Gotham Knights is set in the Batman universe, and it uses Batman characters, but it’s not a Batman game. Since it was first announced a couple of years ago, developer WB Games Montreal has insisted that in its upcoming open world action RPG, the Caped Crusader is dead. They promise. Cross their hearts and hope to die. He’s dead as a doornail, no two ways about it. Players play as the Bat family – i.e. Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and the Red Hood – as they deal with the fallout of their mentor’s absence, and the rise of crime and chaos in Gotham City in its wake.
If you’ve been following the game so far in the lead up to its launch even on a casual level, you don’t need to be told that there’s no shortage of skepticism over those claims. The Dark Knight has “died” more than a few times in stories across media throughout the years, often in famous fashion in Batman stories that have become iconic amongst fans, and almost every single time, he’s ended up coming back from the dead (or even turning out to have not been dead after all). So yeah, when WB Games Montreal tells us that Batman is a hundred percent dead in Gotham Knights, part of us can’t help but not believe them, no matter how insistently that stand by their words.
Then again, if Batman really is dead in the game, that should potentially have some very interesting implications on the story- because even though he may not be alive, there’s no way that, either directly or indirectly, he’s going to have a major presence in the story in more ways than one. So in the event that Gotham’s Dark Knight has truly died, what role could he play in Gotham Knights’ narrative?
The most obvious impact his death has is obviously central to the game’s premise. With the Batman gone, criminals in Gotham City no longer live in fear of the vigilante, and have been emboldened by his absence. Crime and chaos is running rampant, which means both new and familiar threats are rising up once again. Iconic villains like Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, and Clayface have been confirmed for the game, which means we’re going to get to see how they decide to take advantage of Batman’s death in the game- and it’s probably a pretty safe bet that there will be plenty of other beloved villains from the property’s gallery of rogues that will also show up.
The central threat that’s looming large over Gotham City, however, is going to be the Court of Owls, a shadowy organization that’s been secretly controlling the entire city and those in charge of it for literally centuries. Given the control and influence they’ve exerted over Gotham for so long, it goes without saying that Batman was someone they were keeping a close watch on- but does that also mean their paths had already crossed? Was Batman’s death (or supposed death, at the very least) something they were behind, as part of a greater plan involving all of Gotham that they’re now putting into motion?
Meanwhile, the fact that Bruce Wayne is dead is bound to have an impact on the characters who’re going to play the biggest roles in the story. Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake, Jason Todd, and Dick Grayson all have their own histories with him. He’s been a mentor and father figure to all of them in different ways, so it should be interesting to see how the four heroes deal with their personal loss, and how that affects their individual character arcs- assuming, of course, that the game’s story dives into that stuff. It would be a big bit of a missed opportunity if it didn’t.
Someone like Jason Todd, for instance, has had a complicated relationship with Bruce Wayne with plenty of ups and downs, so it would be a waste to not dive into that for some compelling character-focused storytelling. Similarly, Barbara Gordon has lost not only Bruce in the recent past, but also her father Jim Gordon, who’s also supposedly dead when Gotham Knights kicks off- and we’d sure love to see how she in particular is dealing with that double whammy. There’s also Alfred, who obviously isn’t playable (that’d be interesting though), but is probably the one who would have been more affected by Bruce’s death than anyone else- maybe the game could spend some time focusing on that as well?
Speaking of Jim Gordon, what sort of an impact is his and Batman’s absence having on the GCPD? Because after all, it wasn’t just criminals that the Batman took on, it was also those who would use their positions of power in corrupt ways- and more often than not, Gordon has been right by his side while he’s done that. So with their apparent deaths, is that corruption and decay going to seep back into Gotham’s authorities and its cops? That is the sort of influence that the Court of Owls has been known to exert, after all, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see that being a knock-on effect of Batman’s death.
But of course, we also have to talk about the very real possibility of the Dark Knight not being dead after all. Maybe he’s just disappeared. Maybe he’s being held captive by the Court of Owls. In the very first arc that introduced the Court of Owls to the Batman mythos back in 2011, Batman was indeed captured by the villainous group and held in a massive secret maze. Sure, it was only for a week, and him being dead wasn’t something that the story played up to any significant degree, but we may very well see Gotham Knights taking that arc and putting its own sin on it.
There’s also the chance that Batman is dead when Gotham Knights begins, but will be back before the game ends. The Lazarus Pit is the Batman universe’s go to when it wants to bring characters back from the dead – it’s happened to Gotham Knights’ very own Jason Todd as well, in fact – so there’s a very real possibility that that’s the method the game ends up resorting to to bring Bruce Wayne back from the dead. It’s worth noting that until now, there’s been no confirmation that the League of Assassins will be involved in the game’s story- but leaks as well as teases from the developers themselves back before the game was officially unveiled strongly suggested that that will be the case.
Either way, if Bruce Wayne isn’t dead after all, or if he ends up coming back to life, it should be very interesting to see what role he plays in the game. How involved will he be in the story? How much screen time will he have? Will he take the driving seat at some point or will the Bat family remain the stars of the show? And, most importantly- will he be playable at any point in the game?
Gotham Knights has quite a lot of expectations to live up to based purely on the property it’s based on, but with its central premise and the potential questions that raises, it shoulders even heavier expectations. Whether or not it buckles under the weight remains to be seen- but thankfully, with the game out on October 21 for PC and current-gen consoles, we won’t have to wait awfully long to find out.
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