Recently, the image above, gifted to the Internet by IGN France, has caused a lot of discussion, and rightfully so. This picture made headlines on the 1st of February, so it’s unlikely WB is teasing a minor announcement. So what could the publisher be unveiling in what’s now less than a month?
The two most likely candidates are either a sequel to the well-loved Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor or another entry in the Batman: Arkham series. There’s sufficient evidence to support either argument: Shadow of Mordor was released in 2014, so the (potential) franchise is at a tipping point between prime time for a follow up and genuine worry that WB sees no value in a sequel. On the other hand, it’s all but confirmed that WB Montreal, the studio behind Batman: Arkham Origins is working on a new Arkham game focusing on the son of Batman, Damian Wayne. Either one is at least cause for interest, but how can either game improve on their respected predecessors?
First off, I should make it clear that Arkham Origins is arguably my favorite in the franchise. Despite the heaps of criticism, some of it well-deserved, on the lack of compelling side content and the game’s refusal to try anything different combat-wise, the story itself is one of the best I’ve played. I didn’t always feel that way, and to be honest I didn’t really care for the game on my first playthrough. But the more time I spent with the game, the more compelling the narrative became. The previous entries in the series had us play as a calm and controlled Batman who was able to shove his emotions to the side.
But Origins places players in a time before Batman was the Dark Knight, and has no choice but to become something greater than a vigilante prone to fits of rage. The pacing and character development is near-perfect. Despite the fact that the Caped Crusader is facing off against eight Assassins on Christmas Eve, the narrative finds ways to show Bruce really grow as a character. When he’s fighting a titular foe such as Deathstroke, or in another debate with Alfred about just how necessary the Batman is, he becomes a stronger character physically and mentally all leading up to the one moment where he becomes a legend rather than a man in a mask. Take a look at, what, in my opinion, might be one of the best boss battles of all time. There’s a story being told through the choreography:
See as Deathstroke becomes more dangerous, Batman has to become more resilient. The challenge gets harder, but the player learns to become more observant, and when to strike back. The conclusion to the fight is undeniably badass, but it also successfully portrays and creates a stronger, and even wiser Batman, which is character development at its zenith.
That’s a lot of discussion about Origins, but it’s there for a reason. I’d love a new Arkham game, but only if the series is willing to try a fresh start. The underdog story that worked with Origins can easily work with a Damian Wayne game, possibly more so than before. WB Montreal had proven their talents in narrative and choreographed some incredible boss fights, but now the challenge will lie in whether or not they can make the game last beyond a story mode. If they do intend on following up with another entry in the franchise, then my two suggestions would be to revamp the combat and add some truly tempting distractions. The combat may have been innovative in 2009, but now that “free flow” combat system has been chopped up and glued back together by too many developers, and the cracks are starting to show. It’s not enough to just keep spamming “X” or “square” anymore, and hopefully Montreal understands this as well. As far as side content goes, they need only look to their predecessor Arkham City. The reason the side quests worked in City was because there were real cases to solve and your proxy to solve them was the World’s Greatest Detective. A phone would ring, and a mysterious voice would warn you someone would die unless you could find another phone ringing in the city. A serial killer was cutting off people’s faces, but to what end? It’s the small but crucial difference that separates Batman from something more shallow, a la Dirty Harry. And if Montreal understands this too, they’ll have a gen in their hands.
Come Part 2, I’ll be looking at a potential sequel to Shadow of Mordor and explaining what needs to be done to improve on an already great game.