When Batman: Arkham Origins was released last October, many fans of the series were skeptical. The previous two titles in the series, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, developed by Rocksteady Studios, were amazing, ground-breaking pieces of work unlike anything we had ever seen before. Rocksteady’s lack of involvement in Arkham Origins, which was instead being developed by a brand-new studio, Warner Brothers Montreal, was not an encouraging prospect. Would this new developer be able to handle the franchise established by Rocksteady? Was Arkham Origins just going to be a quick cash-in on the success of the Arkham franchise? The release of the game left the fanbase divided, some thinking it did not measure up to the previous titles and some thinking it was a worthy continuation.

Arkham Origins certainly was by no measure a perfect game. At launch it was plagued with bugs and glitches, several areas of the game clearly lacked polish and testing, and it was paired with some of the most clearly tacked-on multiplayer we’ve ever seen. The title was clearly a rushed one, and one can’t help but wonder how some of the more critical, progression-blocking, game-breaking bugs weren’t caught prior to release.

However, for all of Arkham Origins’ failings, it had a few things going for it that we didn’t see in Arkhams Asylum or City. If these great elements introduced by Origins are brought forward into Arkham Knight, which releases in less than two weeks, the game will surely be better off for it. So, without further adieu: here are the top ten things we hope Rocksteady learned from Batman: Arkham Origins.

SPOILER WARNING: Massive plot spoilers for all three Arkham games follow

1) New enemy types to keep things interesting

Arkham Origins did an amazing job with introducing new enemy types to keep the tried-and-true Arkham gameplay fresh and interesting. The hulking Enforcers have the same intimidating prowess as the Abromavich twins from Arkham City, but are more difficult to fight and appear more often. The Venom-using thugs are a great spin on your ordinary criminal. Best of all: the Martial Artist. An enemy who could counter attack your attacks, and who requires more than just mashing the counter-button to throw off was something the Arkham series has needed for a long time. It keeps things plenty interesting, forces you to keep paying attention, and most importantly, it laid the groundwork for one of the best boss fights in the entire Arkham series.

Pictured: Badass

If you looked up “Badass” in the dictionary.

If Mr. Freeze was the ultimate “predator-mode” boss fight, Deathstroke was the ultimate combat boss fight, once again forcing you to break the mold of simply pressing the counter button. On the whole, Arkham Origins actually had some of the best boss fights of the franchise.

2) Detective mode and crime solving is more than following a trail

Everyone knows Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective, but that has often been difficult to show. While Arkhams Asylum and City made a valiant effort, Batman merely followed convenient trails and put together the pieces in cutscenes. Arkham Origins, on the other hand, prominently featured an amazing use of detective vision, forcing us to recreate crimes and actually conduct field-analysis.

This was hands-down one of the best features of Arkham Origins, and we hope something similar sees the spotlight in Arkham Knight – ideally in a less linear form.

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Okay, maybe he’s a little bit obsessed.

3) The Batcave is amazing and something no Batman is complete without

A safe haven, a place to chat with your allies, an in-universe explanation of challenge maps, and just an all-around nice place to walk around. Actually having a home base to visit makes us FEEL like Batman. Not only that, but you can end your play sessions there (so you get to feel like Batman going out on patrol every time you load up your save). Arkham Origins’ take on the Batcave was also gorgeous, which certainly helps. All Rocksteady has to do to improve on things? Let us take off the Batsuit and walk around Wayne Manor!

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Much better than the Dark Knight Rises “just a computer in a cave” Batcave.

4) The ability to turn off counter-icons from the start

For some of us, those bright-blue counter icons are an eyesore that detract from immersion in the game and, more importantly, act as a crutch we’d rather not use. You get used to using them when they’re there all the time, making it more difficult to transition to going without them. Arkham Asylum let us turn off counter icons from the start, but this option was suspiciously missing in Arkham City. Who knows why? This is basically just a difficulty customization option.

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This took away from the moment a little bit.

5) Bane.

Oh my god. Arkham Origins’ Bane was SO GOOD. Saying the intelligent, well-spoken, strategic minded Bane featured in AO was a better interpretation of the character than the muscle-headed ignorant brute from Arkhams Asylum and City isn’t saying much, so we’ll go one further and say this was a better Bane than Tom Hardy’s performance in The Dark Knight Rises. This Bane was a great translation of the comic book incarnation to video game form, and every scene with him in it was a joy. The Bane boss fight was also top-notch, making you feel Bane’s strength, actively fear getting punched by him, and do more than “dodge and throw a batarang” to beat him.

