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Five Ways Batman: Arkham Origins Is Better Than Arkham City
This article contains a mid-to-late-story spoiler for Batman: Arkham Origins. Aside from this, none of the game’s story is mentioned, and nothing from the game’s final act is spoiled.
When Rocksteady Entertainment reinvented the term “superhero videogame” with Batman: Arkham Asylum, we all knew the genre, at least for the Batman series, would never be the same again. Their cerebral, puzzle-based approach to Batman’s attempt to stop the Joker on Arkham Island was as refreshing as it was addictive. Players were left feeling as empowered as Batman himself after tackling countless puzzles and stealth scenarios.
I consider Batman: Arkham Asylum to be the greatest Batman game ever made. As such, it was only natural that I felt giddy with excitement at the prospect of Batman: Arkham City, the open-world follow up to the title. A free-roaming Batman experience would hopefully provide the most accurate, fun depiction of what it would be like to be the Bat, as was prototyped in the original closed-world title. However, when City released, I finished the game within a day or two and was left with a spinning head. It was all over quickly, and I didn’t feel very fulfilled. I replayed Arkham Asylum and found the experience far more compelling and tight.
Frankly, I could take or leave Batman: Arkham City. It was an experience I’m grateful for, but I felt it was a far worse game than Batman: Arkham Asylum, and that many of the choices made by Rocksteady in City were underwhelming options. So when I heard that Batman: Arkham Origins, the third title in the series and prequel would have a different developer, I was more excited, if anything, for the game. I felt a fresh perspective would help and I wasn’t wrong. Below are several reasons that I feel, simply as superhero games, Batman: Arkham Origins is better than Batman: Arkham City.
The Level Design – Gotham City
Batman: Arkham City‘s world disappointed me. Not only was the functioning size of the map fairly small- it was reduced even smaller by the high-security Strange Tower taking up a big chunk of its middle area.
Before the game released, I was incredibly excited for it. I felt, to fully simulate the Batman experience, we would need a large Gotham City to roam in. We would need a place which had hundreds of streets, buildings, vertical levels and platforms on which goons can lounge on. Batman: Arkham City never fulfilled that promise. You could traverse the world, end to end, in about one minute and half of the map’s streets were underwater, leaving only the fairly dull buildings to climb about on. It was just that little bit too constricting.
Now Batman: Arkham Origins‘ city? It fulfills the promise of an open world Batman game in many ways. It’s more than double the size of Arkham City‘s, comprised of Old Gotham, the district from Batman: Arkham City, and across the bridge to the South, New Gotham, an entirely new segment of map; between them is the huge Gotham Pioneer’s Bridge. Besides being doubly-huge in size, Old Gotham’s streets aren’t submerged in water and the Strange Tower isn’t taking up half of the whole thing. You can actually run the island end-to-end in the streets, fighting goons. There are bigger sandboxes, more rooftops and squares to fight in. A more complete Old Gotham like this alone would make me happy, but as it is, Batman: Arkham Origins has the fantastically designed New Gotham, too.
People often complain that Arkham Origins’ streets are dull and empty, but I couldn’t disagree more. It think it is more populated than Arkham City; albeit not by civilians, who are all indoors with their families due to a police curfew and more obviously the insane super-terrorism crimes taking place over this Christmas Eve. No, the city feels alive with criminals. You never quite feel safe as Batman in this game, especially in New Game Plus, as there are snipers everywhere to deal with, and goons on almost every rooftop and street. In Batman: Arkham City’s after-game, once the player has completed the story mode and side missions, Old Gotham felt dead. The same enemies populated the same places repeatedly; nothing new ever happened. In Batman: Arkham Origins, the developers worked in a “Crime In Progress” system, and twice the mission content (see below) to keep the city feeling more alive for longer.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a lot of superfluous space in Arkham Origins. And this is a good thing. Wasted space is something that Arkham Asylum and City never had: Rocksteady perfected parsimonic, economical level design, whereby no room doesn’t have a gameplay purpose or justification. However, they don’t appreciate that realistic, spacious worlds can make a game feel more real. ‘Cause, you know, in real life there is tons of wasted space in urban settings. And the space in Origins is huge, fun to navigate and often has a bunch of bad guys in there to take down.
