Gotham Knights Review: WB’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Three days ago, Warner Brothers Montréal released their open world Bat-Family ARPG, Gotham Knights, to the world. When Gotham Knights was first announced I was extremely excited for it as a fan of the Bat-Family, but as time moved on and we learned more and more about the game I began to dread it. How did a game with a concept I love begin to look so bad?

Despite my fears though, I stuck to my gut and bought Gotham Knights a day after launch and went into it with an open mind. So how was my experience with the game as a whole?

It’s fine. I won’t bury the lede because this article isn’t going to have any amazing revelations. I think Gotham Knights is a good game but nowhere near as amazing as it could have been. If you feel like staying around for details beyond a simple “Is it good or bad?” Feel free to continue reading. I’ll only be covering the gameplay and open world design, so those of you afraid of plot spoilers can feel free to read through safely.

Let’s begin with the elephant in the room: comparing the game to the Arkham Trilogy. If you want to compare Gotham Knights combat to the Arkham games, then Arkham wins hands down. However, I think that’s unfair to Gotham Knights as while there are comparisons to make to the Arkham games that isn’t what the combat, or the game as a whole is trying to be.

No, when you get your hands on Gotham Knights combat it’s instead hard to not make comparisons to 2021’s Guardians of Galaxy game. Or at least, I wanted that to be my thesis but video game release dates can be confusing. Gotham Knights’ gameplay, which I will break down in a second, is much closer to Guardians than Arkham.

But saying that it wants to be Guardians would be disingenuous because not only did Gotham Knights get revealed before the Guardians game, but we actually saw gameplay of GK half a year before Guardians was revealed. So I guess the best thing to say is that these are just two similar games that happened to be in development at the same time.

With that finally out of the way, let’s talk about Gotham Knights’ combat. The first impression the combat leaves on you is unfortunately a negative one. Combat at the beginning of the game is a complete slog as all you have available to you is a light and heavy punch, your projectile, and two momentum abilities. Gotham Knights unfortunately completely lacks a counter button like the Arkham Trilogy or Spider-Man PS4, instead you’ll have to completely rely on timing your dodges.

What are those momentum abilities I mentioned? Momentum is the bar in the bottom right that fills up over time as you hit enemies or perform perfect dodges. Once the momentum gauge is full you will be able to select an ability by holding R1 and pressing one of the controller’s face buttons. Momentum Abilities are the main way to turn the tide of battle as while your normal attacks can down normal enemies easily, the larger enemies with more health or more agile enemies that are harder to hit will generally need you to use momentum to knock them out quickly.

Each character has their own unique gimmick that helps them stand out even if they all have the same basic punches. 

Nightwing’s main gimmick is that he is a momentum machine, not only does his max out of five momentum bars as opposed to everyone else’s four, but he also has several upgrades to make him build up momentum faster and he’s the only one whose momentum builds up on its own over time, you’re going to constantly be pulling off special techniques with this trained acrobat.

Robin’s gimmick is that he’s the best at stealth. Not only does he not make sound while moving but he’s the only character who can use stealth takedown on larger enemies and minibosses. Doing stealth takedown also restores up to 25% of Robin’s health bar so play him wisely.

Batgirl’s main gimmicks are tech and her beatdown skill. Tech wise not only can she summon a drone to help her in combat but she can also disable enemies guns, turrets, and security cameras. Her beatdown momentum skill is a rapid flurry of punches that can eat through the health of minibosses and certain bosses in no time flat.

Jason’s gimmick is he’s a damn murderer. For example, every character can throw enemies into other enemies or off ledges, but when Jason throws enemies he attaches a bomb to them that explodes! Jason also has special Lazarus Pit magical abilities such as the ability to jump an infinite number of times or a special bullet that instantly erases enemies instead of doing damage to them!

I hate Jason Todd, but I love playing as him

I found each character fun to play as, but I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t have a least favorite. Nightwing’s gimmick just wasn’t nearly as fun to me as everyone else’s so I likely won’t play as him much in the future, but that is entirely personal opinion.

Those of you who paid attention to my Guardians comparison earlier will notice that this is very similar to how that game handled calling on the other Guardians to assist you in combat. However, unlike that game Momentum in Gotham Knights fills up very slowly and at the start of the game you not only have access to only 2 abilities but you also cannot have more than a single use of Momentum charged up until you level up a fair amount. 

Locking away most of each character’s combat abilities at the start of the game immediately makes it hard to tell what makes each character unique from the others in addition to making the combat a slog. It would have been far better to start with perhaps three momentum abilities or even four like Guardians in order to give the player plenty of options to start with. As for the Momentum bar itself starting with 2 bars of momentum instead of one would have made the game’s first act leave a better impression.

The combat of Gotham Knights can be really fun and intense at times. Performing a strong beatdown on Man-Bat while a drone shoots him as Barbara or ricocheting a magical Lazarus bullet off of five enemies is amazing, but it takes too long to get there! Unlocking a lot of the endgame abilities via challenges and the skill tree would have been fine, but at least start me off with more than the basic punches!

That really sums up my issues with Gotham Knights progression as a whole. Most of the abilities you likely won’t have unlocked until 1/3rd of the way through feel like things you should have started with. Why does it take several Knights of stopping crime to unlock gliding/flying? Why does Tim need to go through two tiers of his skill tree in order to perform ledge takedowns in stealth sections? Progression in this game will be the biggest turn off for gamers not willing to get past the game’s first act.

An example of challenges required to unlock abilities

And on the topic of progression, we need to talk about what was one of my greatest fears before the game was released: the suit and equipment system. Throughout the game, defeated enemies and challenges will give you materials which you can use to craft better suits and weapons. The second this was revealed I, and the rest of the internet groaned as the game seemed to be falling down the exact same pitfalls that 2020’s Avengers game did. These were surely going to be lootboxes, right?