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Arkham Origins’ Bane alone makes the game worth a playthrough.

6) Troy Baker brings new energy to Mr. J

Mark Hamill will forever be responsible for one of the greatest portrayals of the Clown Prince of Crime, but he had to pass the torch someday. Troy Baker is a worthy successor, taking inspiration from Hamill’s interpretation but also bringing his own something special to the character. Joker is likely to have at least SOME appearance in Arkham Knight – my personal bet is on a fear toxin-induced hallucination – and we’d love to see Baker take a crack at it.

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Say cheese.

7) More relevant sidequests seem to matter more

One thing about the sidequests in Arkham City was that none of them led anywhere. Most of them were build up to events likely to be resolved in Arkham Knight, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that most of their conclusions were pretty anti-climactic. In addition, the sidequests had next to nothing to do with the actual main plot of the game.

Arkham Origins, by contrast, features mostly sidequests that are wholly relevant to the plot of the game: the assassins hired to take out the Batman.

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Not that taking them out is difficult for the dark knight.

The simple in-game explanation for their presence and motives leaves the quests feeling more dynamic and interesting, and they don’t feel as shorehorned in “just because.” Add to that the fact that you actually get to wrap up each one with a genuine ending and it’s hard to say anything bad about the AO sidequests.

8) Actual interaction between Bats and his allies… and his enemies!

This may sound like a no-brainer, but if you think about it there was actually none of this in Arkham Asylum or City. In Arkham Asylum, after entering, you briefly rendevouz with Gordon in a cutscene after you beat Bane, but that’s it. In Arkham City, you HAVE no allies – discounting the five-second Robin cameo, the ten-second Catwoman cameo, and briefly the League of Assassins. While you have Oracle and Alfred on the radio, Batman’s basically out there all on his own. While this helps to reinforce the idea that it’s Batman against the world, part of what makes Batman so great is his cast of supporting characters, not just his endless beatdown of a parade of goons and thugs.

Throughout the campaign, Arkham Origins featured several run-ins with Gordon, Harvey Bullock, the GCPD, as well as featuring Alfred at the Batcave. This helped the world to feel more fleshed out and real, like it wasn’t just Batman and hoards and hoards of criminal badguys – there were actually good guys, too! All of this helped Arkham Origins feel less like “just a video game” and more like a real story.

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Having allies to interact with makes the tone and pace of the game dynamic.

Similarly, Arkham Origins actually has Batman interacting with his rogue’s gallery. In Arkham Asylum and City, most of your interactions with the villains is in a brief cutscene that precedes (and occasionally that follows) the boss fight with them. While this is all fun and good from a gameplay perspective, it makes the villains feel more like obstacles than actual characters. Arkham Origins gave us a lot more chances than its predecessors to see these villains reoccur as they interact with each other, and with Batman, and to have actual conversations with him (rather than just engage in a pre-battle monologue).

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This further drives the narrative and makes villains feel like real characters.

9) Crimes-in-progress are a great first-step toward making the city feel more alive

Arkham City, for as huge as it was, felt vast and empty. There was no life in the city, the environments largely blended together (unlike each very unique section of Arkham Asylum), and all there was to see was criminals walking the streets. But part of what makes Batman Batman is actually, you know, saving people. While it’s much easier and less complicated from a design standpoint to have Batman in a conveniently evacuated city that has virtually no one left inside it save for the worst of the criminal underworld, we can’t help but think that that feels… lazy. Arkham Origins is hardly better than its predecessor in this department, but they at the very least introduced “Crimes in Progress,” randomly-generated events that occur around the city so that, rather than just beating up some thugs on a rooftop, you can beat up some thugs who happen to be robbing an ATM.

Is it perfect? No – these are basically just randomly generated combat encounters, there’s nothing special about them. Does the city still feel oddly too empty? Yes. Is it really weird that Spider-Man 2 for the PlayStation 2 featured an excellent random crime system, pedestrians walking the streets, and civilians driving vehicles and yet the Arkham franchise seems to think there’s no way to incorporate innocent citizens? No comment. The important thing is that they at least made an effort.

Unfortunately, it’s already been confirmed that Arkham Knight will feature a near-fully evacuated Gotham City, so it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing citizens walking the streets of Gotham any time soon.

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Randomly generated news reporters filming your exploits is still a few years away.

10) The Writing was tight, concise, and clever

You can say what you will about the overall plot of Arkham Origins. It was certainly cliché that, surprise(!), the main villain turns out to secretly be Joker… again. However, the way this not-so-original plot was presented was actually superior in many ways to the presentation of the plot of Arkham City. Arkham City was a great game, but its writing was a mess.