Another complaint which is often levelled at the game is that Gotham is an all-grey, tedious location, comprised of reskinned areas from Arkham City. In my opinion, a greyer, darker Gotham feels real and engaging. It’s more immersive to play Batman in this place, unlike in either of the last games. Arkham City’s Gotham, in my opinion, was so overly colourful and grotesque that it felt like we were playing in a giant, unbelievable circus rather than a city.
Also, it’s worth noting that I barely recognized any of the areas from Arkham City which were reskinned into Origins. And whenever I did, it gave me a nice “Oh! That’s cool, there’s the big church Riddler hides in” moment, rather than a “Damnit, here’s another boring reskinned part of town.” Arkham Origins’ Old Gotham feels like a different city.
I think Rocksteady filled their world too much with stuff to do in Arkham City– I didn’t enjoy exploring or navigating the city because on every wall was a riddle, every alley a puzzle, every gang hidehout a Riddler informant. It didn’t feel like a real place: it felt like the level of a videogame. My immersion was repeatedly shattered. There wasn’t any exploring for exploring’s sake- something which open world games need. The whole world was just a cardboard cut out which gameplay exploited. Batman: Arkham Origins doesn’t feel like this.
So, for me, that’s 1-0 to Arkham Origins against Arkham City.
The Experience System
In Batman: Arkham Origins, WBG implemented a constant-evaluation system. So if you finish beating down a bunch of thugs, or finish sneakily knocking out a group of armed men, a little Batcomputer system pops up in the top-left of your screen, displaying how dangerous the situation was, how much experience you get for that by default, and then shows how well you did. Do a perfect, one-combo fight or nail a stealth encounter unseen, and you get S-grade, “Apex Vigilante”, which doubles your score. Some have complained that this system “gameified” the experience too much, that it was invasive, and cheapened the game’s brilliant gameplay. I couldn’t disagree more.
In Arkham Origins, when the Batcomputer tells you how well you’ve performed, it feels like something Bruce Wayne’s Batcomputer would actually do. Batman would always be evaluating his progress, looking at where cracks are in his actions, and trying to improve it. This system makes the player partake of the Batman experience- it shows you how much better you could perform, and when you finally do improve, by God, is it satisfying.
On top of this, Arkham Origins’ skills system operates via an actual skill tree, ala Far Cry 3‘s system. Which means it’s actually fun and compelling to try and get another three levels to get a better gadget upgrade. The visual feedback really incentivises leveling up, whereas in the previous games, I just levelled up because it happened. In Origins, I went out of my way to level up. The leveling up progression is actually satisfying and pulls me into many combat encounters of its own accord.
There’s also an embient, progressive challenge system where you have to beat challenges in an order to unlock more gadgets and costumes. I think this system is a brilliant idea, an improvement on past systems; however, balancing flaws do nearly ruin it, and I’ll mention those later.
This is one I can’t dwell on too much, because it’s so damn subjective: I found Batman: Arkham Origins’ story more compelling than Arkham City’s by far. It doesn’t have Paul Dini’s brilliant character writing, but it’s not far off, and has a more realistic, less comic-ey tone closer to Batman Begins or The Dark Knight than The Animated Series.
I remember all that stuff the Arkham City writing team said about Arkham City going to “dark places”; frankly, that was crap. Practically nothing in Arkham City was dark, and Batman: Arkham Origins often goes to much darker places. Not only darker places, but more thrilling places. Throughout Origins, you’ll encounter a handful of brilliant set pieces. There aren’t too many of them, and they are far more compelling and more exciting than any of the scenes and locations from Arkham City.
The real game-changer for me was the incredible sequence where player control is handed over to the Joker, after his first fall to the Bat. This incredible sequence is better written and more memorable than almost any of the cutscenes from the previous Arkham games. We’re dragged into the Joker’s mind as he woos and flatters Harlene Quinzel. The scene furthers the Arkham saga, and gives the player insight into the man opposite the Bat-mask.
Overall, the plot only accelerates in quality after this, up until the game’s slightly cheesy climax. Excepting the cheesiness, the game’s final hours of plot are brilliant. There’s pure, vital storytelling at work; a plethora of different characters with vastly different motives clashing in high-stakes scenarios. It’s compelling, the design for the story closer to a Hollywood masterpiece like The Dark Knight than the weird comicbook mishmash of Arkham City.