Thankfully, and I cannot express in words how much of a game changer this would have been, there are no loot boxes in sight. However, I’m almost positive they were going to be at one point. See, despite upgrading your suit with loot drops being absolutely necessary for progression, you will always have more than enough to buy the upgrade that you need. You cannot convince me that there wasn’t a point in development where enemies dropped significantly less loot and you would need to use loot boxes or some other form of monetization to lessen the now nonexistent grind.

I’m glad they aren’t there and Gotham Knights is a better game for it, but I can still smell that the pitfalls of modern Triple A gaming existed here at some point. 

Let’s backtrack to the combat now and talk about enemy variety, because I think this is where Gotham Knights shines the brightest and may actually do something better than the Arkham Trilogy everyone is comparing it to. In the Arkham games while you do have several types of mooks, there isn’t much distinguishing the various gangs. There is no difference between a Two-Face goon and a Penguin goon when it comes to gameplay.

Gotham Knights on the other hand not only has very visually distinct gangs and enemy types, but you know exactly what to expect from each gang. Harley’s goons will throw explosives and the one with a pig mask can revive fallen foes, Mr. Freeze goons have ice guns, shock troopers, and drones, and the League of Shadows has swords and teleportation. Making each of Gotham’s villains have their own type of mooks and instantly conveying to the player what to do based on the enemies’ designs is great game design. 

Another thing I feel the game does better than the Arkham Trilogy is boss fights, which I supposed isn’t too hard as the Arkham games had at maximum two bosses per game. Gotham Knights features six boss fights and all of them were a blast to play honestly. They all telegraph their attacks well and are split into three distinct phases with checkpoints so they aren’t too frustrating despite the fact that they can take out most of your health bar with a good combo.

There is unfortunately one major exception to this though: Mr. Freeze. Mr. Freeze being the worst boss in the game is so unfortunate as he was considered the only good boss in the Arkham games and thus will be the one you’ll see in comparisons online until the end of time. I cannot defend this fight though, it’s awful. Not only are Mr. Freeze’s attacks are significantly harder to dodge than the other bosses to the point where it feels like pure luck if you don’t get hit, but he’s easily the largest damage sponge in the game!

For most of the game I was perfectly fine playing alone, but Mr. Freeze made it clear I was playing a multiplayer game by itself. This fight would probably go by much faster if more than one person was beating on him but I wouldn’t know because you try convincing some friends to buy a game with a 6/10 on Metacritic on release date for the purpose of binging it in a weekend because you want to get a review out as soon as possible, you can’t!

Now let’s go over the world of Gotham Knights, this isn’t the first time the city of Gotham has been explorable in video game form and as such its impossible not to compare it to Arkham Knights’ version of the city.

Visually, Arkham Knight’s Gotham wins hands down. There’s just no contest, even if we put aside graphically details like rain effects Arkham’s more gothic architecture is just more visually appealing than Gotham Knights’ more generic city.

But if I may be controversial for a second, I think I enjoy playing in Gotham Knights’ city more than Arkham Knights’. One of the major complaints with Arkham Knight is that other than the few side quests that exist there is nothing to do in the city other than look for Riddler trophies or fight mooks who are just standing around.

You can ride the Batcycle around the city. This is the only image of Nightwing I prepared for this review

Gotham Knights’ Gotham features a variety of time trials for each character as well as the batcycle, but more importantly there are several randomly generated crimes that happen as you fly around the city. Stopping a bank robbery or a kidnapping is so much more fun than fighting a random Penguin goon who happens to just be standing around. This random generation isn’t perfect of course as you will obviously see the same crimes over and over but it helps to make the city feel more alive and give the player something to do.

Speaking of giving you something to do, this game has several collectibles to replace Riddler trophies and god do they make me miss the sweet green glow that those trophies had. 

Gotham Knights has four collectibles; Street art, batarangs, landmarks, and pieces of paper. Street Art is pretty easy to find as they are giant murals, you’re probably going to spot them all on a casual playthrough. I was very scared about searching for batarangs as they’re tiny and their blue glow isn’t as noticeable as Riddler trophies, but in my playthrough I ended up collecting 41/60 as they are all in fairly obvious locations so they’re okay.

The two collectibles that will make you tear your hair out though are landmarks and pages out of the Court of Owls’ notebook. Landmarks require you to examine tiny plagues in front of important buildings in Gotham, but these plaques are often small and hard to see even when you’re at ground level. I only found 9/40 throughout my entire playthrough and I was actively looking out for them.

The worst of all though is the Court of Owls notebook pages. Every collectable I talked about so far glows if you use AR mode near it, these pages do not. The game expects you to be able to find these pages only using the small white wall scratches that are near them and no other indication. I got 6/42 in my entire playthrough, these are impossible to find and are an awful collectible.

In the process of writing this review I actually got the pleasure to play in an online session with people and experience the world with multiple players. Going into an enemy stronghold via different entrances and stealth KOing enemies on our way to meet in the middle was extremely satisfying and fighting enemies together in the streets was also extremely fun. I think if you can get a few friends together Gotham Knights can easily accomplish its goal of being a great co-op Bat-Family experience. 

And that’s all I really have to say about Gotham Knights. It’s a fine game, I had a lot of fun playing it. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the game but it can’t stand out as amazing because it doesn’t strive to be. If you want an okay time and are a fan of Batman I’d recommend it, I feel like this game is going to live and die in the on sale or used copies market though.

I’m unlikely to play any more of the game myself after this playthrough, but if they ever do something like add Cassandra Cain as DLC I will immediately boot it back up for the best Batgirl. I’ve been Skeith from The Story Arc and I thank you for reading.

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