Take, for instance, Hugo Strange: the entire premise of the game, the one who knows Bruce Wayne’s identity, the backdrop for the entire plot – who ends up being entirely irrelevant. Aside from his minute-long role in the opening cutscene, and another minute-long role in the penultimate adventure of Arkham City, Hugo Strange doesn’t matter to the plot of Arkham City at all. Nothing ends up coming of his knowing Batman’s identity, despite his threats. His “grand master plan” – which he thinks cities will be clamoring to replicate throughout the country – is to intentionally have the Arkham City project fail so that he can institute his failsafe measure, Protocol 10, to wipe out all of the criminals. … How, exactly, is that chain of events supposed to convince Metropolis and other cities that creating their own Arkham City projects is a good idea?

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“I know your identity, Mr. Wayne. This won’t matter whatsoever, just giving you a heads up.”

This is the problem with Arkham City. There’s a lot of setup, but basically no delivery. Much of the game’s main quests feel like glorified sidequests – Two-Face, not involved in the main plot, threatens that he’ll be back and you haven’t seen the last of him, but he doesn’t really follow up on this (not counting his tiny role in the post-game Catwoman side-mission). The Penguin, also not involved in the core elements of the story, makes sure Batman knows that he isn’t finished yet… and ends up spending the rest of the game in a prison cell.

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You haven’t seen the last of me, Batman! … Just kidding, you have.

Aside from the bits of the plot that have to do with Joker/infected blood/the cure, nothing that occurs in Arkham City actually matters. It’s all just backdrop, setting. Meanwhile, every single piece of the main quest in Arkham Origins actually ties in directly to the games main plot.

The writing is very tight and consistent, which leads to a game with much better pacing and greater feelings of consistency and driving plotlines. Many feel the plot of Arkham Asylum was better than that of Arkham City for this exact reason, so here’s to hoping that Arkham Knight features a narrative that is a little more focused.

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The final moment of the game is more narrative than action, and that’s just fine.

11) Honorable Mentions

There are several other areas where Arkham Origins did things differently than Arkham City to great success, but none of them were worthy of their own number. Here are just a few of our favorites that we didn’t go into:
- Grades! Each encounter, predator or combat, is graded on a scale of D to S.
- A New Game+ mode that allows you to replay the story endlessly, rather than just letting you go through with all your gadgets once (as in Arkham City).
- The combat upgrade that lets you build up a reserve of two special moves
- The ability to wear costumes from the beginning; we paid for them, so why not?
- The triple batarang makes a glorious return
- The glue grenade, while just a reskin of the freeze grenade, felt very “Batman.”
- While the changed combat timing takes some getting used to, it ultimately is sharper and more controllable than in AC. If you haven’t played since it launched, give it another go – it’s been patched like crazy!

And that’s all. So there you have our top ten things that we hope Rocksteady learned from Arkham Origins – if, in addition to everything else they’re putting into Arkham Knight, they have managed to squeeze in a few of these items, we’ll be in for an amazing game, likely a heavy-weight contender for GOTY 2015.

PS Rocksteady, if you’re reading this – please give us an option to turn off “right click to throw smoke bomb” – sometimes we’d like to SAVE our smoke bomb and instead use another gadget, or perform a takedown, or do literally anything else.

2 Responses

  1. Whitemoon
    Whitemoon

    Great article.

    I definitely started off disliking Arkham Origins a lot, mostly because of the fact it was pretty much the exact same map/levels as Arkham City. However, by the end really enjoyed it and couldn’t really explain why, but you totally just did that for me.

    Reading the article made me think back to when I was playing it and I completely realize it’s great features. I totally agree it was an awesome game, and not only because you get to play as Batman.

    Reply
  2. Colin Cole

    Sadly, with the exceptions of expanding detective mode slightly, keeping the Joker interesting, and including some ally interaction, Rocksteady missed the boat on basically all of these points. And, to top it all off, Arkham Origins is excluded from “Return to Arkham.”

    This unfortunately further perpetuates the myth that Origins is a weak game that doesn’t deserve to be considered alongside the “real” parts of the series, when not only does Knight make reference to the events of Origins, but I would argue Origins is, on the whole, the best and strongest game of the three.

    A damn shame. Here’s to hoping WB Montreal returns to the Arkhamverse using the Knight engine to bring us “Arkham Origins 2.”

    Reply

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