The Amount of Content
After playing Arkham City once through, finding all collectibles, playing it again through on New Game Plus and doing the whole thing twice again, I had clocked about 28 hours of gameplay. In Batman Arkham Origins’, after only one playthrough of the story mode campaign, I was at 24 hours played, which consists of finishing the story and doing about half of the side missions. Origins’ story alone is longer than City’s, by double. It’s about 12 hours, versus Arkham City’s six or seven hours. When you consider how much better the story is, this is something that cannot be ignored. It just kept going, it felt, at times, like the Metal Gear Solid 3 of Batman games.
Origins has eight side campaigns which aren’t necessarily longer than City’s, but they’re more enjoyable. The fact that they unlock gadgets and abilities incentivises you to to actually play them to completion, unlike certain, fairly dull Batman: Arkham City sidequests, which I only played in order to reach 100% completion. The game’s upgrade system also condones better play – which in turn leads to more game-time.
Arkham Origins really offers an incredible package. Much like GTA V or The Last Of Us, the fact that there’s a multiplayer mode is astonishing considering how complete the singleplayer mode is. Not only is there more content, but Origins is also harder than either of the previous games. On New Game Plus, Hard mode, some of the fights are genuinely a struggle for survival. You need every tool at your disposal. There are so many new enemy types (a couple of whom are very challenging) that most fights are novel and fresh. Going toe-to-toe with three martial artists and a ninja has to be one of my favourites. It needs more savvy and attention than any of the fights in the earlier games.
There are problems…
And yet, the problems are totally outweighed by the positives. This is undeniable for me.
The main issue with Batman: Arkham Origins, the one that pervades every aspect, is that the level of polish doesn’t match Rocksteady’s. Specifically in Predator missions, things tend to be a bit weird. Bad guy AI often gets stuck at the bottom of ladders or in doorways, and unconscious bodies tend to flip out. Also, when you hang underneath a gargoyle, Batman’s cape does a glitchy twitch.
In the huge space of Gotham City, you’ll often come across arbitrarily un-grapple-able rooftops, or even worse, sometimes invisible walls or glitching pipes you won’t be able to climb. However, I’ve found perhaps four or five of these across the whole huge city of hundreds of buildings, so it’s no biggie for me.
The biggest problem for me is that Detective Mode, occasionally used for solving crimes or incidents, has been ruined. The mechanic has actually been improved in terms of how we play it, but Warner Bros’ Games have messed it up simply by handholding the player far too much. In the previous games, there was never much of a challenge to being a detective, but you still had to pay attention to your surroundings and work things out a little. But in Arkham Origins, huge red triangular arrows point at where the evidence is. Literally the only challenging aspect of the detective scenes- looking around for evidence- has been removed.
A bigger issue, probably the game’s biggest one, is that it crashes quite a lot. I’ve had about four or five crashes so far- which really isn’t that bad, but is a huge step down from Arkham City and Asylum which had… None, if I recall correctly. This is where the lack of polish really shows on Warner Bros.’ product.
Note: I played this on Xbox 360, where problems were fairly minimal. I heard that the PC version had countless more programming problems, to the point of being unplayable. Unfortunately I can’t comment on that here.
I hope this article shows an alternative perspective to the general consensus of disappointment and “not-quite-as-good” syndrome which Batman: Arkham Origins has been laden with. To me, this is possibly the best superhero game ever made. However, it is not the best Batman game. This is a distinction that must be drawn:
Batman: Arkham Asylum is undeniably the perfect Batman game. Made to date, at least. The incredibly cerebral, taut, intelligent approach to the character is perfect and tight on a level with Valve’s Portal. Arkham City, to me, was barely a step up, it was a halfway point – Arkham Asylum version 1.5. City didn’t feel like Rocksteady fully committed to any of their developments: the world wasn’t made that much larger, the amount of extra gadgets and upgrades didn’t increase by too much, the story was very short and not impressive…
Batman: Arkham Origins is what I expected and wanted from Arkham City.
Feel free to disagree in the comments!