Gotham Knights made a splash last weekend, and not only because the game is a new promised fixture in the universe of DC video games. In a surprise narrative twist, the opening trailer for the game revealed the death of Batman, setting the stage for four other characters to step into the lead as Gotham’s premier crime-fighters.
I spoke with creative director Patrick Redding and senior producer Fleur Marty about the reveal of the game, and learned some additional details about just what players can expect out of this latest expedition into the dark streets of Gotham. Read our full interview below.
Gotham Knights is slated for release in 2021 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Now that the announcement is out there, what have been some of the elements of the game that you’ve been most excited to get to share?
Patrick Redding: First and foremost, we managed to keep a lid on the fact that we were killing Batman. That was the thing I was most excited about. I know that sounds a bit morbid. But the promise of delivering a new guard of heroes from out of the Batman universe, and really putting the spotlight on a playable Batman family, and the reason why. Why is that cool? Why is having this range of characters that are so different and distinctive, and early enough in their careers that they have a lot of room for growth, why is that a cool promise for people?
So that’s one consequence. The other consequence is: What happens to Gotham City when Batman gets killed? People understand intuitively, no matter how familiar you are with the franchise, that all hell’s going to break loose. That’s exciting. What kind of hell is going to break loose? We are able to start planting the seeds of that.
But the reveal was really all about the heroes. We knew that going in.
Are those four characters really the core characters of the game?
Redding: We’re going to have more detail later about our post-launch line-up. But those are the four.
Fleur Marty: Yes. Those are the four playable characters of our game.
How is Gotham Knights distinct from the Arkham universe? What are the ways it’s different, other than the obvious, that it’s a separate fiction?
Marty: There are many ways. But first and foremost, this is not a Batman story or game. This is about four really distinct characters that each have their own unique playstyles, personalities, and abilities. It’s really about taking them from the start and growing them into dark knights.
The second is the ecosystem of Gotham City. It’s not a game that takes place over just one night, in that kind of deserted city. This is a vast open world city and it takes places over many nights of crime-fighting. You are going to encounter the citizens of Gotham City as they try to go about their business, even as all the gangs and criminals are prowling out of the shadows, now that Batman is gone. The state of Gotham is a big difference.
The Arkham games often focused on a particular part of Gotham. Is Gotham Knights different from that – is it a larger part of Gotham?
Redding: Gotham City is a really important element of the game, as it would be for any Batman universe experience. What we wanted to do is have a whole city. It has five distinct boroughs, each of which has their own sub-neighborhoods and districts. What that lets us do is two things. As a gameplay environment, it lets us create architecturally distinct spaces that offer a different kind of story from a traversal and party-crashing-on-crime point of view. But also, it allows us to take a lot of the bigger themes of the game, narratively, in terms of the overall focus on mystery and the Court of Owls, and say: “How does a Gotham City grow, historically?” So, our neighborhoods reflect different influences, and the role that different families have played. It becomes an exploratory environment, a kind of environmental storytelling space that’s very different.
In order to do that, we needed to deliver density and quality of details – like with every crack in the sidewalk that has a cigarette butt wedged into it, and weeds growing out of it, and graffiti on the walls – all of it, down to the masonry and the stuff that’s carved into the bricks, which maybe points you toward some hidden piece of history. That’s the level at which our Gotham City needed to flourish and be amazing. It’s a full city, and it has a lot of different districts, but it’s the size we wanted it to be to support all that crime and all the missions we have in the game.
The Court of Owls is a favorite corner of the universe for many fans, but for more casual fans who may be more familiar with Batman from the movies or other sources, they might not even know what that is. Would you tell us about your team’s take on the Court of Owls, and why, for someone who might not know about it, that might be just as exciting as Joker story, or some other more familiar villain?
Redding: That’s a deep question, and we are going to have a lot more details later in the campaign to share. But the punchy version is that the Court of Owls is a secret society of Gotham’s most decadent and corrupt wealthy, who have been around since the founding of the city, 350 years ago. Over time, as they’ve sought to entrench their power and hold over Gotham, they’ve warped it into the twisted east coast city that it is.
