us on the team have been invested in since we were old enough to read. The real test of that was when we actually started working with DC and began talking about what we wanted for characters and storylines, and our specific interpretations. They encouraged us to double-down on our unique take."
That unique take depicts a Gotham 15 years into Bruce Wayne's tenure as its protector. The Rogues Gallery is already well established. Low-level criminals fear Batman's presence, his intervention anticipated by the underworld's rising forces, and loathed by large swaths of the Gotham City Police Department following the murder of Commissioner Gordon. It'll be our responsibility to restore order with a little vigilante justice, although that'll be easier said than done.
"The toughest part is the embarrassment of riches," Redding asserts, speaking to the decades of storylines that the studio could draw from for inspiration. "We can't try to shoe-horn in every last piece of interconnected lore or it won't be coherent. It's the essential difference between a medium like comics – where you can read inner thoughts and study each panel for clues – and gaming, where the player experiences the fantasy of these characters by making choices and taking action."
And so that action will unfold in an open-world Gotham City, in what we believe could be the most interactive and dynamic rendition of the space ever committed to a video game. Five distinct boroughs make up Gotham, and you'll need to wrangle back control of each while iconic villains, such as Mr Freeze, and powerful new threats, like the mysterious Court of Owls, emerge from the shadows following the fall of the Dark Knight. You'll be tasked with clearing up escalating threats to the city, protecting the citizens of Gotham from street crime, and with figuring out what happened to Bruce. It's this balance between investigation and insurrection that has shaped Gotham Knights' direction.
"Even when we had the outline of our central mystery, we forced ourselves to focus on characterisation first, and how that should shape not only narrative and performances, but the action-set of each of the four heroes," says Redding. "We looked at the overall tone of our Gotham City and used that to decide which supporting cast and villains we should build the game around. That became the foundation, it shaped the game systems, and then we built the game's story and found our cast of characters to work on top of that."
That cast of characters is vital. With Batman's most iconic villains flooding the city, this isn't a mission you can accomplish on your own – you'll need a little help from your friends. While Gotham Knights has four playable heroes, it has been designed around two-player co-op to deliver on a rather specific superhero fantasy. "The two-player dynamic fits the fantasy and the Gotham City setting. The 'duo' or team-up is such a central feature of the universe that there's a literal shorthand for it in the comics, animation, film, and TV versions," says Redding, who notes that this was also a way of ensuring that the city's narrow streets and ancient architecture doesn't feel claustrophobic as you're fighting alongside a friend. "Gotham is a city of alleyways and rooftops, so the footprint for gameplay needs to be compatible with that."
Fight for the future
Gotham Knights is an action-RPG with a rotating cast of heroes, each of which you'll be able to improve over time, investing in new abilities, combat gear, and costumes as you progress. While Gotham Knights can be played solo, it also features seamless drop-in, drop-out co-op so that you and a friend can take on Gotham as you so choose. Marty tells me that it was important to WB Games Montreal that you never feel as if you are locked into playing as just one character and, as a result, there is a fluidity and freedom to Gotham Knights' core design.
"The game allows you to switch to a different character pretty much any time you want, as long as you go back to The Belfry to do so." With the Batcave destroyed the moment Code Black was initiated, The Belfry is the new base of operations for the Gotham Knights. This is where you'll go in the daytime to regroup and rest, push the narrative forward as you accept new challenges and missions, and tinker with your heroes' suits, weapons, gear, and playstyle build. When night falls, and you're ready to get back out on patrol, you'll be able to head back out into Gotham as any one of the characters, and without any fear of being under-levelled or prepared.
"Since the story progression is shared between all the characters, it also makes sense that you don't have to level them up from scratch every time you want to switch. It also stays very coherent in terms of our narrative," Marty continues. "Since the other members of the Batman family are always present in some way in the background, while you're out in the world fighting crime or unravelling the mystery, they don't stay inactive. So it makes sense that they are also progressing and getting stronger."
This design decision serves two purposes. First, it ensures we won't be spending all of our time stuck in The Belfry arguing with a friend over who will get to play as Barbara Gordon. Secondly, there won't be any need to grind through experience for character unlocks and levels. Enemies will scale to your progression level too, ensuring that we'll always feel free to experiment with different heroes and their unique playstyles, weapons, and abilities. Gotham Knights is going to present us with the most challenging mission the Bat-Family has ever faced, and you'll be able to tackle it on your own terms.