The title “Batman: Arkham Origins” isn’t quite right. This isn’t really an origin story — it’s not the tale of how Bruce Wayne lost his parents and dedicated his life to fighting crime, or of how he created the Batman persona and developed an arsenal of awesome gadgets.
Instead, it’s a prequel to Arkham Asylum — the story of how Batman moved up a level in the crime-fighting universe. As the story begins, it’s Christmas Eve, and Batman is focused on beating up small-time gangsters. But he soon discovers that Black Mask, a leader of the Gotham crime world, has sent eight super-villain assassins to take his life. Batman needs to face down each attacker, and in the process he needs to figure out what Black Mask has against him.
Arkham Origins won’t be a dramatic departure for the series, but it won’t be a simple retread, either. A lot of the changes have to do with an influx of fresh personnel: Developer Rocksteady Studios has been replaced by WB Montreal, which handled the Wii U port of Arkham City. Paul Dini, who wrote the first two games, is gone as well. So is Kevin Conroy, the voice actor who played Batman.
The idea here is that while Batman is already well versed in the art of face-punching bad guys, he is younger and less refined than the experienced caped crusader we came to love in the previous two games. He’s still sorting through his childhood trauma, and he frequently comes into conflict with his butler, Alfred, whom he sees as a relic of his parents’ murders. Sometimes he loses his temper and takes things too far.
WB Montreal promises that there will be few changes to the combat system, which is a good thing, considering that the previous games already perfected this blend of stealth and action. But there will be tweaks: New enemies will require you to change your tactics, and the new Remote Claw will enable you to pull objects and enemies together at high speed.
Perhaps the biggest change, though, will be the environment. While Arkham City took us out of the asylum, providing a massive prison to explore, Arkham Origins will show us what Gotham looked like before the earthquake and flood — doubling the area that can be explored. “Old Gotham,” the area that will later become Arkham City, is completely different from what we saw before, with an Amusement Mile that has not yet been destroyed. There’s also a whole new section called “New Gotham” that’s teeming with skyscrapers and other interesting sights. While New Gotham isn’t as dense as Old Gotham, the developers promise there will be just as much to do there. The docks are still intact, and the young Penguin’s ship, The Final Offer, is floating offshore — safe from the Gotham police but not from the jurisdiction-less Batman.
To accommodate all this extra space, the developers will provide players with a classic piece of Batman technology: the Batwing. While this will normally serve as a convenient fast-travel system, in some cases players will need to take out enemy anti-aircraft towers first.
The Batcave will play a new role, too. While the Arkham games have always featured some detective work employing the Dark Knight’s spiffy visor, this time Batman will be able to analyze clues in greater detail, even running computer simulations of crimes from the safety of his cave.
Like the previous games, Origins will offer a wealth of side quests for the completionist. Batman can bolster his reputation with the police department by taking on extra missions, and there’s a “Most Wanted” series of quests in which he can take down additional villains. Of course, these extra tasks will help players gain experience points and upgrade equipment.
The rest of what we know about the game is largely based on rumor. Apparently the villains may include Killer Croc, Deadshot, Firefly, Deathstroke, Joker (not voiced by Mark Hamill), Scarecrow, and Bane. The story will likely be drawn from the Year One comic books, and is also influenced by the non-canonical Legends of the Dark Knight series.
Batman: Arkham Origins is due October 25 for the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC; a companion game, Arkham Origins Blackgate, will be released on 3DS and Vita.
This game promises new territory, new villains, a new story, and new gadgets — all in the context of a hugely successful franchise. Can a fresh developer continue the magic that Rocksteady started? There’s no way to tell until we have the finished product in hand, but the early signs are immensely promising.