In a lot of ways, their influence is really embedded deep in the bedrock and foundations of the city. But because they protect their secrets, they remained in the shadows for a really long time, to the modern era, and even Batman struggled to learn what he could about them.
That becomes the jumping off point for serving up a very different kind of enemy and adversary for the New Guard to deal with. Who better for the new guard to deal with than the old, crusty, entrenched power of the city.
Marty: And to the question of how the Court of Owls is not as well known to the general public, I think what will make people relate to it is that it brings the mystery, and at the core, Batman and the Batman family – they’re detectives! Conspiracies and secret societies are a perfect gateway to put on your detective hat and dive into the mystery.
When you have four distinct characters, that means you have to reflect four unique playstyles that all work. What can you tell me about what makes each of these characters distinct,and compelling on their own within the game world?
Redding: For us, they aren’t supposed to be four mini-Batmans. They are people who have trained and have some of that crimefighting DNA as a starting point, but either through virtue of their story or just their personalities, they’ve started to evolve in these four distinct ways.
For example, our Robin, Tim Drake, he’s relatively young. He’s a teenager. But he’s still formidable. It’s just that his focus becomes more on stealth and using the tricks to disrupt the AI and confuse and apply status effects.
Conversely, a character like Nightwing – while he’s still very much a martial arts combatant – he’s a very acrobatic character. He’s more ping-pongy. It allows him to tackle groups of enemies.
There’s a flavor and stylistic support, that we wanted to provide. Every player, regardless of their preference for how to play, can approach it the way they want.
Marty: And that’s going to be even more true as you progress through the game. Those four characters, as they unlock abilities, and bring them to what we call their knighthood, the idea is that they really diverge even more. They are each their own version of a dark knight.
Redding: That’s reflected in the ability tree, and their gear. Because each of them has distinct gear, suits, and ultimates that they’ll unlock.
Marty: Batgirl has two sides. She’s the hacker. But in terms of her playstyle, she will focus on one enemy, and pummel them until they’re down. She’s super focused.
Red Hood is a more ranged focused character. Everybody can use some ranged attacks. But he’s a gunslinger, and has a more brutal approach to combat. What’s really interesting, though, is Red Hood’s evolution. I think it’s going to really surprise people. It taps into his storyline. He was dead, and was resurrected. And there’s something that is going to come out of there, and that he’s bringing to the fight.
The first trailer for the game really highlights the progression for these characters toward knighthood. Is that codified in the progression sytem? Are you literally moving through phases of these characters?
Redding: In a sense. Each of the four has a distinct ability tree, and areas that a player can focus on. We expect people to have different builds of these characters that link to their style and strategy. That’s very much in the action/RPG blueprint.
But there’s a component of your ability tree that is specifically linked to you starting to take on the tools as your dark knight version. Knighthood represents not just a narrative concept. It’s represented and expressed in parts of our ability tree, and even in some of the gear.
What aspects of the game are you most excited to delve into and share with fans?
Redding: One of the challenging things when you do a reveal is that you don’t want to spam people with so much information that they don’t know what’s going on, and that the only people who are parsing it are the people who are scrubbing through frame by frame. But we know about Gotham City and crime-fighting in the city, and going back to the Belfry, and taking what you’ve learned and gathered in terms of clue, and using that to enhance your crimefighting. That’s a big piece of it. We’ve alluded to it. But we know that showing that is going to be a big beat for us. How the Belfry fits into Gotham as a whole. The shape of the city. To be in a hidden location and discover something they haven’t seen before.
Marty: When we were thinking about our gameplay demo, we had to pick a specific part that is kind of self-contained. I can’t wait to show the non-linear parts of the game. We showed a cool epic mission, but I’m really looking forward to showing off our open world, and how you go into the streets and fight crime.
Redding: Even with the gameplay video, that was eight minutes. It’s a very digested, condensed snapshot of a particular mission. I also want people to understand what missions are like, either in a villain storyline, or in one of our mystery chapters – what that experience feels like, from beginning to end. What kind of impact does it have? And what does it do to Gotham City when you’ve completed one of those major chapters.
Marty: Co-op is also a really important piece for us. The game is fully playable solo, if you wish to. You won’t be missing anything, if you choose to play solo. But the team-up fantasy of two-player co-op is really important for our studio.